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.
I get asked all the time about my favorite organic skin care products. It seems everyone is worried about putting toxins in and on their bodies. So for cleansers, I recommend Dr. Hauschka's Cleansing Cream. Organic and void of chemicals, the Dr. Hauschka line is super popular among those concerned with healthy skin. So what's in this magic cleanser? Sweet almond meal and extracts of anthyllis, calendula, chamomile and St. John's wort. This cleanser gently exfoliates while adding moisture to skin, which makes it great for aging skin, dry skin and combination skin.
If you’re used to seeing advertisements for acne treatments using five or six different products to clear up blemishes, you might be surprised that a simple three-step kit is our top pick. In fact, we favored Paula’s Choice for its simplicity. This twice-daily, three-step kit — which includes a cleanser, an anti-redness exfoliant, and a leave-on treatment — is concise without cutting corners.
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.
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.

That’s why, no matter how uncomfortable your skin may feel while plagued with acne, you must resist the urge to touch your skin. If the irritating sensations become unbearable, there are other methods of treating your skin, such as cooling it with ice packs or aloe vera gel. You can even use medicated creams designed to soothe irritated skin – given that your dermatologist says it’s okay.
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. 
The key is patience — don’t pick up a new cleanser and expect to see dramatic results right away. While you may be able to spot-treat a pimple or two overnight, it can take weeks before you really see a difference from switching cleansers. “It’s about trying different brands with different strengths and giving it sufficient time to work,” says Anna Avaliani, MD, a cosmetic and laser skin care specialist in NYC.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of acne products are formulated incorrectly and/or made with cheap ingredients. Even dermatologists get it wrong and you shouldn’t assume that a treatment system is good for you just because dermatologists or celebrities say so online. They are most likely paid for their testimonial. Instead, make an effort to find out what the actual users of the products are saying. Amazon is a great place to start.

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.


This inflammatory cascade typically leads to the formation of inflammatory acne lesions, including papules, infected pustules, or nodules.[1] If the inflammatory reaction is severe, the follicle can break into the deeper layers of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue and cause the formation of deep nodules.[1][66][67] Involvement of AP-1 in the aforementioned inflammatory cascade leads to activation of matrix metalloproteinases, which contribute to local tissue destruction and scar formation.[44]
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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.
Cysts are another troublesome type of acne to treat successfully without the help of a doctor. A cyst forms similar to a nodule—way beneath your skin’s surface. However, cysts are thought to form from pustules because they contain pus. They are painful when touched resemble a boil. They appear to be a large, red, swollen lump on the skin surface. People who are prone to them may get one large cyst or a clump of cysts.
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.
The first thing you need to do to take care of your skin is to use sunscreen. The best acne treatment never includes sunbathing and staying out in the sun unprotected will not reduce the number of blackheads or whiteheads you have. It will, however, lead to more skin problems down the road and can cause a breakout or two right now. Wrinkles, age spots and even skin cancer are on the agenda of someone who decides they don’t need to protect their skin.
The treatment regimen your doctor recommends depends on your age, the type and severity of your acne, and what you are willing to commit to. For example, you may need to wash and apply medications to the affected skin twice a day for several weeks. Often topical medications and drugs you take by mouth (oral medication) are used in combination. Pregnant women will not be able to use oral prescription medications for acne.

This inflammatory cascade typically leads to the formation of inflammatory acne lesions, including papules, infected pustules, or nodules.[1] If the inflammatory reaction is severe, the follicle can break into the deeper layers of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue and cause the formation of deep nodules.[1][66][67] Involvement of AP-1 in the aforementioned inflammatory cascade leads to activation of matrix metalloproteinases, which contribute to local tissue destruction and scar formation.[44]
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.
My beauty cabinet is full of cleansers from some of the priciest boutique brands, but the cleanser I have used every day for years doesn't cost $60 or even $30, it costs $6 at the average drugstore. When my friend Laura spotted my bottle of Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash in my bathroom, she emerged laughing. She couldn't believe THIS was my cleanser of choice. I had to explain that you don't need a lot of bells and whistles in a good cleanser.
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.

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Medical conditions that commonly cause a high-androgen state, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and androgen-secreting tumors, can cause acne in affected individuals.[44][45] Conversely, people who lack androgenic hormones or are insensitive to the effects of androgens rarely have acne.[44] An increase in androgen and oily sebum synthesis may be seen during pregnancy.[45][46] Acne can be a side effect of testosterone replacement therapy or of anabolic steroid use.[1][47] Over-the-counter bodybuilding and dietary supplements are commonly found to contain illegally added anabolic steroids.[1][48]
Atrophic acne scars have lost collagen from the healing response and are the most common type of acne scar (account for approximately 75% of all acne scars).[31][32] They may be further classified as ice-pick scars, boxcar scars, and rolling scars.[30] Ice-pick scars are narrow (less than 2 mm across), deep scars that extend into the dermis.[31] Boxcar scars are round or ovoid indented scars with sharp borders and vary in size from 1.5–4 mm across.[31] Rolling scars are wider than icepick and boxcar scars (4–5 mm across) and have a wave-like pattern of depth in the skin.[31]

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!


Aside from the obvious fact that a good face wash can help heal acne and pimple-prone skin, your choice of facial cleanser really matters when you’re trying to get rid of acne. For starters, the wrong face washes can cause acne, or at least, make yours a lot worse. Throughout the day, your skin does come into contact with a lot of dirt and grime, and it also secretes sebum – an oily, waxy, fatty substance that keeps your skin waterproof and lubricated. Oily skin is the result of an excessive amount of sebum secretion, and most soaps are designed to remove that oil from your skin. However, your skin actually needs some of that sebum to function normally. Without it, you end up with dry skin that tightens to create clogged pores and, ultimately, acne.

