What's Going On: You might be all too familiar with these, which tend to make their debut when you’re in high school. "Blackheads, like whiteheads, are blocked pores," says Zeichner. What gives them their namesake color, though, is the oil. It's already dark, but blackheads also have a larger opening at the surface than whiteheads do, meaning air can enter and oxidize that oil sitting inside the pore, turning it even darker.
The best acne treatment system will include a cleanser, exfoliant and a treatment product that can be used daily. The idea is to have a product that cleans and clears clogged pores, kills bacteria, exfoliates to remove dead cells and spot treats trouble spots to combat stubborn blemishes and reduces inflammation and redness. For those with oily skin, a toner may be useful. For those with black heads, deep cleansing pore strips will help. If you have dry skin, foaming face wash would be something you want to avoid. The point is, a carefully tailored system is the best approach to an effective acne treatment.
Acne isn’t just a problem for teens. According to studies, those pesky zits and pimples can pop up at any age. Whether it’s your diet, environment or stress that’s to blame, you don’t have to suffer helplessly. To get the skinny on acne, we talked to board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology Physicians, Inc. and founder of DrBaileySkinCare.com. Here, she shares her best tips on how to choose the right acne cleanser for you, as well as how to use it to get the best results.
How to Handle It: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon. "This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Best of Beauty winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid. The formula does double duty: It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. And since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.
One of the most gentle face cleansers we selected is this one from Paula’s Choice. It won’t dehydrate sensitive skin because it has just 0.5% salicylic acid. But it still contains enough to unclog pores and exfoliate dead skin. You’ll hardly know that it’s working because it’s so pleasant to use. The silky texture glides on and lathers away oil and grime. Furthermore, there are no parabens or artificial fragrances in the formula.
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.
But Accutane has mixed reviews for a reason. It makes the skin super dry and sensitive, which means it’s important to keep moisturizers and lip balm nearby while you’re on the treatment. Oh, and don’t even think about waxing your eyebrows (just imagine your skin ripping off). There’s another downside to Accutane: It requires a lot of paperwork and office visits. Since isotretinoin can cause birth defects, you have to come into the dermatologist once a month to get a pregnancy test and take a lengthy survey with embarrassing questions about your sex life to prove that you are using sufficient birth control. These precautions are intense, but dermatologists agree that the final results for Accutane are like no other. “This is one of the few medicines that I can look [patients] in the eye and guarantee them it will work,” says Friedman.
Combined oral contraceptives. Four combined oral contraceptives are approved by the FDA for acne therapy in women who also wish to use them for contraception. They are products that combine estrogen and progestin (Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Yaz, others). You may not see the benefit of this treatment for a few months, so using other acne medications with it the first few weeks may help.
Just as there are no bells and whistles with Purpose above, there are none with this baby-mild product that renowned dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's creamy, simple and isn't loaded with chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. Cetaphil products are revered in the industry and their cleanser is one of the best drugstore buys out there. Period.
A complete skin care regimen to control acne usually starts with washing. The ideal face wash creates a soft creamy lather in warm water. It rinses off dirt, excess oil, and makeup, leaving the face ready for the next step in daily skin care, whether that is toner, moisturizer, exfoliant, sunblock, or more makeup. It is fragrance-free, and it does not create a foam, film, or tingly sensation on the face. Any product that foams and suds vigorously, like a detergent, is a strict no-no for acne treatment, especially on dry skin.
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.
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
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Salicylic Acid – One of the most common topical ingredients you can find over-the-counter, salicylic acid is generally used to reduce the appearance of acne, by reducing swelling and redness. Also known as a beta-hydroxy acid, it exfoliates your skin4 and unclogs your pores, too, but it is quite strong. You’ll only be able to find this in strengths around 2%, but it can still dry and irritate your skin, especially if yours is sensitive. The safest way to use this ingredient is according to the directions!
^ Hay, RJ; Johns, NE; Williams, HC; Bolliger, IW; Dellavalle, RP; Margolis, DJ; Marks, R; Naldi, L; Weinstock, MA; Wulf, SK; Michaud, C; Murray, C; Naghavi, M (October 2013). "The Global Burden of Skin Disease in 2010: An Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Skin Conditions". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 134 (6): 1527–34. doi:10.1038/jid.2013.446. PMID 24166134.
Acne vulgaris and its resultant scars have been associated with significant social and academic difficulties that can last into adulthood, including difficulties obtaining employment. 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. 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.
Sulfur – Not to be confused with irritating sulfates that can be found in some cleansers and treatments, sulfur is an element that can be quite good for your skin. It removes the dead skin cells and excess oils that clog your pores. But just like any chemical ingredient, too much of it can dry your skin out. You’ll likely find it coupled with other ingredients in your cleanser, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and resorcinol.
Retinoids are medications which reduce inflammation, normalize the follicle cell life cycle, and reduce sebum production. They are structurally related to vitamin A. The retinoids appear to influence the cell life cycle in the follicle lining. This helps prevent the accumulation of skin cells within the hair follicle that can create a blockage. They are a first-line acne treatment, especially for people with dark-colored skin, and are known to lead to faster improvement of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Every expert we spoke with said the most critical part of combating acne is combating it every day. “The only way to make any medication work is to use it on a daily basis,” says Dr. Green. Fitz Patrick emphasizes that it really comes down to what you can maintain for the long term: “Kits are great because they take out all the guesswork -- you just follow the instructions. But if four steps is going to be too many for you to keep up week after week, you’ll be better off finding one that has fewer treatments.”
The Pore Normalizing Cleanser is designed just to cleanse, not treat, which is a good thing: The Nurse Practitioner study emphasizes the importance of washing with mild cleansers in conjunction with topical acne medications to combat or avoid excessive skin irritation. This one is water-based and fragrance-free, and uses sodium laureth sulfate (as opposed to its harsh cousin sodium lauryl sulfate) to eliminate any chance for irritation.
Perhaps one of the most popular cleansers for combination skin care on the market today, Boscia's purifying cleansing gel works best for oily to normal skin types. It works by gently cleansing skin without stripping it and adding harsh elements to the skin. It can be a tad drying, so it works best on women with more oily spots than dry spots. You can also use it to cleanse your oily T-zone, but keep it away from your dry spots, where you may want to moisturize more.
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