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.

Antibiotics are frequently applied to the skin or taken orally to treat acne and are thought to work due to their antimicrobial activity against P. acnes and their ability to reduce inflammation.[19][81][87] With the widespread use of antibiotics for acne and an increased frequency of antibiotic-resistant P. acnes worldwide, antibiotics are becoming less effective,[81] especially macrolide antibiotics such as topical erythromycin.[15][87] Commonly used antibiotics, either applied to the skin or taken orally, include clindamycin, erythromycin, metronidazole, sulfacetamide, and tetracyclines such as doxycycline and minocycline.[46] When antibiotics are applied to the skin, they are typically used for mild to moderately severe acne.[19] Antibiotics taken orally are generally considered to be more effective than topical antibiotics, and produce faster resolution of inflammatory acne lesions than topical applications.[1] Topical and oral antibiotics are not recommended for use together.[87]


With the right formula, acne is simple to treat. The key is being gentle with your skin because inflammation will cause more acne – always. That’s why the best acne treatment systems in 2019 include as many natural ingredients as possible to offset the drying effect of the (necessary) scientific, stronger components, combining the best science and nature has to offer.
Antibiotics are frequently applied to the skin or taken orally to treat acne and are thought to work due to their antimicrobial activity against P. acnes and their ability to reduce inflammation.[19][81][87] With the widespread use of antibiotics for acne and an increased frequency of antibiotic-resistant P. acnes worldwide, antibiotics are becoming less effective,[81] especially macrolide antibiotics such as topical erythromycin.[15][87] Commonly used antibiotics, either applied to the skin or taken orally, include clindamycin, erythromycin, metronidazole, sulfacetamide, and tetracyclines such as doxycycline and minocycline.[46] When antibiotics are applied to the skin, they are typically used for mild to moderately severe acne.[19] Antibiotics taken orally are generally considered to be more effective than topical antibiotics, and produce faster resolution of inflammatory acne lesions than topical applications.[1] Topical and oral antibiotics are not recommended for use together.[87]
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]
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
Acne vulgaris Acne conglobata Acne miliaris necrotica Tropical acne Infantile acne/Neonatal acne Excoriated acne Acne fulminans Acne medicamentosa (e.g., steroid acne) Halogen acne Iododerma Bromoderma Chloracne Oil acne Tar acne Acne cosmetica Occupational acne Acne aestivalis Acne keloidalis nuchae Acne mechanica Acne with facial edema Pomade acne Acne necrotica Blackhead Lupus miliaris disseminatus faciei
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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.
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.
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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]

What it is: Originally under the brand name "Accutane" but now available only in generic form, isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A taken in pill form for 15-20 weeks. Doctors normally prescribe it for people with "severe nodular acne" that does not respond to other treatments. Nodules are inflammatory lesions with a diameter of 5mm or more. A single course of 15-20 weeks has been shown to result in complete clearing and long-term remission of acne in many people.1-2 Learn more on the Accutane page of acne.org.
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]

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Considerations: Ask your doctor before using any other products on your skin while using erythromycin, as it may be too irritating. This includes other prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines (including those listed on this site), and harsh or abrasive cleansers, perfumes, or make-up.2 People report burning as the most frequent side effect, and also peeling, dryness, itching, redness, and oiliness, among others.2
Thanks to its special MicroClear technology, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser helps boost the delivery of active ingredient salicylic acid, in order to help reduce the appearance of acne. The inclusion of aloe and chamomile help to calm irritation while visibly reducing facial redness, a source of emotional stress for many acne sufferers.
The use of antimicrobial peptides against P. acnes is under investigation as a treatment for acne to overcoming antibiotic resistance.[10] In 2007, the first genome sequencing of a P. acnes bacteriophage (PA6) was reported. The authors proposed applying this research toward development of bacteriophage therapy as an acne treatment in order to overcome the problems associated with long-term antibiotic therapy such as bacterial resistance.[178] Oral and topical probiotics are also being evaluated as treatments for acne.[179] Probiotics have been hypothesized to have therapeutic effects for those affected by acne due to their ability to decrease skin inflammation and improve skin moisture by increasing the skin's ceramide content.[179] As of 2014, studies examining the effects of probiotics on acne in humans were limited.[179]
Acne usually improves around the age of 20, but may persist into adulthood.[75] Permanent physical scarring may occur.[19] There is good evidence to support the idea that acne and associated scarring negatively affect a person's psychological state, worsen mood, lower self-esteem, and are associated with a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts.[3][30][50] Another psychological complication of acne vulgaris is acne excoriée, which occurs when a person persistently picks and scratches pimples, irrespective of the severity of their acne.[61][155] This can lead to significant scarring, changes in the affected person's skin pigmentation, and a cyclic worsening of the affected person's anxiety about their appearance.[61] Rare complications from acne or its treatment include the formation of pyogenic granulomas, osteoma cutis, and solid facial edema.[156] Early and aggressive treatment of acne is advocated by some in the medical community to reduce the chances of these poor outcomes.[4]
Even though it may be convenient to wash your face with whatever you have in your bathroom, there are a lot of reasons why you want to avoid that like the plague. Summed up in one word, those reasons are; ingredients. Because different people have different skin types, not all ingredients will work the same for everybody, but the general principle remains the same.
Contrary to the marketing promises of “blemish banishers” and “zit zappers,” immediate results are not the trademark of acne treatments — a frustrating truth to anyone suffering through a breakout. And while pimples are personal (your stress-induced spots will look and act differently than your best friend’s breakout), the best acne treatments will include a regimen of products to hit all of acne’s root causes. We tested 43 kits to find the most well-rounded breakout-fighting solutions on the market.

