And a retinoid, which we’ve touched on before, is beneficial for exfoliating the skin and purging your pores of dirt and oil, which is why Zeichner says they’re helpful for cysts, too. He recommends Differin, the only prescription-strength retinoid that’s available over the counter, and which many derms here have suggested to us before for acne-prone skin. He says you can use a pea-size amount and start applying it every other night as your skin gets adjusted to it (or combine it with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for a stronger mixture).
How to Handle It: Your best bet is benzoyl peroxide. "Benzoyl peroxide can kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation," says Zeichner. Try a cream like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual-Action Acne Treatment ($37), which also exfoliates with lipo-hydroxy acid. Be aware that it can seriously dry out skin so moisturize well after you use it.

There are two big guns used to take down acne, and they're both great at doing entirely different things. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that comes from willow bark and works primarily as an exfoliator, breaking down fatty acids like sebum so your pores don’t clog. (Glycolic acid works similarly but is less effective.) These acids are effective on comedones — whiteheads, blackheads, and other non-red bumps.


Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties.[131][132] It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells.[131] Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy.[20] 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]

Temporary skin fillers have been used for years for acne scar treatment, but a permanent dermal filler was approved for use by the FDA only recently. Designed to remove moderate to severe acne scarring, Bellafill is made up of 80 percent collagen to replace lost volume and 20 percent polymethylmethacrylate, which helps your body heal by boosting protein production.
Toothpaste is a good option if you have a mammoth pimple that you want to take care of quickly. It is effective because it contains silica, which is the same substance that can be found in bags of beef jerky to keep moisture out. As such, toothpaste has been know to dry out and reduce the size of pimples over night. Simply apply some to the affected area before sleep and wash it off in the morning.
There are two big guns used to take down acne, and they're both great at doing entirely different things. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that comes from willow bark and works primarily as an exfoliator, breaking down fatty acids like sebum so your pores don’t clog. (Glycolic acid works similarly but is less effective.) These acids are effective on comedones — whiteheads, blackheads, and other non-red bumps.

Acne appears when a pore in our skin clogs. This clog begins with dead skin cells. Normally, dead skin cells rise to surface of the pore, and the body sheds the cells. When the body starts to make lots of sebum (see-bum), oil that keeps our skin from drying out, the dead skin cells can stick together inside the pore. Instead of rising to the surface, the cells become trapped inside the pore.


There are a number of mild chemical peels available over the counter, but acne scar removal requires a stronger peel typically administered by a doctor or dermatologist. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are slightly stronger than alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels and may be used for acne scar treatment. The strongest type, phenol peels, may cause significant swelling and require up to two weeks of recovery time at home. Neither are recommended for people with active severe acne.
Simple alcohols like isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and denatured alcohol are everywhere in acne treatment because they trick you into thinking they’re working: Splash some on and any oil on your face instantly vaporizes. However, these ingredients destroy the skin’s barrier, called the acid mantle. When your acid mantle is damaged, you’re actually more susceptible to breakouts, enlarged pores, and inflammation. To make matters worse, evaporating all the oil on your face can actually set your sebaceous glands into overdrive, leaving your skin oilier than ever. If any product included a simple alcohol high up in its ingredients list, we nixed its whole kit.
Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid that is very effective for severe nodular acne, and moderate acne that is stubborn to other treatments.[1][20] One to two months use is typically adequate to see improvement. Acne often resolves completely or is much milder after a 4–6 month course of oral isotretinoin.[1] After a single course, about 80% of people report an improvement, with more than 50% reporting complete remission.[20] About 20% of patients require a second course.[20] Concerns have emerged that isotretinoin use is linked with an increased risk of adverse effects, like depression, suicidality, anemia, although there is no clear evidence to support some of these claims.[1][20] Isotretinoin is superior to antibiotics or placebo in reducing acne lesions.[17] The frequency of adverse events was about twice as high with isotretinoin, although these were mostly dryness-related events.[17] No increased risk of suicide or depression was conclusively found.[17] Isotretinoin use in women of childbearing age is regulated due to its known harmful effects in pregnancy.[20] For such a woman to be considered a candidate for isotretinoin, she must have a confirmed negative pregnancy test and use an effective form of birth control.[20] In 2008, the United States started the iPLEDGE program to prevent isotretinoin use during pregnancy.[84] iPledge requires the woman under consideration for isotretinoin therapy to have two negative pregnancy tests and mandates the use of two types of birth control for at least one month before therapy begins and one month after therapy is complete.[84] The effectiveness of the iPledge program has been questioned due to continued instances of contraception nonadherence.[84][85]

