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.”
All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
Spot treatments are designed to give problem pimples a mega-dose of concentrated benzoyl peroxide — in a couple of regimens, like the Proactiv Teen Kit, the spot treatment had nearly three times the benzoyl peroxide as its all-over treatment. The logic: If benzoyl peroxide can be irritating to the skin in high concentrations, limiting its intensity to just the pimple itself could save the rest of your healthy skin.
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Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response.[31] They are described as firm and raised from the skin.[31][33] Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders.[31] Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.[31]

Tretinoin: As we said above, tretinoin (common brand name: Retin-A) is a synthetic retinoid, but it is stronger than some of the other options, and its cousin, isotretinoin, is even stronger. Isotretinoin, better known as Accutane, is an oral synthetic retinoid typically only prescribed for very severe cases of cystic acne because it can cause intense side effects and is a powerful teratogen, meaning it causes birth defects. However, after taking isotretinoin for several months, many people never need to do any serious acne treatment again, so for some, it is well worth the side effects.
Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is usually the result of nodular acne lesions. These lesions often leave behind an inflamed darkened mark after the original acne lesion has resolved. This inflammation stimulates specialized pigment-producing skin cells (known as melanocytes) to produce more melanin pigment which leads to the skin's darkened appearance.[34] People with darker skin color are more frequently affected by this condition.[35] Pigmented scar is a common term used for PIH, but is misleading as it suggests the color change is permanent. Often, PIH can be prevented by avoiding any aggravation of the nodule, and can fade with time. However, untreated PIH can last for months, years, or even be permanent if deeper layers of skin are affected.[36] Even minimal skin exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can sustain hyperpigmentation.[34] Daily use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen can minimize such a risk.[36]
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The main hormonal driver of oily sebum production in the skin is dihydrotestosterone.[1] Another androgenic hormone responsible for increased sebaceous gland activity is DHEA-S. Higher amounts of DHEA-S are secreted during adrenarche (a stage of puberty), and this leads to an increase in sebum production. In a sebum-rich skin environment, the naturally occurring and largely commensal skin bacterium P. acnes readily grows and can cause inflammation within and around the follicle due to activation of the innate immune system.[10] P. acnes triggers skin inflammation in acne by increasing the production of several pro-inflammatory chemical signals (such as IL-1α, IL-8, TNF-α, and LTB4); IL-1α is known to be essential to comedo formation.[44]

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]
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.
Acne scars are caused by inflammation within the dermal layer of skin and are estimated to affect 95% of people with acne vulgaris.[30] The scar is created by abnormal healing following this dermal inflammation.[31] Scarring is most likely to take place with severe acne, but may occur with any form of acne vulgaris.[30] Acne scars are classified based on whether the abnormal healing response following dermal inflammation leads to excess collagen deposition or loss at the site of the acne lesion.[32]
Low concentrations of salicylic acid, like 0.5 percent, are perfect for people who have both acne and sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin, you know that most of the “best” acne medications just don’t work for you because they are too strong. Products that are too strong for you can cause increased inflammation, which can actually lead to more acne rather than less. Because of this, salicylic acid is our number one recommendation for sensitive skin.

Hair follicles are the tiny structures that grow hair in the scalp. Sebaceous glands produce sebum. On areas where acne develops, sebaceous glands surround the hair follicles. The combination of the sebaceous glands and the hair follicles is the "pilosebaceous unit," where acne pimples and cysts develop. Sebum moisturizes hair and skin. Each hair pushes up through the skin surface along with sebum.
Pustules, as their name suggests, are filled with pus. They usually have a white or yellow center surrounded by extremely inflamed skin that is pink or red. The pus isn’t just bacteria and skin cells—it contains some dead white blood cells that were trying to fight the bacteria, too. Squeezing these can cause the skin around them to darken and scar.
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.
Skincare is an extra challenge for those with sensitive skin because certain ingredients might cause irritation or inflammation. Spending too much time out in the wind and sun can also increase reactions. You can have oily, dry or combination skin and still have sensitive skin, too. For both skincare products and cosmetics, try out only one product at a time to see what effects it will have on your skin. The best way to start out is by patch-testing the product on your inner forearm. If you see no negative impact, you can apply it to the area behind your ear before trying it on your face. There are many products on the market now that advertise as effective for sensitive skin, but testing them is the only way to determine which is best for your skin.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Products: Even though it’s not made in a lab, tea tree oil has been studied and proven to be a powerful anti-acne agent. The Body Shop takes advantage of this ingredient with their full line of tea tree oil products, from pure oil to face wipes to a clay mask, all containing tea tree oil. These products are best for oily skin, pimples, and cystic acne.
Recommended therapies for first-line use in acne vulgaris treatment include topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and topical or oral antibiotics.[78] Procedures such as light therapy and laser therapy are not considered to be first-line treatments and typically have an adjunctive role due to their high cost and limited evidence of efficacy.[77] Medications for acne work by targeting the early stages of comedo formation and are generally ineffective for visible skin lesions; improvement in the appearance of acne is typically expected between six and eight weeks after starting therapy.[1]
Low concentrations of salicylic acid, like 0.5 percent, are perfect for people who have both acne and sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin, you know that most of the “best” acne medications just don’t work for you because they are too strong. Products that are too strong for you can cause increased inflammation, which can actually lead to more acne rather than less. Because of this, salicylic acid is our number one recommendation for sensitive skin.
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