Even though scientists know how pimples and blackheads are formed, they are still not sure what causes you to have a body full of blemishes and the guy sitting next to you not to have a single spot on his face? It’s probably related to hereditary factors. If your parents dealt with acne when they were younger, you’re more likely to struggle with acne, too.
Antibiotics. These work by killing excess skin bacteria and reducing redness. For the first few months of treatment, you may use both a retinoid and an antibiotic, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. The antibiotics are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin). Topical antibiotics alone aren't recommended.
For some, the right dosage can be found over-the-counter in concentrations as low as 2.5 percent or up to 10 percent, but for others, a prescription dosage is needed to see the best results. Prescription doses rarely go over 10 percent, as benzoyl peroxide is known to cause stinging, burning, itching, flaking, peeling, and redness2 when used in concentrations over 5 percent, but they may combine the benzoyl peroxide with other acne medications.
Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties.[132][133] It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells.[132] Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy.[19] Dry skin is the most commonly seen side effect with topical application, though darkening of the skin has been observed in individuals with darker skin types.[1]
Having a specific type of skin now doesn’t mean you will be stuck with it the rest of your life. As you get older, your skin can change. It may be oily when you are younger but become dry as you age. Plus, skin can become more or less sensitive over time. It’s always a good idea to retest for your skin type if you notice any changes. We’ve included a guide above to help you recognize what kind of acne you have, what the average causes are, and how to treat it (or at least not aggravate it).

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Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
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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.
This foaming face wash is made by a brand used most by eczema sufferers, too. Its formula uses a small 0.5% of salicylic acid and ACTIVE NATURALS®, which is their moisture-rich soy formula that helps to improve skin texture and tone. Gentle enough to use daily, this oil-free, non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic cleanser is good for treating and preventing blemishes and breakouts without over-drying your skin.
Sodium sulfacetamide-sulfur is another acne medications often found in over-the-counter treatments, and it works especially well for those with mild-moderate acne that is largely made up of pimples. This is because it effectively dries out excess sebum without drying out the skin, and some studies suggest that this combination of sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur has antibacterial properties. According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, sodium sulfacetamide 10 percent-sulfur 5 percent can significantly reduce the size of p. acnes colonies when used as an emollient foam6. This treatment option is also available as a facewash, topical gel, and topical cream, and can be found at most drugstores.
Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne.[150] Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne.[150] Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis.[1] Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against P. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties.[65] Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality.[151] There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.[150]
Retinoids: Retinoids are substances that are derived from vitamin A, which includes retinol, but also includes synthetic versions of retinol with activated retinoic acid which tends to be more effective in treating acne. Retinoic acid has been shown to reduce sebum production8 and regulate skin cell production9, which together can greatly reduce acne. These synthetic retinoids include adapalene, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and others. Although these synthetic options are more reliably effective, they also tend to have more side effects, like burning, itching, and dryness. Unlike retinol, which is available over-the-counter, nearly all synthetic retinoids are prescription-only. One of the main exceptions is Differin, which is a brand that sells a topical gel containing adapalene, a mild synthetic retinoid, over-the-counter.
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.
Drugs.com provides accurate and independent information on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Data sources include IBM Watson Micromedex (updated 1 May 2019), Cerner Multum™ (updated 2 May 2019), Wolters Kluwer™ (updated 1 May 2019) and others.
Antiandrogens such as cyproterone acetate and spironolactone have been used successfully to treat acne, especially in women with signs of excessive androgen production such as increased hairiness or skin production of sebum, or baldness.[10][46] Spironolactone is an effective treatment for acne in adult women, but unlike combined birth control pills, is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for this purpose.[1][35][100] The medication is primarily used as an aldosterone antagonist and is thought to be a useful acne treatment due to its ability to additionally block the androgen receptor at higher doses.[35] Alone or in combination with a birth control pill, spironolactone has shown a 33 to 85% reduction in acne lesions in women.[91] The effectiveness of spironolactone for acne appears to be dose-dependent.[91] High-dose cyproterone acetate alone has been found to decrease symptoms of acne in women by 75 to 90% within 3 months.[101] It is usually combined with an estrogen to avoid menstrual irregularities and estrogen deficiency.[102] The medication has also been found to be effective in the treatment of acne in males, with one study finding that a high dosage reduced inflammatory acne lesions by 73%.[103][104] However, the side effects of cyproterone acetate in males, such as gynecomastia, sexual dysfunction, and decreased bone mineral density, make its use for acne in this sex impractical in most cases.[103][104][105] Hormonal therapies should not be used to treat acne during pregnancy or lactation as they have been associated with birth disorders such as hypospadias, and feminization of the male babies.[46] In addition, women who are sexually active and who can or may become pregnant should use an effective method of contraception to prevent pregnancy while taking an antiandrogen.[106] Antiandrogens are often combined with birth control pills for this reason, which can result in additive efficacy.[35][107]

Before you can find the best acne treatment for you, you have to know what type of skin you have. It’s also good to understand how your skin reacts to different weather conditions and foods that you may eat. Most people don’t realize that the skin is your body’s largest organ. It’s complex and is designed to encase and protect your body and all of your vital organs.
According to Dr. Bailey, the best facial cleansers for acne should have at least one of these key ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Cleansers with these ingredients can penetrate your pores and eliminate pore-clogging impurities—like dead skin cells, makeup, excess oil and bacteria—that irritate skin and make acne worse.
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.

Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.
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
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.
The best acne treatment will also include gentle cleanser. Regular bars of soap have harsher cleansers in them that can create problems of their own and encourage bacteria to spread. It is also a good idea to use makeup wipes to clean off any makeup (if you wear it) before you wash your face. Only washing your face without the wipe or wiping your face without the wash is not a good combination. You will either end up missing some of the makeup or you will end up leaving preservatives and other residues on your face.
P. acnes also provokes skin inflammation by altering the fatty composition of oily sebum.[44] Oxidation of the lipid squalene by P. acnes is of particular importance. Squalene oxidation activates NF-κB (a protein complex) and consequently increases IL-1α levels.[44] Additionally, squalene oxidation leads to increased activity of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme responsible for conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotriene B4 (LTB4).[44] LTB4 promotes skin inflammation by acting on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) protein.[44] PPARα increases activity of activator protein 1 (AP-1) and NF-κB, thereby leading to the recruitment of inflammatory T cells.[44] The inflammatory properties of P. acnes can be further explained by the bacterium's ability to convert sebum triglycerides to pro-inflammatory free fatty acids via secretion of the enzyme lipase.[44] These free fatty acids spur production of cathelicidin, HBD1, and HBD2, thus leading to further inflammation.[44]
Pharaohs are recorded as having had acne, which may be the earliest known reference to the disease. Since at least the reign of Cleopatra (69–30 BC), the application of sulfur to the skin has been recognized as a useful treatment for acne.[162] The sixth-century Greek physician Aëtius of Amida is credited with coining the term "ionthos" (ίονθωξ,) or "acnae", which is believed to have been a reference to facial skin lesions that occur during "the 'acme' of life" (puberty).[163]
Retinoids – Recommended for people with moderate to severe acne, retinoids can unclog your pores, allowing for your other medicated acne treatments to penetrate deeper. They can reduce your potential for outbreaks and the formation of acne scarring2. You can also use a retinoid cream directly as a treatment after your face cleanse, or even take it in the form of a retinoid pill to treat oil/sebum production and to treat inflammation and acne-causing bacteria.

Although the late stages of pregnancy are associated with an increase in sebaceous gland activity in the skin, pregnancy has not been reliably associated with worsened acne severity.[137] In general, topically applied medications are considered the first-line approach to acne treatment during pregnancy, as they have little systemic absorption and are therefore unlikely to harm a developing fetus.[137] Highly recommended therapies include topically applied benzoyl peroxide (category C) and azelaic acid (category B).[137] Salicylic acid carries a category C safety rating due to higher systemic absorption (9–25%), and an association between the use of anti-inflammatory medications in the third trimester and adverse effects to the developing fetus including too little amniotic fluid in the uterus and early closure of the babies' ductus arteriosus blood vessel.[46][137] Prolonged use of salicylic acid over significant areas of the skin or under occlusive dressings is not recommended as these methods increase systemic absorption and the potential for fetal harm.[137] Tretinoin (category C) and adapalene (category C) are very poorly absorbed, but certain studies have suggested teratogenic effects in the first trimester.[137] Due to persistent safety concerns, topical retinoids are not recommended for use during pregnancy.[138] In studies examining the effects of topical retinoids during pregnancy, fetal harm has not been seen in the second and third trimesters.[137] Retinoids contraindicated for use during pregnancy include the topical retinoid tazarotene, and oral retinoids isotretinoin and acitretin (all category X).[137] Spironolactone is relatively contraindicated for use during pregnancy due to its antiandrogen effects.[1] Finasteride is not recommended as it is highly teratogenic.[1]

Alternative and integrative medicine approaches used in the treatment of acne include fish oil, brewer's yeast, probiotics, oral zinc and topical tea tree oil. More research is needed to establish the potential effectiveness and long-term safety of these and other integrative approaches, such as biofeedback and traditional Chinese medicine. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of specific treatments before you try them.


Although there is not enough research to determine if certain foods cause breakouts, there are certain changes you can make to your diet to help prevent them. For breakfast, switching to plain oatmeal that has only been sweetened with fresh fruit can help prevent excessive androgen production. When you eat fish, opt for salmon, which is high in omega-3s. One omega-3 called DHA is an anti-inflammatory. Snacking on sunflower seeds can give you more vitamin E in your diet. Vitamin E helps the immune system fight off bacteria before inflammation and cysts occur. Finally, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day. Your body needs almost half a gallon each day.
Acne removal: Your dermatologist may perform a procedure called “drainage and extraction” to remove a large acne cyst. This procedure helps when the cyst does not respond to medicine. It also helps ease the pain and the chance that the cyst will leave a scar. If you absolutely have to get rid of a cyst quickly, your dermatologist may inject the cyst with medicine.
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