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]
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.
Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties.[132][133] It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells.[132] Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy.[19] Dry skin is the most commonly seen side effect with topical application, though darkening of the skin has been observed in individuals with darker skin types.[1]
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.
Keep in mind that even if some products market themselves toward severe acne breakouts, all the kits we looked at are definitely designed for mild to moderate acne. Not sure if you fit on that scale? You’re not alone! When you’re in the middle of a breakout, all acne seems severe, so it can be difficult to self-diagnose your symptoms. We talked to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists to better understand the differences between the various types of acne (see below).
Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties.[132][133] It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells.[132] Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy.[19] Dry skin is the most commonly seen side effect with topical application, though darkening of the skin has been observed in individuals with darker skin types.[1]
How to Handle It: If you've tried the usual anti-acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (which, we should warn you, rarely work for this), you should consider paying your dermatologist a visit. "You may need a cortisone injection or an oral medication, like an antibiotic, in addition to topical formulas," says Zeichner. He's also a fan of a prescription topical medication called Epiduo Forte Gel, since, he says, it's been shown to be effective at controlling severe acne without the help of oral treatments.
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.

Acne inversa (L. invertō, "upside down") and acne rosacea (rosa, "rose-colored" + -āceus, "forming") are not true forms of acne and respectively refer to the skin conditions hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) and rosacea.[25][26][27] Although HS shares certain common features with acne vulgaris, such as a tendency to clog skin follicles with skin cell debris, the condition otherwise lacks the defining features of acne and is therefore considered a distinct skin disorder.[25]

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.

Alternative and integrative medicine approaches used in the treatment of acne include fish oil, brewer's yeast, probiotics, oral zinc and topical tea tree oil. More research is needed to establish the potential effectiveness and long-term safety of these and other integrative approaches, such as biofeedback and traditional Chinese medicine. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of specific treatments before you try them.

Considerations: Cigarette smoking with oral contraceptive use increases the risk of serious heart disease.2 There are many negative side effects and positive side effects to taking birth control pills for acne. Talk to your doctor to decide if it is right for you.1-3 While it is a widely held belief, evidence does not show a correlation between pregnancy rates and concurrent administration of birth control pills and oral antibiotics. [With the exception of anti-tuberculosis drugs like rifampin.]
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.”

Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is a first-line treatment for mild and moderate acne due to its effectiveness and mild side-effects (mainly skin irritation). In the skin follicle, benzoyl peroxide kills P. acnes by oxidizing its proteins through the formation of oxygen free radicals and benzoic acid. These free radicals are thought to interfere with the bacterium's metabolism and ability to make proteins.[79][80] Additionally, benzoyl peroxide is mildly effective at breaking down comedones and inhibiting inflammation.[78][80] Benzoyl peroxide may be paired with a topical antibiotic or retinoid such as benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide/adapalene, respectively.[35]
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.
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.
Perioral dermatitis Granulomatous perioral dermatitis Phymatous rosacea Rhinophyma Blepharophyma Gnathophyma Metophyma Otophyma Papulopustular rosacea Lupoid rosacea Erythrotelangiectatic rosacea Glandular rosacea Gram-negative rosacea Steroid rosacea Ocular rosacea Persistent edema of rosacea Rosacea conglobata variants Periorificial dermatitis Pyoderma faciale

Sodium sulfacetamide-sulfur is another acne medications often found in over-the-counter treatments, and it works especially well for those with mild-moderate acne that is largely made up of pimples. This is because it effectively dries out excess sebum without drying out the skin, and some studies suggest that this combination of sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur has antibacterial properties. According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, sodium sulfacetamide 10 percent-sulfur 5 percent can significantly reduce the size of p. acnes colonies when used as an emollient foam6. This treatment option is also available as a facewash, topical gel, and topical cream, and can be found at most drugstores.
Side effects include increased skin photosensitivity, dryness, redness and occasional peeling.[81] Sunscreen use is often advised during treatment, to prevent sunburn. Lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are just as effective as higher concentrations in treating acne but are associated with fewer side effects.[80][82] Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial antibiotic resistance.[81]
Scientists initially hypothesized that acne represented a disease of the skin's hair follicle, and occurred due to blockage of the pore by sebum. During the 1880s, bacteria were observed by microscopy in skin samples affected by acne and were regarded as the causal agents of comedones, sebum production, and ultimately acne.[163] During the mid-twentieth century, dermatologists realized that no single hypothesized factor (sebum, bacteria, or excess keratin) could completely explain the disease.[163] This led to the current understanding that acne could be explained by a sequence of related events, beginning with blockage of the skin follicle by excessive dead skin cells, followed by bacterial invasion of the hair follicle pore, changes in sebum production, and inflammation.[163]
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.
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]

