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]
Your pimples need TLC, too. The study on acne vulgaris found that, in an attempt to dry out acne lesions, patients often use too many products or apply excessive amounts to problem areas, resulting in further irritation and over drying of the skin. Vigorous scrubbing and using harsh exfoliants can make acne worse by rupturing whiteheads and blackheads, turning them into painful red ones. And remember: no matter how satisfying it is, picking and popping your zits will also increase inflammation and opportunity for infection.
The Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution is mostly water, but its 2 percent salicylic acid is enough to eat through oil and remove the dead skin cells clogging your pores — and it boasts a higher concentration than nearly every other kit we looked at. Sodium hyaluronate, the super-moisturizing humectant we fell in love with in our review on the Best Face Moisturizer, also caught our eye sitting smack dab in the middle of the ingredients list.

Some people use natural treatments like tea tree oil (works like benzoyl peroxide, but slower) or alpha hydroxy acids (remove dead skin and unclog pores) for their acne care. Not much is known about how well many of these treatments work and their long-term safety. Many natural ingredients are added to acne lotions and creams. Talk to your doctor to see if they’re right for you.

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The relationship between diet and acne is unclear, as there is no high-quality evidence that establishes any definitive link between them.[52] High-glycemic-load diets have been found to have different degrees of effect on acne severity.[7][53][54] Multiple randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies have found a lower-glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne.[53] There is weak observational evidence suggesting that dairy milk consumption is positively associated with a higher frequency and severity of acne.[51][52][53][55][56] Milk contains whey protein and hormones such as bovine IGF-1 and precursors of dihydrotestosterone.[53] These components are hypothesized to promote the effects of insulin and IGF-1 and thereby increase the production of androgen hormones, sebum, and promote the formation of comedones.[53] Available evidence does not support a link between eating chocolate or salt and acne severity.[52][55] Chocolate does contain varying amounts of sugar, which can lead to a high glycemic load, and it can be made with or without milk. Few studies have examined the relationship between obesity and acne.[2] Vitamin B12 may trigger skin outbreaks similar to acne (acneiform eruptions), or worsen existing acne, when taken in doses exceeding the recommended daily intake.[57] Eating greasy foods does not increase acne nor make it worse.[58][59]
How to Handle It: Speaking of touching, don't! Picking it, squeezing it, or poking at it will only worsen the situation. These may disappear on their own after a few days. Otherwise, Zeichner suggests visiting your dermatologist for a shot of cortisone, which will reduce inflammation and shrink it in just 24 to 48 hours. But if a last-minute appointment isn't in the cards, play mad scientist. First, ice the area, and then apply salicylic acid gel, benzoyl peroxide gel, and 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. The combo will calm skin, kill bacteria, and draw out excess oil from the pimple — all things necessary to take this down, says Zeichner.
Systemic therapy refers to acne medication that is taken by mouth. Antibiotics like tetracycline, minocycline, doxycycline, or erythromycin may treat moderate to severe acne by targeting bacteria and reducing inflammation. Other systemic therapies include oral contraceptives, which can reduce acne in some women, spironolactone, an anti-androgen hormone pill, and isotretinoin (high-dose prescription vitamin A). Isotretinoin is used only in certain severe, cystic acne cases, or in cases where other treatments don't work. A course of isotretinoin treatment requires regular appointments with your dermatologist.
Clascoterone is a topical antiandrogen which has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of acne in both males and females and is currently in the late stages of clinical development.[119][120][121][122] It has shown no systemic absorption or associated antiandrogenic side effects.[121][122][123] In a direct head-to-head comparison, clascoterone showed greater effectiveness than topical isotretinoin.[121][122][123] 5α-Reductase inhibitors such as finasteride and dutasteride may be useful for the treatment of acne in both males and females, but have not been thoroughly evaluated for this purpose.[1][124][125][126] In addition, the high risk of birth defects with 5α-reductase inhibitors limits their use in women.[1][125] However, 5α-reductase inhibitors can be combined with birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and are frequently used to treat excessive hair in women.[124] There is no evidence as of 2010 to support the use of cimetidine or ketoconazole in the treatment of acne.[127]
In general, it is recommended that people with acne do not wash affected skin more than twice daily.[15] For people with acne and sensitive skin, a fragrance free moisturizer may be used to reduce irritation. Skin irritation from acne medications typically peaks at two weeks after onset of use and tends to improve with continued use.[15] Cosmetic products that specifically say "non-comedogenic", "oil-free", and "won't clog pores" are recommended.[15]
Topical treatments on their own may not be enough to give you clear skin, especially in those with complicated, inflammatory cystic acne. There are several acne medication options approved for use by the FDA, but which one is best for you is a question for your dermatologist and/or general practitioner. Baldwin says if you have insurance and you have acne, a prescription may be the best step because "it makes no sense to try to handle the condition yourself or to use over the counter products that are always less effective than prescriptions meds." Here are a few of the acne medications you'll want to ask about:
Clascoterone is a topical antiandrogen which has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of acne in both males and females and is currently in the late stages of clinical development.[119][120][121][122] It has shown no systemic absorption or associated antiandrogenic side effects.[121][122][123] In a direct head-to-head comparison, clascoterone showed greater effectiveness than topical isotretinoin.[121][122][123] 5α-Reductase inhibitors such as finasteride and dutasteride may be useful for the treatment of acne in both males and females, but have not been thoroughly evaluated for this purpose.[1][124][125][126] In addition, the high risk of birth defects with 5α-reductase inhibitors limits their use in women.[1][125] However, 5α-reductase inhibitors can be combined with birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and are frequently used to treat excessive hair in women.[124] There is no evidence as of 2010 to support the use of cimetidine or ketoconazole in the treatment of acne.[127]
