Oral antibiotics are recommended for no longer than three months as antibiotic courses exceeding this duration are associated with the development of antibiotic resistance and show no clear benefit over shorter courses. Furthermore, if long-term oral antibiotics beyond three months are thought to be necessary, it is recommended that benzoyl peroxide and/or a retinoid be used at the same time to limit the risk of C. acnes developing antibiotic resistance.
Acne vulgaris and its resultant scars have been associated with significant social and academic difficulties that can last into adulthood, including difficulties obtaining employment. Until the 1930s, it was largely seen as a trivial problem among middle-class girls – a trivial problem, because, unlike smallpox and tuberculosis, no one died from it, and a feminine problem, because boys were much less likely to seek medical assistance for it. During the Great Depression, dermatologists discovered that young men with acne had difficulty obtaining jobs, and during World War II, some soldiers in tropical climates developed such severe and widespread tropical acne on their bodies that they were declared medically unfit for duty.
Salicylic acid and azelaic acid. Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in whole-grain cereals and animal products. It has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many conventional acne treatments when used twice a day for at least four weeks. It's even more effective when used in combination with erythromycin. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is an option during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Side effects include skin discoloration and minor skin irritation.
But the milder cases can benefit from some topical over-the-counter treatments, too: “OTC options should be limited to when you have only one or two cysts,” though, says dermatologist Noelani Gonzalez, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West. “Otherwise you should go see your dermatologist sooner than later to avoid any scarring.” Here, we spoke with three dermatologists to hear more about the most effective cystic-acne treatments to use at home.
Bowling was right not to worry. Baby acne — or newborn acne, as it’s called to distinguish it from infantile acne, which occurs in older babies — is usually harmless and quite common. “It occurs in about 20 percent of newborns, typically around the time when they’re 3 – to 4-weeks-old,” says Mary Yurko, M.D., PhD, a pediatric dermatologist in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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.
Side effects include increased skin photosensitivity, dryness, redness and occasional peeling. 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. Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial antibiotic resistance.
And though none of the experts we spoke to specifically called this out, writer Frankie May Wong declared this salicylic-acid-enhanced Medik8 gel as her cystic-acne Holy Grail. She uses it sparingly to avoid it losing its efficacy, but thanks its blend of acne-fighting ingredients for her clear skin and the lack of scarring thereafter: “Another reason the Beta Gel seemed to work miracles could’ve been the combination of dioic acid (a rarer ingredient that otherwise only appears in the pricey but raved-about SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense serum), azelaic acid, and niacinamide.”
Atrophic acne scars have lost collagen from the healing response and are the most common type of acne scar (account for approximately 75% of all acne scars). They may be further classified as ice-pick scars, boxcar scars, and rolling scars. Ice-pick scars are narrow (less than 2 mm across), deep scars that extend into the dermis. Boxcar scars are round or ovoid indented scars with sharp borders and vary in size from 1.5–4 mm across. Rolling scars are wider than icepick and boxcar scars (4–5 mm across) and have a wave-like pattern of depth in the skin.
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Blackheads are a mild form of acne that appear as unsightly, open pores that look darker than the skin surrounding them. They get their dark appearance from a skin pigment called melanin, which oxidizes and turns black when it's exposed to the air. Blackheads aren't caused by dirt, but by sebum (oil) and dead skin cells blocking the pore. If the pore remains open, it becomes a blackhead; if it's completely blocked and closed, it turns into a whitehead.
Decreased levels of retinoic acid in the skin may contribute to comedo formation. To address this deficiency, methods to increase the skin's production of retinoid acid are being explored. A vaccine against inflammatory acne has shown promising results in mice and humans. Some have voiced concerns about creating a vaccine designed to neutralize a stable community of normal skin bacteria that is known to protect the skin from colonization by more harmful microorganisms.
The three-piece set doesn’t come with a sun protection treatment, but Paula’s Choice has one in the line, the Clear Ultra-Light Daily Fluid SPF 30+. “Sun protection is really important, especially with acneic skin,” says Townsend. “In many cases, stronger acne products can make the skin photosensitive to the sun.” This isn’t your normal gloppy white sunscreen. Its fluid formula slips over tender skin, doesn’t need a ton of rubbing in, and also leaves a mattifying finish.
Antibiotics. These work by killing excess skin bacteria and reducing redness. For the first few months of treatment, you may use both a retinoid and an antibiotic, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. The antibiotics are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin). Topical antibiotics alone aren't recommended.