The other downside to Proactiv+ is that the bottles are small — like, half the size of Paula’s Choice small. Combine that with its recommended two or three-times daily application, and you’re going to be going through a lot of kits, which ultimately means spending more money on your treatment. If Proactiv is the only thing that works for you, it may very well be worth the investment, but we recommend starting with Paula’s Choice to see if you can get the same results at a cheaper price.
Dr. Skotnicki recommends Bioderma Micellar Cleanser for acne. It’s one of the few products that can be used safely on both the face and body, even by people who are also taking acne medication. Its gentle formula won’t irritate skin, and it contains a patented “Fludiactiv” complex that helps regulate sebum quality to prevent pores from becoming clogged.
Acne vulgaris Acne conglobata Acne miliaris necrotica Tropical acne Infantile acne/Neonatal acne Excoriated acne Acne fulminans Acne medicamentosa (e.g., steroid acne) Halogen acne Iododerma Bromoderma Chloracne Oil acne Tar acne Acne cosmetica Occupational acne Acne aestivalis Acne keloidalis nuchae Acne mechanica Acne with facial edema Pomade acne Acne necrotica Blackhead Lupus miliaris disseminatus faciei

“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.”

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.


If you have acne that's not responding to self-care and over-the-counter treatments, make an appointment with your doctor. Early, effective treatment of acne reduces the risk of scarring and of lasting damage to your self-esteem. After an initial examination, your doctor may refer you to a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions (dermatologist).


The trick is to identify a cleanser that offers a deep clean without over-drying the skin, which naturally produces less oil with age, says Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. "Adult or hormonal acne is different than teen acne—people are often dry on the top layer of skin, and broken out underneath that layer,” Dr. Wu says. “So Proactiv or Clean & Clear won't work as well once you hit your 30s.”
Light therapy is a treatment method that involves delivering certain specific wavelengths of light to an area of skin affected by acne. Both regular and laser light have been used. When regular light is used immediately following the application of a sensitizing substance to the skin such as aminolevulinic acid or methyl aminolevulinate, the treatment is referred to as photodynamic therapy (PDT).[10][129] PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies.[78] Many different types of nonablative lasers (i.e., lasers that do not vaporize the top layer of the skin but rather induce a physiologic response in the skin from the light) have been used to treat acne, including those that use infrared wavelengths of light. Ablative lasers (such as CO2 and fractional types) have also been used to treat active acne and its scars. When ablative lasers are used, the treatment is often referred to as laser resurfacing because, as mentioned previously, the entire upper layers of the skin are vaporized.[140] Ablative lasers are associated with higher rates of adverse effects compared with nonablative lasers, with examples being postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, persistent facial redness, and persistent pain.[8][141][142] Physiologically, certain wavelengths of light, used with or without accompanying topical chemicals, are thought to kill bacteria and decrease the size and activity of the glands that produce sebum.[129] As of 2012, evidence for various light therapies was insufficient to recommend them for routine use.[8] Disadvantages of light therapy can include its cost, the need for multiple visits, time required to complete the procedure(s), and pain associated with some of the treatment modalities.[10] Various light therapies appear to provide a short-term benefit, but data for long-term outcomes, and for outcomes in those with severe acne, are sparse;[76][143] it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications.[10] A 2016 meta-analysis was unable to conclude whether light therapies were more beneficial than placebo or no treatment, nor how long potential benefits lasted.[144] Typical side effects include skin peeling, temporary reddening of the skin, swelling, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[10]

The earliest pathologic change is the formation of a plug (a microcomedone), which is driven primarily by excessive growth, reproduction, and accumulation of skin cells in the hair follicle.[1] In normal skin, the skin cells that have died come up to the surface and exit the pore of the hair follicle.[10] However, increased production of oily sebum in those with acne causes the dead skin cells to stick together.[10] The accumulation of dead skin cell debris and oily sebum blocks the pore of the hair follicle, thus forming the microcomedone.[10] This is further exacerbated by the biofilm created by P. acnes within the hair follicle.[44] If the microcomedone is superficial within the hair follicle, the skin pigment melanin is exposed to air, resulting in its oxidation and dark appearance (known as a blackhead or open comedo).[1][10][19] In contrast, if the microcomedone occurs deep within the hair follicle, this causes the formation of a whitehead (known as a closed comedo).[1][10]


Meanwhile, salicylic acid, which is derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen oil or sweet birch and occurs naturally in fruits like raspberries, cantaloupe and granny smith apples, works well for most skin types. Aside from being an exfoliant that sloughs away dead skin cells and other pore-clogging impurities, it has anti-inflammatory properties that help to address inflammation, which is thought to be the primary cause of acne.
If a pore is open, it’s called a blackhead or “open comedo”. Because of the opening, contact with the air oxidizes the dead skin cells inside the pore. The air contact turns the melanin inside them darker in color, similar to the way a peeled banana left exposed to the air will darken. This is how the blackhead forms. The color of a blackhead is not because of dirt. It’s a mixture of air and the skin pigment called melanin.
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