The earliest pathologic change is the formation of a plug (a microcomedone), which is driven primarily by excessive growth, reproduction, and accumulation of skin cells in the hair follicle.[1] In normal skin, the skin cells that have died come up to the surface and exit the pore of the hair follicle.[10] However, increased production of oily sebum in those with acne causes the dead skin cells to stick together.[10] The accumulation of dead skin cell debris and oily sebum blocks the pore of the hair follicle, thus forming the microcomedone.[10] This is further exacerbated by the biofilm created by P. acnes within the hair follicle.[44] If the microcomedone is superficial within the hair follicle, the skin pigment melanin is exposed to air, resulting in its oxidation and dark appearance (known as a blackhead or open comedo).[1][10][19] In contrast, if the microcomedone occurs deep within the hair follicle, this causes the formation of a whitehead (known as a closed comedo).[1][10]
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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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.
The third phase of the life cycle of acne is inflammation. At this point, your body’s immune system may deal with the problem, but if it doesn’t, different bacteria can move into the pore. Detecting an enemy bacterial invader, your body responds by emitting white blood cells to the infected area. In some cases, the white blood cells have a difficult time fighting the bacteria, and some die, contributing to the oily buildup and creating pus.
You’ve probably heard of the benefits of retinoid creams for anti-aging, but vitamin A is also efficient at clearing up acne. “[Retinoids] cause skin cells to turn over at a faster rate, decrease oil production, and help skin exfoliate,” board-certified dermatologist Rita Linkner, M.D., tells SELF. Another benefit: Acne is inflammation, and retinoids are anti-inflammatory.

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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.
Have you tried treating your acne with no luck? You might simply be using the wrong product for the type you have. Whether you have periodic breakouts or more stubborn cystic acne, there's a solution. We asked Dr. Neal Schultz, an NYC dermatologist, to share the best treatments for every type of acne. Read on for his expert product recommendations, along with some editor favorites, that'll give you clear skin in no time.

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.
Once you hit your 30s, there's a good chance you'll still occasionally battle the same breakouts you've had since your teen years at the same time you're trying to stave off the fine lines that come with age. But you don't have to choose between a facial cleanser that only fights dull, aging skin or clears up zits. Plenty of products fight both—you just need to know what to look for. 
In women, acne can be improved with the use of any combined birth control pill.[89] These medications contain an estrogen and a progestin.[90] They work by decreasing the production of androgen hormones by the ovaries and by decreasing the free and hence biologically active fractions of androgens, resulting in lowered skin production of sebum and consequently reduced acne severity.[10][91] Although oral estrogens can decrease IGF-1 levels in some situations and this might be expected to additionally contribute to improvement in acne symptoms,[92][93] combined birth control pills appear to have no effect on IGF-1 levels in fertile women.[90][94] However, cyproterone acetate-containing birth control pills have been reported to decrease total and free IGF-1 levels.[95] Combinations containing third- or fourth-generation progestins including desogestrel, dienogest, drospirenone, or norgestimate, as well as birth control pills containing cyproterone acetate or chlormadinone acetate, are preferred for women with acne due to their stronger antiandrogenic effects.[96][97][98] Studies have shown a 40 to 70% reduction in acne lesions with combined birth control pills.[91] A 2014 review found that antibiotics by mouth appear to be somewhat more effective than birth control pills at decreasing the number of inflammatory acne lesions at three months.[99] However, the two therapies are approximately equal in efficacy at six months for decreasing the number of inflammatory, non-inflammatory, and total acne lesions.[99] The authors of the analysis suggested that birth control pills may be a preferred first-line acne treatment, over oral antibiotics, in certain women due to similar efficacy at six months and a lack of associated antibiotic resistance.[99]

Hormonal treatments for acne such as combined birth control pills and antiandrogens may be considered a first-line therapy for acne under a number of circumstances, including when contraception is desired, when known or suspected hyperandrogenism is present, when acne occurs in adulthood, when acne flares premenstrually, and when symptoms of significant sebum production (seborrhea) are co-present.[128] Hormone therapy is effective for acne even in women with normal androgen levels.[128]


The third phase of the life cycle of acne is inflammation. At this point, your body’s immune system may deal with the problem, but if it doesn’t, different bacteria can move into the pore. Detecting an enemy bacterial invader, your body responds by emitting white blood cells to the infected area. In some cases, the white blood cells have a difficult time fighting the bacteria, and some die, contributing to the oily buildup and creating pus.

The side effects depend on the type of treatment you use. Generally, for topical, over-the-counter creams, you can watch out for stinging, redness, irritation and peeling — these side effects usually don’t go any deeper than the skin. Others, like oral antibiotics or hormonal medications, could come with new sets of complications, so we suggest talking to your doctor before pursuing the treatment.

Comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) must be present to diagnose acne. In their absence, an appearance similar to that of acne would suggest a different skin disorder.[27] Microcomedones (the precursor to blackheads and whiteheads) are not visible to the naked eye when inspecting the skin and can only be seen with a microscope.[27] There are many features that may indicate a person's acne vulgaris is sensitive to hormonal influences. Historical and physical clues that may suggest hormone-sensitive acne include onset between ages 20 and 30; worsening the week before a woman's period; acne lesions predominantly over the jawline and chin; and inflammatory/nodular acne lesions.[1]


Dermabrasion is an effective therapeutic procedure for reducing the appearance of superficial atrophic scars of the boxcar and rolling varieties.[31] Ice-pick scars do not respond well to treatment with dermabrasion due to their depth.[31] The procedure is painful and has many potential side effects such as skin sensitivity to sunlight, redness, and decreased pigmentation of the skin.[31] Dermabrasion has fallen out of favor with the introduction of laser resurfacing.[31] Unlike dermabrasion, there is no evidence that microdermabrasion is an effective treatment for acne.[8]

