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.

Hormonal activity, such as occurs during menstrual cycles and puberty, may contribute to the formation of acne. During puberty, an increase in sex hormones called androgens causes the skin follicle glands to grow larger and make more oily sebum.[12] Several hormones have been linked to acne, including the androgens testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA); high levels of growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) have also been associated with worsened acne.[42] Both androgens and IGF-1 seem to be essential for acne to occur, as acne does not develop in individuals with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) or Laron syndrome (insensitivity to GH, resulting in very low IGF-1 levels).[43][44]
Oral isotretinoin is very effective. But because of its potential side effects, doctors need to closely monitor anyone they treat with this drug. Potential side effects include ulcerative colitis, an increased risk of depression and suicide, and severe birth defects. In fact, isotretinoin carries such serious risk of side effects that all people receiving isotretinoin must participate in a Food and Drug Administration-approved risk management program.
Accutane (isotretinoin) has a mixed reputation, but among dermatologists it’s the finisher for patients with severe acne. “If you have an acne patient that doesn’t respond to anything, [Accutane] can really be a game changer,” board-certified dermatologist Adam Friedman tells SELF. Accutane is an oral retinoid, and it has all the same benefits of a topical retinol but is even more effective.
A major mechanism of acne-related skin inflammation is mediated by C. acnes's ability to bind and activate a class of immune system receptors known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), especially TLR2 and TLR4.[45][64][65] Activation of TLR2 and TLR4 by C. acnes leads to increased secretion of IL-1α, IL-8, and TNF-α.[45] Release of these inflammatory signals attracts various immune cells to the hair follicle including neutrophils, macrophages, and Th1 cells.[45] IL-1α stimulates increased skin cell activity and reproduction, which in turn fuels comedo development.[45] Furthermore, sebaceous gland cells produce more antimicrobial peptides, such as HBD1 and HBD2, in response to binding of TLR2 and TLR4.[45]
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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.
^ Jump up to: a b GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence, Collaborators. (8 October 2016). "Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015". Lancet. 388 (10053): 1545–1602. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31678-6. PMC 5055577. PMID 27733282.
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Contrary to popular belief, acne isn't caused by a harmful diet, poor hygiene, or an uncontrolled sex drive. The simple truth is that heredity and hormones are behind most forms of acne. Swearing off chocolate or scrubbing your face 10 times a day won't change your predisposition to this unsightly, sometimes painful, and often embarrassing skin problem.
Chemical peels can be used to reduce the appearance of acne scars.[32] Mild peels include those using glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, Jessner's solution, or a lower concentrations (20%) of trichloroacetic acid. These peels only affect the epidermal layer of the skin and can be useful in the treatment of superficial acne scars as well as skin pigmentation changes from inflammatory acne.[32] Higher concentrations of trichloroacetic acid (30–40%) are considered to be medium-strength peels and affect skin as deep as the papillary dermis.[32] Formulations of trichloroacetic acid concentrated to 50% or more are considered to be deep chemical peels.[32] Medium-strength and deep-strength chemical peels are more effective for deeper atrophic scars, but are more likely to cause side effects such as skin pigmentation changes, infection, and small white superficial cysts known as milia.[32]
The main hormonal driver of oily sebum production in the skin is dihydrotestosterone.[1] 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 C. acnes readily grows and can cause inflammation within and around the follicle due to activation of the innate immune system.[10] C. 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.[45]
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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.
Inside your hair follicles, there are small glands producing oil called sebum. This oil mixes with skin cells in the follicle and joins them on the journey outward. But when there's too much sebum, too many dead skin cells or something on the surface that blocks their exit from the follicle, a blockage can occur. Bacteria joins the party, and the result is acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.
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.
“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.”
Kathyrn Bowling’s son Gus was only two weeks old when she first noticed red bumps spreading on his face: newborn acne. At the time, the Atlanta mom wasn’t concerned about something so common (and harmless) as baby acne. I was worried about so many other things, like how much he was eating and whether I would get enough sleep,” she says. “In the grand scheme of things, a few bumps on his face didn’t seem too bad.”
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Oral isotretinoin is very effective. But because of its potential side effects, doctors need to closely monitor anyone they treat with this drug. Potential side effects include ulcerative colitis, an increased risk of depression and suicide, and severe birth defects. In fact, isotretinoin carries such serious risk of side effects that all people receiving isotretinoin must participate in a Food and Drug Administration-approved risk management program.
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