What's Going On: Do you tend to get these at the same time every month — say, just before you get your period? Because these are the work of fluctuating hormones, says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Hormones can put oil production into overdrive, and having an excess of it means that it’s more likely to settle in your pores and cause zits.

Dermal or subcutaneous fillers are substances injected into the skin to improve the appearance of acne scars. Fillers are used to increase natural collagen production in the skin and to increase skin volume and decrease the depth of acne scars.[145] Examples of fillers used for this purpose include hyaluronic acid; poly(methyl methacrylate) microspheres with collagen; human and bovine collagen derivatives, and fat harvested from the person's own body (autologous fat transfer).[145]
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]
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.
What it is: Spironolactone is a prescription medication in tablet form used to treat certain patients with hyperaldosteronism (the body produces too much aldosterone, a naturally occurring hormone), low potassium levels, and in patients with edema (fluid retention) caused by various conditions.1 Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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.


What's Going On: If it's big, red, and painful, you're probably experiencing cystic acne, one of the more severe types. "Cystic pimples are caused by genetics and hormonal stimulation of oil glands," says Zeichner. Not only are they large, but they're also notoriously tough to treat. They often recur in the same place, because even if you manage to get rid of one, it can keep filling up with oil again and again, like an immortal pimple.

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.
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.
If you take a close look at the acne-fighting ingredients, you will find that no single ingredient does all the work to get rid of acne. Each one has a unique effect that plays a role in the elimination of acne, but only when they are used combined or in sequence in a system do they have ability to get rid of acne altogether. This is why it is so important to use an effective system for fight acne, not just a single product.
A major mechanism of acne-related skin inflammation is mediated by P. acnes's ability to bind and activate a class of immune system receptors known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), especially TLR2 and TLR4.[44][64][65] Activation of TLR2 and TLR4 by P. acnes leads to increased secretion of IL-1α, IL-8, and TNF-α.[44] Release of these inflammatory signals attracts various immune cells to the hair follicle including neutrophils, macrophages, and Th1 cells.[44] IL-1α stimulates increased skin cell activity and reproduction, which in turn fuels comedo development.[44] Furthermore, sebaceous gland cells produce more antimicrobial peptides, such as HBD1 and HBD2, in response to binding of TLR2 and TLR4.[44]
That’s why, no matter how uncomfortable your skin may feel while plagued with acne, you must resist the urge to touch your skin. If the irritating sensations become unbearable, there are other methods of treating your skin, such as cooling it with ice packs or aloe vera gel. You can even use medicated creams designed to soothe irritated skin – given that your dermatologist says it’s okay.

Shah often recommends over-the-counter retinols or prescription retinoids to her acne-prone patients. “I find that compared to other treatments they are beneficial for not just treating acne but also preventing new acne from forming as they help prevent that initial stage of the follicle getting clogged,” she says. “They can also help with some of the post acne [problems] such as hyperpigmentation.” But keep in mind if you have sensitive skin (or eczema or rosacea), a prescription retinoid might be too strong an option. However, your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter retinol with a low concentration (0.1 to 0.25 percent), which might be better tolerated. Retinol also isn’t a quick fix. It takes time to see results, and it’s something you’ll have to keep using to maintain its benefits. Shah also mentions that retinol plays well with other acne treatments on the list. "Retinol can be combined with other over-the-counter or prescription medications such as benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics, and oral medications. The right combination depends on the severity of the acne and your skin type."
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]
The best acne medication differs from person to person, but because acne is caused by so many different factors, the best solution for most people is an acne treatment that includes multiple key ingredients. For the vast majority of people with acne, the best medicine for acne is a gentle, over-the-counter option that treats the causes of acne without irritation the skin. Below, we’ve included three of our favorite over-the-counter acne treatment options.
What's Going On: If it's big, red, and painful, you're probably experiencing cystic acne, one of the more severe types. "Cystic pimples are caused by genetics and hormonal stimulation of oil glands," says Zeichner. Not only are they large, but they're also notoriously tough to treat. They often recur in the same place, because even if you manage to get rid of one, it can keep filling up with oil again and again, like an immortal pimple.

For years the French have have opted for super moisturizing cold creams. You simply massage this in and then wipe off with a tissue or a warm washcloth and you're left with super soft skin. It removes makeup without leaving skin feeling "tight." Plus, because you aren't using water to rinse the face, you might be saving your skin from the drying effects of water.
The Exposed Facial Cleanser is our top pick. This cleanser is one of the very best on the market and it works for all skin types. The gentle yet rich formula is ideal for anyone, and it’s especially good for those with sensitive skin. It’s non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and soap free, with just 0.5% salicylic acid. Plus, it’s made with a combination of natural ingredients, including sage leaf extract, and vitamins like pro b5.
What it does: Benzoyl peroxide is the only known substance which can bring oxygen under the skin surface. Since bacteria cannot survive in the presence of oxygen, when used in an adequate dosage, benzoyl peroxide eradicates 99.9% of these bacteria almost immediately. It also exerts a mild drying and peeling effect, which is thought to help prevent breakouts.1-6 Benzoyl peroxide also helps lessen inflammation.7-9 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is just as effective as higher concentrations with less side effects.6,10
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