Cysts are another troublesome type of acne to treat successfully without the help of a doctor. A cyst forms similar to a nodule—way beneath your skin’s surface. However, cysts are thought to form from pustules because they contain pus. They are painful when touched resemble a boil. They appear to be a large, red, swollen lump on the skin surface. People who are prone to them may get one large cyst or a clump of cysts.


Oftentimes, our first instinct when we encounter bumps, pimples and other blemishes on our skin is to touch it. But if you’ve been dealing with acne for a while, you’ve probably learned by now that these practices only make acne and skin problems worse. For starters, our hands come into contact with more bacteria, pathogens and contaminants than any other part of our bodies. Even when we try to wash our hands often, there is only so much of that we can avoid putting on our faces every time we reach out to touch it. So, there’s the fact that we could be adding harmful bacteria our facial skin to begin with. But it doesn’t end there.

Exposed Skin Care: Exposed Skin Care products include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid (see below for more details), all at low concentrations that are safe for all skin types. Plus they also incorporate powerful natural ingredients, like tea tree oil, vitamin E, and green tea extract. Before jumping straight to the strongest (and harshest) prescription treatment available, we highly recommend giving this gentle but effective brand a try for a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, you can always send your empty product bottles back to the company and they will reimburse you in full.


Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
Any acne treatment is a weeks-long experiment that you’re conducting with your skin. Acne is slow to heal, and in some cases, it can get worse before it gets better (nearly every benzoyl peroxide product we looked at emphasized the likeliness of irritating acne further, and starting off with a lighter application). April W. Armstrong, a doctor at the University of California Davis Health System, recommends waiting at least one month before you deem a product ineffective.

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The best acne medication differs from person to person based on their skin care needs. For some, a gentle over-the-counter option is the best way to reduce acne, while for others, stronger prescription medication is necessary. Regardless of your acne needs, there is an acne medication available for you. The best way to find the right acne treatment is with patience, and sometimes with the assistance of a dermatologist. This guide will cover the basics of acne medication, from benzoyl peroxide to Accutane.
What it is: Spironolactone is a prescription medication in tablet form used to treat certain patients with hyperaldosteronism (the body produces too much aldosterone, a naturally occurring hormone), low potassium levels, and in patients with edema (fluid retention) caused by various conditions.1 Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Acne vulgaris and its resultant scars have been associated with significant social and academic difficulties that can last into adulthood, including difficulties obtaining employment.[30][177] Until the 1930s, it was largely seen as a trivial problem among middle-class girls – a trivial problem, because, unlike smallpox and tuberculosis, no one died from it, and a feminine problem, because boys were much less likely to seek medical assistance for it.[165] During the Great Depression, dermatologists discovered that young men with acne had difficulty obtaining jobs, and during World War II, some soldiers in tropical climates developed such severe and widespread tropical acne on their bodies that they were declared medically unfit for duty.[165]
When whiteheads and blackheads become infected with bacteria, called Propionibacterium acnes, it leads to inflammatory acne. Regular bacteria is found in most whiteheads and blackheads, but P. acnes is attracted to the closed, oily environment. This bacteria makes acne more difficult to treat. The four different pimple types that characterize inflammatory acne are papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.

The idea behind using antibiotics for acne is that they can help reduce the number of p. acnes on the skin and relieve an acute case of severe acne. After the person stops taking the antibiotics, the hope is that the reduced numbers of p. acnes will prevent the pimples or cysts from getting out of hand again. However, in reality, most people simply end up taking the antibiotics much longer than they should, and the acne almost always comes back. That’s because, according to The Lancet: Infectious Diseases, over 50 percent of p. acnes strains are resistant to antibiotics7. If your doctor tries to prescribe you antibiotics for your acne, we recommend asking about other courses of action.
The best acne-fighting ingredients will offer several benefits, including reducing or eliminating excess oil and removing the dead skin that builds up and clogs your pores. There are two main chemical ingredients that are FDA approved for fighting acne and you can find them in a range of acne-fighting products, including the ones in the chart above. The natural ingredients, on the other hand, have been proven to work by scientific studies but not all have been approved by the FDA as a guaranteed acne-fighting ingredient, like tea tree oil for example. Nonetheless, you will still find a combination of these chemical and natural ingredients in many skin care products on the market, and many of them work amazingly on the right skin type.
Although there is no one single cure for acne, we based our reviews first on what doctors are saying about these products and their ingredients. Then we did some digging into all the reviews. We ruled out those products that had primarily negative responses. After all that, we consulted natural product experts to see which system they felt were the best acne treatment.
Warning: Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. But it is an effective ingredient at drying up pus-filled pimples and whiteheads (you’ve gotta take the good with the bad). It works by sucking up the oil. Sulfur is typically mixed with other active ingredients to get the most efficacy and fragrances to mask the strong scent. You can often find it in masks and spot treatments.