The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943.[82] 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 relationship between diet and acne is unclear, as there is no high-quality evidence that establishes any definitive link between them.[52] High-glycemic-load diets have been found to have different degrees of effect on acne severity.[7][53][54] Multiple randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies have found a lower-glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne.[53] There is weak observational evidence suggesting that dairy milk consumption is positively associated with a higher frequency and severity of acne.[51][52][53][55][56] Milk contains whey protein and hormones such as bovine IGF-1 and precursors of dihydrotestosterone.[53] These components are hypothesized to promote the effects of insulin and IGF-1 and thereby increase the production of androgen hormones, sebum, and promote the formation of comedones.[53] Available evidence does not support a link between eating chocolate or salt and acne severity.[52][55] Chocolate does contain varying amounts of sugar, which can lead to a high glycemic load, and it can be made with or without milk. Few studies have examined the relationship between obesity and acne.[2] Vitamin B12 may trigger skin outbreaks similar to acne (acneiform eruptions), or worsen existing acne, when taken in doses exceeding the recommended daily intake.[57] Eating greasy foods does not increase acne nor make it worse.[58][59]
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You've probably seen the Proactiv clear skin system advertised on television at some point over the last several years, but does it work? Proactiv is one of the better acne remedies out there for mild cases of inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, hormonal acne and adult acne. The starter kit comes with a gentle benzoyl peroxide exfoliating cleanser, a glycolic acid pore cleanser, and a benzoyl peroxide repairing treatment.
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You've probably seen the Proactiv clear skin system advertised on television at some point over the last several years, but does it work? Proactiv is one of the better acne remedies out there for mild cases of inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, hormonal acne and adult acne. The starter kit comes with a gentle benzoyl peroxide exfoliating cleanser, a glycolic acid pore cleanser, and a benzoyl peroxide repairing treatment.
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.[142] 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.[142][146]
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.
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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.
Washing your face with regular soap isn't enough to make acne better. The best face wash for acne is effective at removing oil and dirt, but still gentle enough to use regularly without overdrying your skin. Look for topical acne medication ingredients salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide in your face wash and use gentle, nonabrasive cleansing techniques.
Side effects include increased skin photosensitivity, dryness, redness and occasional peeling.[80] 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.[79][81] Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial antibiotic resistance.[80]
Shower twice a day. Take a shower or bath in the morning and at night. Alternatively, take a shower in the morning and then again after physical activity, like exercise, or sweating. Wash your entire body with a mild cleanser and use shampoos that limit oil production in your hair. Be sure to always shower after exercising to remove the dead skin cells your body has sloughed off through sweating.
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Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne.[150] Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne.[150] Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis.[1] Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against C. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties.[65] Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality.[151] There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.[150]
Frequently used topical retinoids include adapalene, isotretinoin, retinol, tazarotene, and tretinoin.[47] 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][83] Most formulations of tretinoin cannot be applied at the same time as benzoyl peroxide.[15] Tazarotene is the most effective and expensive topical retinoid, but is not as well-tolerated.[1][83] 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.
What's Going On: You might be all too familiar with these, which tend to make their debut when you’re in high school. "Blackheads, like whiteheads, are blocked pores," says Zeichner. What gives them their namesake color, though, is the oil. It's already dark, but blackheads also have a larger opening at the surface than whiteheads do, meaning air can enter and oxidize that oil sitting inside the pore, turning it even darker.
Since benzoyl peroxide is often prescribed in office for handling cystic acne (it kills acne-causing bacteria within the hair follicle), it was the first choice among dermatologists I spoke to as an over-the-counter treatment. There are a couple of different options out there from face washes to topical creams to bodywashes, but dermatologist Ross S. Levy, of CareMount Medical — the director of dermatologic surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine — says that typically “the benzoyl peroxide (5 to 10 percent) topical creams or gels are more effective than the cleansers or washes.” The only danger with benzoyl peroxide to be mindful of is that it will stain clothing and pillowcases. Clean & Clear’s Persa-Gel, which contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, is one of Gonzalez’s go-to recommendations for treating cystic acne at home.
Side effects include increased skin photosensitivity, dryness, redness and occasional peeling.[80] 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.[79][81] Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial antibiotic resistance.[80]
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.

Baby acne almost always goes away on its own with no intervention. But bring it to your pediatrician's attention if the bumps look like they might be infected (for example, skin appears extra red, you notice swelling or discharge, or your child spikes a fever or has other symptoms) or if you suspect an allergic reaction or eczema (which may require a cream to keep the rash from spreading).
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]
In most cases, acne products need to be used for at least 30 days before you can begin to ascertain its efficacy. Some skin and acne types may see noticeable results in a few days and end up totally clear in just a few weeks. Others may take several weeks to see the slightest change, or need to have their regimen adjusted as their skin adapts. Treating acne can often be a months-long process.
To many parents’ dismay, their beautiful newborn’s face breaks out with red bumps at around 3 to 4 weeks of age. This is called baby acne. It tends to occur at about the same age as the baby’s peak gas production and fussiness. How attractive! (This all coincides with parents’ maximum sleep deprivation.) Parents are often quite concerned both about how these bumps look and about their significance.

Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[35] By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time.[35] Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis.[35] The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone.[35] Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area.[35] Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration.[35] Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people.[35] In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.[35]
No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during the teenage years and pregnancy, probably play a role. There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on acne in most people. Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne; however, blackheads and pimples are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn't cause acne, but stress can make it worse.
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