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).
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.
Having a specific type of skin now doesn’t mean you will be stuck with it the rest of your life. As you get older, your skin can change. It may be oily when you are younger but become dry as you age. Plus, skin can become more or less sensitive over time. It’s always a good idea to retest for your skin type if you notice any changes. We’ve included a guide above to help you recognize what kind of acne you have, what the average causes are, and how to treat it (or at least not aggravate it).
When whiteheads and blackheads become infected with bacteria, called Propionibacterium acnes, it leads to inflammatory acne. Regular bacteria is found in most whiteheads and blackheads, but P. acnes is attracted to the closed, oily environment. This bacteria makes acne more difficult to treat. The four different pimple types that characterize inflammatory acne are papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
Topical antibiotics deemed safe during pregnancy include clindamycin, erythromycin, and metronidazole (all category B), due to negligible systemic absorption. Nadifloxacin and dapsone (category C) are other topical antibiotics that may be used to treat acne in pregnant women, but have received less study. No adverse fetal events have been reported from the topical use of dapsone. If retinoids are used there is a high risk of abnormalities occurring in the developing fetus; women of childbearing age are therefore required to use effective birth control if retinoids are used to treat acne. Oral antibiotics deemed safe for pregnancy (all category B) include azithromycin, cephalosporins, and penicillins. Tetracyclines (category D) are contraindicated during pregnancy as they are known to deposit in developing fetal teeth, resulting in yellow discoloration and thinned tooth enamel. Their use during pregnancy has been associated with development of acute fatty liver of pregnancy and is further avoided for this reason.
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.”
In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide. Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world. Lower rates are reported in some rural societies. Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty. Although acne becomes less common in adulthood, it persists in nearly half of affected people into their twenties and thirties and a smaller group continue to have difficulties into their forties.
The main hormonal driver of oily sebum production in the skin is dihydrotestosterone. 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. 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.
Considerations: Side effects are generally mild and short lived. Most common, in 1-5% of people are itching, burning, stinging, and tingling. Other side effects were reported in less than 1% of people. There have been a few reports from darker skinned people of lightening of the skin. Azelaic acid has not been well studied in people with dark complexions.1
The dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross did a major study on water and its effect on skin and he found that the heavy metals in tap water can actually ruin the benefits expensive lotions and serums do for skin. Some cities (New York and L.A., for example) have worse water than others (Seattle, for example). While some dermatologists aren't buying his claims, (Patricia Wexler for one), you can fight the drying effects of water on skin by cleansing with cold cream, a practice common with European women.
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.
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.
This foaming cleanser is a soap-free gel that will clear away clogged pores without drying skin out. Designed not to disturb the skin’s natural moisture balance, the formula is made with astringent lavender extract to minimize pores and balance PH, while the anti-inflammatory balm mint extract soothes inflammation, giving skin a visibly clearer appearance. It uses alpha hydroxy acids and quillaja saponaria to deep clean pores and fight acne-causing bacteria.
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.
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If you have oily, tight skin and tend to get age spots or sun spots, try an exfoliant made with glycolic acid right after you cleanse your skin, no more than 4 or 5 times a week. Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads provides just a “dab” of exfoliant that will help lighten the spots without irritating your skin (which over the long run would create new brown spots).
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.
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Most studies of acne drugs have involved people 12 years of age or older. Increasingly, younger children are getting acne as well. In one study of 365 girls ages 9 to 10, 78 percent of them had acne lesions. If your child has acne, consider consulting a pediatric dermatologist. Ask about drugs to avoid in children, appropriate doses, drug interactions, side effects, and how treatment may affect a child's growth and development.
Acne treatment that you apply to the skin: Most acne treatments are applied to the skin. Your dermatologist may call this topical treatment. There are many topical acne treatments. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic, or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.