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While a few people suffer from acne that is so severe it requires a medical prescription from a doctor, most people with mild to medium acne problems can find decent over-the-counter treatments that really work. The first key to getting your acne cleanser right is to know what active ingredients combat your acne, and then finding an acne treatment that contains it. Here are a few of the ingredients you want to look for:
“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
Frequently used topical retinoids include adapalene, isotretinoin, retinol, tazarotene, and tretinoin.[46] They often cause an initial flare-up of acne and facial flushing, and can cause significant skin irritation. Generally speaking, retinoids increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight and are therefore recommended for use at night.[1] Tretinoin is the least expensive of the topical retinoids and is the most irritating to the skin, whereas adapalene is the least irritating to the skin but costs significantly more.[1][84] Tazarotene is the most effective and expensive topical retinoid, but is not as well-tolerated.[1][84] Retinol is a form of vitamin A that has similar but milder effects, and is used in many over-the-counter moisturizers and other topical products.
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.
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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]
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.
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.
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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]

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.


Retinoids are medications which reduce inflammation, normalize the follicle cell life cycle, and reduce sebum production.[44][83] They are structurally related to vitamin A.[83] 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,[1] especially for people with dark-colored skin, and are known to lead to faster improvement of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[35]

Acne vulgaris is a chronic skin disease of the pilosebaceous unit and develops due to blockages in the skin's hair follicles. These blockages are thought to occur as a result of the following four abnormal processes: a higher than normal amount of oily sebum production (influenced by androgens), excessive deposition of the protein keratin leading to comedo formation, colonization of the follicle by Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria, and the local release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the skin.[49]
Both salicylic acid and benzoyl acid are commonly found in the top acne treatments for getting rid of mild to severe acne. They work in tandem to getting rid of the dead skin and killing bacteria, which are two of the main contributors to the spread of acne. Salicylic acid breaks up the skin to clear pores from skin, oil and bacteria and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria slowly over a 48-hour period.
Dry Skin – Skin that doesn’t produce enough sebum, so it doesn’t retain moisture well and dries out. Dry skin tends to crack, peel, and become itchy, flaky, irritated or inflamed easily. Acne is caused by dead skin cells and bacteria clogging pores, while dryness tightens the pores to clog them further. The best acne face washes should exfoliate your skin, but shouldn’t dry it out further.
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
Genetics is thought to be the primary cause of acne in 80% of cases.[2] The role of diet and cigarette smoking is unclear, and neither cleanliness nor exposure to sunlight appear to play a part.[2][13][14] In both sexes, hormones called androgens appear to be part of the underlying mechanism, by causing increased production of sebum.[5] Another frequent factor is excessive growth of the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes, which is normally present on the skin.[5]
Dermatologists aren’t sure why azelaic acid is so effective at clearing up inflammation, but it’s often used as an option for sensitive skin or pregnant patients. Linkner says the ingredient is good at treating malasma, acne, and rosacea. Your dermatologist can prescribe a foam product with azelaic acid, and you can also find beauty products with very small amounts of this active ingredient.

For example, if you have acne on dry skin, you need something gentle enough to cleanse and exfoliate but not dehydrate, like a Neutrogena cleanser. If you have oily skin, you’re looking to exfoliate and combat oil production with a product like Cetaphil. If you have combination skin, you need something that can treat your unique skin and balance it out, like Exposed Skin Care.
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]

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Microneedling is a procedure in which an instrument with multiple rows of tiny needles is rolled over the skin to elicit a wound healing response and stimulate collagen production to reduce the appearance of atrophic acne scars in people with darker skin color.[140] Notable adverse effects of microneedling include postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and tram track scarring (described as discrete slightly raised scars in a linear distribution similar to a tram track). The latter is thought to be primarily attributable to improper technique by the practitioner, including the use of excessive pressure or inappropriately large needles.[140][146]
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