According to Dr. Bailey, it’s not enough to have a facial cleanser designed for acne-prone skin. Half the battle is properly washing your face. Here’s what she recommends: “First, wet your face with warm water, then lather your cleanser over all of your facial skin. Depending on your skin type, you can use your fingers, an exfoliating cloth or a sonic skin-cleansing brush system. Rinse well with warm water to remove the lather entirely. Some of the important acne cleanser ingredients will stay behind, but the cleanser’s foaming agents, as well as built-up oil, dead cells, products and bacteria, will be rinsed off of your skin.”
The first thing you need to do to take care of your skin is to use sunscreen. The best acne treatment never includes sunbathing and staying out in the sun unprotected will not reduce the number of blackheads or whiteheads you have. It will, however, lead to more skin problems down the road and can cause a breakout or two right now. Wrinkles, age spots and even skin cancer are on the agenda of someone who decides they don’t need to protect their skin.

Topical and oral preparations of nicotinamide (the amide form of vitamin B3) have been suggested as alternative medical treatments.[134] It is thought to improve acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to suppress sebum production, and by promoting wound healing.[134] Topical and oral preparations of zinc have similarly been proposed as effective treatments for acne; evidence to support their use for this purpose is limited.[135] The purported efficacy of zinc is attributed to its capacity to reduce inflammation and sebum production, and inhibit P. acnes.[135] Antihistamines may improve symptoms among those already taking isotretinoin due to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to suppress sebum production.[136]
No single product can contain all of the necessary acne-fighting ingredients, despite what some may claim. Some chemicals shouldn’t be used together, while others work together to totally eradicate acne and all the blemishes that come with it. The best acne treatment systems can do that for you, but because everyone’s skin is unique, what works for one person may not work for another. The key lies in finding the right system, a combination of products, that work best for your unique skin.
The relationship between diet and acne is unclear, as there is no high-quality evidence that establishes any definitive link between them.[51] High-glycemic-load diets have been found to have different degrees of effect on acne severity.[7][52][53] Multiple randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies have found a lower-glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne.[52] There is weak observational evidence suggesting that dairy milk consumption is positively associated with a higher frequency and severity of acne.[50][51][52][54][55] Milk contains whey protein and hormones such as bovine IGF-1 and precursors of dihydrotestosterone.[52] These components are hypothesized to promote the effects of insulin and IGF-1 and thereby increase the production of androgen hormones, sebum, and promote the formation of comedones.[52][56] Available evidence does not support a link between eating chocolate or salt and acne severity.[51][54] Chocolate does contain varying amounts of sugar, which can lead to a high glycemic load, and it can be made with or without milk. Few studies have examined the relationship between obesity and acne.[2] Vitamin B12 may trigger skin outbreaks similar to acne (acneiform eruptions), or worsen existing acne, when taken in doses exceeding the recommended daily intake.[57] Eating greasy foods does not increase acne nor make it worse.[58][59] One review linked a Western pattern diet, high in simple carbohydrates, milk and dairy products, and trans fats and saturated fats, along with a low omega-3 fatty acids, with acne.[56]
How to Handle It: Your best bet is benzoyl peroxide. "Benzoyl peroxide can kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation," says Zeichner. Try a cream like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual-Action Acne Treatment ($37), which also exfoliates with lipo-hydroxy acid. Be aware that it can seriously dry out skin so moisturize well after you use it.
Oral antibiotics are recommended for no longer than three months as antibiotic courses exceeding this duration are associated with the development of antibiotic resistance and show no clear benefit over shorter courses.[87] Furthermore, if long-term oral antibiotics beyond three months are thought to be necessary, it is recommended that benzoyl peroxide and/or a retinoid be used at the same time to limit the risk of P. acnes developing antibiotic resistance.[87]

A 2013 study on acne vulgaris in The Nurse Practitioner concurred that a multidimensional approach to acne is usually necessary because most people have a combination of symptoms. Based on the advice of dermatologists and aestheticians, we turned our focus to regimen sets, analyzing the ingredients of more than 40 kits before finding our top picks.

