There are two big guns used to take down acne, and they're both great at doing entirely different things. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that comes from willow bark and works primarily as an exfoliator, breaking down fatty acids like sebum so your pores don’t clog. (Glycolic acid works similarly but is less effective.) These acids do their thing on comedones — whiteheads, blackheads, and other non-red bumps.
Our favorite for banishing blemishes on the fly, Glossier's zit stick is not only effective, but it's portable. Just stash it in your purse for any unexpected breakouts! Packed with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this convenient roll-on works extremely quickly. In a clinical trial, 83% of test subjects said that it lessened the appearance of pimples in just 3 hours. We've tried it ourselves and can confirm the 3-hour claim is true.
Tea Tree Oil – Another anti-bacterial ingredient that is common in over-the-counter treatments, tea tree oil combats acne-causing bacteria. While the FDA hasn’t officially approved it for acne treatment, some dermatologists say it’s almost as effective as benzoyl peroxide for clearing skin, although it doesn’t work quite as fast. It can be used for spot treatment as well.
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.
Considerations: THERE IS AN EXTREMELY HIGH RISK THAT A DEFORMED INFANT CAN RESULT IF PREGNANCY OCCURS WHILE TAKING ACCUTANE IN ANY AMOUNT AND EVEN FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME. FEMALES WHO ARE PREGNANT OR WHO MAY BECOME PREGNANT WHILE UNDERGOING TREATMENT SHOULD NOT TAKE ACCUTANE. There are many other warnings as well.1-3 Side effects of Accutane are many, some of which include dry and cracked lips, dry skin, dry nose and mouth, mild to moderate muscle or joint aches.1-2,4-7
Acne inversa (L. invertō, "upside down") and acne rosacea (rosa, "rose-colored" + -āceus, "forming") are not true forms of acne and respectively refer to the skin conditions hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) and rosacea.[25][26][27] Although HS shares certain common features with acne vulgaris, such as a tendency to clog skin follicles with skin cell debris, the condition otherwise lacks the defining features of acne and is therefore considered a distinct skin disorder.[25]
Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[34] By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time.[34] Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis.[34] The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone.[34] Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area.[34] Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration.[34] Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people.[34] In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.[34]
This foaming cleanser is a soap-free gel that will clear away clogged pores without drying skin out. Designed not to disturb the skin’s natural moisture balance, the formula is made with astringent lavender extract to minimize pores and balance PH, while the anti-inflammatory balm mint extract soothes inflammation, giving skin a visibly clearer appearance. It uses alpha hydroxy acids and quillaja saponaria to deep clean pores and fight acne-causing bacteria.

Many doctors treat whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples, with either a prescription for an antibiotic or prescription strength benzoyl peroxide or both. These treatments are harsh for mild to moderate problems. If you have an exceptionally deep skin infection causing nodules or cysts, you should be given a referral to a dermatologist. This is also true if you have an aggressive form of acne that causes blemishes to grow together all over your upper body (acne conglobata). You will probably need laser therapy or surgical reconstruction procedures if you have this rare condition.
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.
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