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.
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.
You won't find a face wash in this list that's not universally beloved, but keep in mind that what works for one person won't work for everyone. The biggest secret to finding a great facial cleanser is choosing one that's formulated for your skin type: dry, oily, combination, sensitive or blemished. Unfortunately, few women really know their skin type.
How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943.[83] Benzoyl peroxide was first proposed as a treatment in 1958 and has been routinely used for this purpose since the 1960s.[167] Acne treatment was modified in the 1950s with the introduction of oral tetracycline antibiotics (such as minocycline). These reinforced the idea amongst dermatologists that bacterial growth on the skin plays an important role in causing acne.[163] Subsequently, in the 1970s tretinoin (original trade name Retin A) was found to be an effective treatment.[168] The development of oral isotretinoin (sold as Accutane and Roaccutane) followed in 1980.[169] After its introduction in the United States it was recognized as a medication highly likely to cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy. In the United States, more than 2,000 women became pregnant while taking isotretinoin between 1982 and 2003, with most pregnancies ending in abortion or miscarriage. About 160 babies were born with birth defects.[170][171]

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.
Neutrogena is one of the best drugstore beauty brands, hands-down, and you can't go wrong with this simple acne wash for acne-stricken skin. It's an Allure Magazine Reader Choice Awards winner, as well. Readers love it because the salicylic acid gel is gentle and soothing — spiked with aloe and chamomile. It also dries out breakouts without drying out sensitive, irritable skin, according to Allure.
Azelaic acid is a natural acid that is derived from various grains like wheat and barley. It helps reduce acne by preventing skin cell buildup, killing p. acnes bacteria, and reducing inflammation4. This means it can help reduce all kinds of acne, from blackheads to pimples. Blackheads and whiteheads form when dead skin cells combine with sebum, the oil our skin naturally produces and get clogged in a pore. To get rid of this kind of acne, it helps to regulate your skin cell production and exfoliate your skin to remove excess dead skin cells. Azelaic acid is a great way to do both of these things, while also decreasing inflammation and killing bacteria. When the skin is inflamed, it swells slightly, causing the pores to constrict. This traps dead skin cells and sebum inside, leading to blackheads and whiteheads, and if bacteria get trapped as well, then pimples can also form.
Beyond making sure the system contains safe combinations of ingredients, a system can also treat all aspects of acne. By picking and choosing individual products, you may miss an important step. Plus, treatment systems contain ingredients like glycolic acid that help smooth acne scars, something you might not think about when you are shopping for products. Did you know probiotics help reduce inflammation? Or that kojic acid and arbutin can lighten brown spots? When it comes to treating acne, you should leave the mixing to professionals. You still can try out a variety of systems to find the one that works best for you.
Spironolactone has relatively minor side effects, like low appetite, weakness, or cramping, but there’s one major exception: spironolactone comes with a black box warning about its cancer-causing effects. The FDA is required to include this label based on a study conducted in the 1950s that found carcinogenic properties in the spironolactone given to rats in an experiment. However, the dose of spironolactone used in this study was nearly 500 times higher than the dose currently prescribed, and no studies since have found anything carcinogenic about spironolactone. Because of this, most dermatologists feel comfortable prescribing spironolactone for acne. Still, it’s something to be aware of before you take it. Additionally, those with low blood pressure or kidney conditions are likely not good candidates for spironolactone and may want to explore other acne treatment options.

In severe cases, oral isotretinoin may be considered. This medication can be very effective but can also cause serious side effects including severe birth defects. Strict protocols must be followed. Monthly appointments with the treating doctor must be kept throughout the treatment period to monitor for any side effects. In females of child-bearing age, protocol includes two forms of birth control. The treatment period is usually five months.
Benzoyl peroxide attacks the P. acnes bacteria. However, one of its main side effects is dryness: If you’re going to use anything with benzoyl peroxide, make sure to moisturize afterwards. Sulfur and azelaic acid are less common and less severe alternatives to benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Peter Lio, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University, says sulfur-based treatments are “a good fit for patients who can’t tolerate the side effects of benzoyl peroxide.”

The good news about oily skin is that it is less likely to wrinkle, is more supple and doesn’t show its age as soon as other skin types. The bad news is that pores get clogged with oil more frequently. Using a daily gentle exfoliator can balance your skin’s tone and texture and keep pores unplugged. There are also anti-bacterial exfoliators that can speed up healing for breakouts.


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.
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]
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]
You will see the results from the top performers in the comparison chart. Although any of these treatment systems can safely and effectively help reduce blemishes, Exposed Skin Care stands above the rest as the best acne treatment system. All the products are safe and regulated by the FDA, but Exposed Skin Care also works for a variety of skin types, including sensitive skin. The thing we like most about Exposed Skin Care is the 6-month money back guarantee. Many blemish products expect you to use them for six to eight weeks before you see results and then only provide you with a 1-month guarantee. If you purchase individual products in the store, you are stuck with them, since many do not come with any guarantees. Exposed Skin Care allows you to give their product a fair trial before you decide if it is working for your skin.
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!

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash: This product is marketed for facial acne, but we recommend using on pesky body acne instead. PanOxyl uses benzoyl peroxide, a highly effective acne-fighting ingredient that we’ll describe more just below, but at a concentration that is much too high to be used on your face. Most PanOxyl products contain 10% benzoyl peroxide, which will likely cause peeling and burning on your face, but could be the perfect solution for back or butt acne.

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.


Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a long-term skin disease that occurs when hair follicles are clogged with dead skin cells and oil from the skin.[10] It is characterized by blackheads or whiteheads, pimples, oily skin, and possible scarring.[1][2][11] It primarily affects areas of the skin with a relatively high number of oil glands, including the face, upper part of the chest, and back.[12] The resulting appearance can lead to anxiety, reduced self-esteem and, in extreme cases, depression or thoughts of suicide.[3][4]

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.


Risk factors for the development of acne, other than genetics, have not been conclusively identified. Possible secondary contributors include hormones, infections, diet and stress. Studies investigating the impact of smoking on the incidence and severity of acne have been inconclusive.[2][37][38] Sunlight and cleanliness are not associated with acne.[14]
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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