Feverfew – Commonly known as wild chamomile, feverfew is a plant that has been used for generations. It was once called “parthenium” by the ancient Greeks and is used to treat various ailments and disease. When it comes to your skin, feverfew is anti-inflammatory7, reducing and preventing redness and swelling. It’s also high in anti-oxidants and can be consumed orally in the form of tea for added benefits, like healing your skin from the inside out.
Flutamide, a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, is effective in the treatment of acne in women.[101][108] It has generally been found to reduce symptoms of acne by 80 or 90% even at low doses, with several studies showing complete acne clearance.[101][109][110] In one study, flutamide decreased acne scores by 80% within 3 months, whereas spironolactone decreased symptoms by only 40% in the same time period.[110][111][112] In a large long-term study, 97% of women reported satisfaction with the control of their acne with flutamide.[113] Although effective, flutamide has a risk of serious liver toxicity, and cases of death in women taking even low doses of the medication to treat androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions have occurred.[114] As such, the use of flutamide for acne has become increasingly limited,[113][115][116] and it has been argued that continued use of flutamide for such purposes is unethical.[114] Bicalutamide, a pure androgen receptor antagonist with the same mechanism as flutamide and with comparable or superior antiandrogenic efficacy but without its risk of liver toxicity, is a potential alternative to flutamide in the treatment of androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions in women.[106][117][118][119]

Considerations: Regardless of the type of antibiotic prescribed, only about one half of patients respond. When antibiotics do produce results, these results are moderate at best.5-8 Oral antibiotics should be used for only a short period of time, up to 6 months. However, even within this short time frame, antibiotics have been implicated in the proliferation of resistant colonies of bacteria. Some antibiotics cause increased sensitivity to sunlight. Exposure to the sun could cause a rash, itchiness, or redness, and you may be burnt more easily, so you'll want to wear protective clothing and sunscreen.2 Side effects may include upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, headache, vomiting, dizziness, or light-headedness as your body becomes accustomed to it.2 Minocycline is less prescribed because it works no better than any other antibiotic and comes with safety concerns, including the possibility of irreversible skin pigmentation.8-11
Considerations: Benzoyl peroxide is able to produce complete clearing of acne only when used in an adequate dosage and within a properly applied benzoyl peroxide regimen. Some dryness, redness, and itchiness is to be expected in the first few weeks of use.6 Scientists call this initial period the "hardening effect" of benzoyl peroxide. About 1-3% of people are allergic to benzoyl peroxide and experience an inflammation of the skin or severe crusting.3This should not be confused with the "hardening effect" of benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide, like any other peroxide, can bleach hair and fabric.1
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids – These are synthetic acids derived from sugary fruits that remove dead skin cells3 while reducing inflammation. The two common types that can be found in over-the-counter acne treatments are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Another benefit of these acids is that they improve the appearance of your acne scars and make your pores look smaller by stimulating the growth of new, healthy skin.
The severity of acne vulgaris (Gr. ἀκµή, "point" + L. vulgaris, "common")[23] can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe as this helps to determine an appropriate treatment regimen.[19] Mild acne is classically defined by the presence of clogged skin follicles (known as comedones) limited to the face with occasional inflammatory lesions.[19] Moderate severity acne is said to occur when a higher number of inflammatory papules and pustules occur on the face compared to mild cases of acne and are found on the trunk of the body.[19] Severe acne is said to occur when nodules (the painful 'bumps' lying under the skin) are the characteristic facial lesions and involvement of the trunk is extensive.[19][24]
What's Going On: If it's big, red, and painful, you're probably experiencing cystic acne, one of the more severe types. "Cystic pimples are caused by genetics and hormonal stimulation of oil glands," says Zeichner. Not only are they large, but they're also notoriously tough to treat. They often recur in the same place, because even if you manage to get rid of one, it can keep filling up with oil again and again, like an immortal pimple.
Combination therapy—using medications of different classes together, each with a different mechanism of action—has been demonstrated to be a more efficacious approach to acne treatment than monotherapy.[10][46] The use of topical benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics together has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics alone.[10] Similarly, using a topical retinoid with an antibiotic clears acne lesions faster than the use of antibiotics alone.[10] Frequently used combinations include the following: antibiotic and benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic and topical retinoid, or topical retinoid and benzoyl peroxide.[46] The pairing of benzoyl peroxide with a retinoid is preferred over the combination of a topical antibiotic with a retinoid since both regimens are effective but benzoyl peroxide does not lead to antibiotic resistance.[10]
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