Chemical peels can be used to reduce the appearance of acne scars.[31] Mild peels include those using glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, Jessner's solution, or a lower concentrations (20%) of trichloroacetic acid. These peels only affect the epidermal layer of the skin and can be useful in the treatment of superficial acne scars as well as skin pigmentation changes from inflammatory acne.[31] Higher concentrations of trichloroacetic acid (30–40%) are considered to be medium-strength peels and affect skin as deep as the papillary dermis.[31] Formulations of trichloroacetic acid concentrated to 50% or more are considered to be deep chemical peels.[31] Medium-strength and deep-strength chemical peels are more effective for deeper atrophic scars, but are more likely to cause side effects such as skin pigmentation changes, infection, and small white superficial cysts known as milia.[31]
All acne is not, actually, created equal. This makes perfect sense, seeing as there are so many factors — i.e. hygiene, hormones, and genetics — that can both lead to and exacerbate your breakouts. But knowledge is power, and just knowing that there are different types, and that each kind requires its own plan of attack, puts you ahead of the clear-skin curve. Once you figure out what you're working with, it gets far easier to treat. Here, your ultimate guide to identifying, and then taking down, every type of acne out there, according to dermatologists. Find out how to identify and deal with the different kinds of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, blind pimples, and cystic zits.
The cleanser and powerful acne treatment in a single formula are designed to treat and prevent breakouts in just one easy step. It’s a deep-cleaning, oil-free formula for cleansing deep into your pores to help anyone, with any skin type, get rid of acne. With only 2% salicylic acid, this gentle formula has special skin soothers that help prevent irritation and over-drying, leaving your skin feeling soft and smooth without the oiliness.
In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide.[9][17] Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world.[18][19][20] Lower rates are reported in some rural societies.[20][21] Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty.[22] Although acne becomes less common in adulthood, it persists in nearly half of affected people into their twenties and thirties and a smaller group continue to have difficulties into their forties.[2]
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.
This type of skin can be oily and dry or oily and normal. Different places on your face will have different symptoms. The good news is that you probably won’t have acne on your cheeks since the skin there is usually less oily. You may have to use different treatments on different areas of your face, though. The T-Zone area of the forehead, nose and chin may be oilier, so exfoliating with a gentle cleanser each day should keep your facial skin balanced. You should look for a moisturizer that isn’t too heavy but that will hold in your skin’s moisture. Gel-like moisturizers are absorbed into combination skin quickly, but don’t over moisturize or your pores may become clogged. You may need to try several brands before finding one that works for you.
The predisposition to acne for specific individuals is likely explained by a genetic component, a theory which is supported by studies examining the rates of acne among twins and first-degree relatives.[2] Severe acne may be associated with XYY syndrome.[39] Acne susceptibility is likely due to the influence of multiple genes, as the disease does not follow a classic (Mendelian) inheritance pattern. Multiple gene candidates have been proposed including certain variations in tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-1 alpha, and CYP1A1 genes, among others.[18] Increased risk is associated with the 308 G/A single nucleotide polymorphism variation in the gene for TNF.[40]
Dermabrasion is an effective therapeutic procedure for reducing the appearance of superficial atrophic scars of the boxcar and rolling varieties.[31] Ice-pick scars do not respond well to treatment with dermabrasion due to their depth.[31] The procedure is painful and has many potential side effects such as skin sensitivity to sunlight, redness, and decreased pigmentation of the skin.[31] Dermabrasion has fallen out of favor with the introduction of laser resurfacing.[31] Unlike dermabrasion, there is no evidence that microdermabrasion is an effective treatment for acne.[8]

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.
If you have oily, tight skin and tend to get age spots or sun spots, try an exfoliant made with glycolic acid right after you cleanse your skin, no more than 4 or 5 times a week. Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads provides just a “dab” of exfoliant that will help lighten the spots without irritating your skin (which over the long run would create new brown spots).
Efforts to better understand the mechanisms of sebum production are underway. The aim of this research is to develop medications that target and interfere with the hormones that are known to increase sebum production (e.g., IGF-1 and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone).[10] Additional sebum-lowering medications being researched include topical antiandrogens and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor modulators.[10] Another avenue of early-stage research has focused on how to best use laser and light therapy to selectively destroy sebum-producing glands in the skin's hair follicles in order to reduce sebum production and improve acne appearance.[10]
Active Ingredients Check the product label for key active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, advises dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki, MD, founder of Toronto's Bay Dermatology Centre and author of the skincare book Beyond Soap. Other ingredients to look for include oils that can help to moisturize skin — just make sure the package says non-comedogenic, which means that it won’t clog pores.
Antibiotics for acne, both topical and oral, used to be the top prescriptions for getting clear skin, but research has revealed that they aren’t the best option for most people today due to something called antibacterial resistance. This is where bacteria mutate, become immune to certain antibiotics, then reproduce offspring that are also immune, creating entire colonies of bacteria that can’t be killed by certain antibiotics.
If a pore is open, it’s called a blackhead or “open comedo”. Because of the opening, contact with the air oxidizes the dead skin cells inside the pore. The air contact turns the melanin inside them darker in color, similar to the way a peeled banana left exposed to the air will darken. This is how the blackhead forms. The color of a blackhead is not because of dirt. It’s a mixture of air and the skin pigment called melanin.

We suggest avoiding spot treatments. “Benzoyl peroxide, when placed on red spots, can actually cause more irritation and inflammation to the area. It’s best used to prevent red bumps and pustules, and applied all over the area you want to treat,” said Townsend, who was also quick to naysay a spot-treat-only approach: “Acne affects all of the pores. If someone is going to spot treat against my advice, I still suggest they spot treat one day and treat the whole face the next.”
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.
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