Pharaohs are recorded as having had acne, which may be the earliest known reference to the disease. Since at least the reign of Cleopatra (69–30 BC), the application of sulfur to the skin has been recognized as a useful treatment for acne.[162] The sixth-century Greek physician Aëtius of Amida is credited with coining the term "ionthos" (ίονθωξ,) or "acnae", which is believed to have been a reference to facial skin lesions that occur during "the 'acme' of life" (puberty).[163]
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The birth control pill is another option for women suffering hormonal acne. Four types of birth control pills have been approved by the FDA for use as acne treatment, and all four are combination pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone. Talk to your doctor about how to get rid of acne using birth control and keep in mind that Ortho Tri-cyclen, Estrostep YAZ and Beyaz are the only four brands specifically FDA approved as acne remedies.
Although the late stages of pregnancy are associated with an increase in sebaceous gland activity in the skin, pregnancy has not been reliably associated with worsened acne severity.[136] In general, topically applied medications are considered the first-line approach to acne treatment during pregnancy, as they have little systemic absorption and are therefore unlikely to harm a developing fetus.[136] Highly recommended therapies include topically applied benzoyl peroxide (category C) and azelaic acid (category B).[136] Salicylic acid carries a category C safety rating due to higher systemic absorption (9–25%), and an association between the use of anti-inflammatory medications in the third trimester and adverse effects to the developing fetus including too little amniotic fluid in the uterus and early closure of the babies' ductus arteriosus blood vessel.[47][136] Prolonged use of salicylic acid over significant areas of the skin or under occlusive dressings is not recommended as these methods increase systemic absorption and the potential for fetal harm.[136] Tretinoin (category C) and adapalene (category C) are very poorly absorbed, but certain studies have suggested teratogenic effects in the first trimester.[136] Due to persistent safety concerns, topical retinoids are not recommended for use during pregnancy.[137] In studies examining the effects of topical retinoids during pregnancy, fetal harm has not been seen in the second and third trimesters.[136] Retinoids contraindicated for use during pregnancy include the topical retinoid tazarotene, and oral retinoids isotretinoin and acitretin (all category X).[136] Spironolactone is relatively contraindicated for use during pregnancy due to its antiandrogen effects.[1] Finasteride is not recommended as it is highly teratogenic.[1]
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect the First Year. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.
While you can certainly benefit from a great skin-care regimen, "in cystic acne, usually you need internal treatment," he says. "Topical medications usually don't work. Accutane is a great miracle cure for really bad cystic acne, but most people with cystic acne will improve with oral antibiotics — sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for three weeks."
Have you tried treating your acne with no luck? You might simply be using the wrong product for the type you have. Whether you have periodic breakouts or more stubborn cystic acne, there's a solution. We asked Dr. Neal Schultz, an NYC dermatologist, to share the best treatments for every type of acne. Read on for his expert product recommendations, along with some editor favorites, that'll give you clear skin in no time.
Cortisone is a quick fix for acne emergencies. We mean got a big board meeting tomorrow kind of quick. Go into the dermatologist’s office for a shot of this corticosteroid, and acne will disappear in 24 to 48 hours. The treatment works to curb inflammation, which makes it best for cystic breakouts and can be really good at combatting hormonal flare-ups. If done incorrectly, a cortisone shot can leave a small depression in the skin that lasts about eight weeks. “It’s a rare side effect that happens if dosage of cortisone is too high,” explains Linkner. “You want to go to someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Baby acne generally goes away on its own after a month or so. As far as actual baby acne treatment, your pediatrician may suggest that you wash your baby’s face with warm water and a gentle soap, says Dr. Kahn. (There is no proof that breast milk, which some moms swear by as a homeopathic remedy, actually works.) Don’t pick at your baby’s acne; you’ll cause scarring, she warns.
Hormonal treatments for acne such as combined birth control pills and antiandrogens may be considered a first-line therapy for acne under a number of circumstances, including when contraception is desired, when known or suspected hyperandrogenism is present, when acne occurs in adulthood, when acne flares premenstrually, and when symptoms of significant sebum production (seborrhea) are co-present.[127] Hormone therapy is effective for acne even in women with normal androgen levels.[127]
Acne removal: Your dermatologist may perform a procedure called “drainage and extraction” to remove a large acne cyst. This procedure helps when the cyst does not respond to medicine. It also helps ease the pain and the chance that the cyst will leave a scar. If you absolutely have to get rid of a cyst quickly, your dermatologist may inject the cyst with medicine.
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