Dear acne, you suck. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that affects women and men in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s. It’s just not fair (throws childlike temper tantrum). And if you thought blackheads and whiteheads were annoying, the deep painful pimples that often pop up in adult acne are much more aggravating—and harder to get rid of. So, we talked to dermatologists to find out which acne treatments are the most effective on all types of pimples.

The use of antimicrobial peptides against C. acnes is under investigation as a treatment for acne to overcoming antibiotic resistance.[10] In 2007, the first genome sequencing of a C. acnes bacteriophage (PA6) was reported. The authors proposed applying this research toward development of bacteriophage therapy as an acne treatment in order to overcome the problems associated with long-term antibiotic therapy such as bacterial resistance.[178] Oral and topical probiotics are also being evaluated as treatments for acne.[179] Probiotics have been hypothesized to have therapeutic effects for those affected by acne due to their ability to decrease skin inflammation and improve skin moisture by increasing the skin's ceramide content.[179] As of 2014, studies examining the effects of probiotics on acne in humans were limited.[179]
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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.
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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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.

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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.
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Many skin conditions can mimic acne vulgaris, and these are collectively known as acneiform eruptions.[28] Such conditions include angiofibromas, epidermal cysts, flat warts, folliculitis, keratosis pilaris, milia, perioral dermatitis, and rosacea, among others.[20][72] Age is one factor which may help distinguish between these disorders. Skin disorders such as perioral dermatitis and keratosis pilaris can appear similar to acne but tend to occur more frequently in childhood, whereas rosacea tends to occur more frequently in older adults.[20] Facial redness triggered by heat or the consumption of alcohol or spicy food is suggestive of rosacea.[73] The presence of comedones helps health professionals differentiate acne from skin disorders that are similar in appearance.[8] Chloracne, due to exposure to certain chemicals, may look very similar to acne vulgaris.[74]
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.
There are several low-level light devices designed as at-home acne remedies on the market—but do they really work? Some, like the Zeno electronic "zit-zapper" are FDA-approved as acne remedies, but reviews with these products are typically mixed. Even the best acne treatment won't work for everyone, as the severity of the acne, types of acne and quality of the device are all factors. Ask your dermatologist for a recommendation if you're considering purchasing an at-home light device to treat your acne.

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.


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]
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 recognition and characterization of acne progressed in 1776 when Josef Plenck (an Austrian physician) published a book that proposed the novel concept of classifying skin diseases by their elementary (initial) lesions.[163] In 1808 the English dermatologist Robert Willan refined Plenck's work by providing the first detailed descriptions of several skin disorders using a morphologic terminology that remains in use today.[163] Thomas Bateman continued and expanded on Robert Willan's work as his student and provided the first descriptions and illustrations of acne accepted as accurate by modern dermatologists.[163] Erasmus Wilson, in 1842, was the first to make the distinction between acne vulgaris and rosacea.[164] The first professional medical monograph dedicated entirely to acne was written by Lucius Duncan Bulkley and published in New York in 1885.[165][166]
First, let’s talk about what causes acne. Pimples form when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a plug that blocks the pores. “As the P. acnes bacteria that naturally live on skin overgrow within this plugged follicle, the area becomes inflamed and this is when you start to see papules, pustules, and cystic lesions,” RealSelf dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., tells SELF. The treatments ahead work to exfoliate away dead skin cells, suck up excess oil, stop inflammation, and kill the P. acnes bacteria. There are even a few treatments that target hormonal acne specifically.
Believe it or not, as with adolescent acne, hormones are believed to be mainly to blame. In the case of newborns, however, it’s not their own hormones that are probably prompting the pimple problems, but Mom's — which are still circulating in baby's bloodstream as a holdover from pregnancy. These maternal hormones stimulate baby's sluggish oil-producing glands, causing pimples to pop up on the chin, forehead, eyelids and cheeks (and, sometimes, the head, neck, back and upper chest).
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Topical antibiotics deemed safe during pregnancy include clindamycin, erythromycin, and metronidazole (all category B), due to negligible systemic absorption.[47][136] Nadifloxacin and dapsone (category C) are other topical antibiotics that may be used to treat acne in pregnant women, but have received less study.[47][136] No adverse fetal events have been reported from the topical use of dapsone.[136] 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.[20] Oral antibiotics deemed safe for pregnancy (all category B) include azithromycin, cephalosporins, and penicillins.[136] 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.[1][136] Their use during pregnancy has been associated with development of acute fatty liver of pregnancy and is further avoided for this reason.[136]
The two laser treatment options above are great for acne scar removal, but aren't generally recommended as acne treatment. If you're still experiencing active acne breakouts and wondering how to get rid of acne with laser treatments, check out photodynamic therapy. It combats active moderate to severe acne while also diminishing older acne scars by using light energy to activate a powerful acne-fighting solution. Patients may require 2 or 3 treatments over several weeks and should expect some redness, peeling and sun sensitivity. This treatment will cost between $2000 to $3500 per series.
If your acne is severe, painful, or refusing to get lost, you may just be beyond what an over-the-counter treatment can do. Not only can a professional set you up with the really powerful stuff, but also Fitz Patrick explains that “working closely with an aesthetician or dermatologist means you can keep tweaking a routine to make it work best for you.”
Many treatment options for acne are available, including lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures. Eating fewer simple carbohydrates such as sugar may help.[7] Treatments applied directly to the affected skin, such as azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, are commonly used.[8] Antibiotics and retinoids are available in formulations that are applied to the skin and taken by mouth for the treatment of acne.[8] However, resistance to antibiotics may develop as a result of antibiotic therapy.[16] Several types of birth control pills help against acne in women.[8] Isotretinoin pills are usually reserved for severe acne due to greater potential side effects.[8][17] Early and aggressive treatment of acne is advocated by some in the medical community to decrease the overall long-term impact to individuals.[4]

Exercise regularly. Exercising does a number of things to help reduce your acne. It releases endorphins which lower stress levels and therefore reduce oil-production and also makes you sweat which cleans out dead skin cells. Try exercising on a daily basis for a minimum of thirty minutes to help reduce your acne not only on your face, but also on your chest, shoulders, and back; which is where the term "bacne" comes from.
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Dapsone has shown efficacy against inflammatory acne but is generally not a first-line topical antibiotic due to higher cost and lack of clear superiority over other antibiotics.[1][15] It is sometimes a preferred therapy in women or for people with sensitive or darker toned skin.[15] Topical dapsone is not recommended for use with benzoyl peroxide due to yellow-orange skin discoloration with this combination.[10] While minocycline is shown to be an effective acne treatment, it is no longer recommended as a first-line antibiotic due to a lack of evidence that it is better than other treatments, and concerns of safety compared to other tetracyclines.[87]
Shah often recommends over-the-counter retinols or prescription retinoids to her acne-prone patients. “I find that compared to other treatments they are beneficial for not just treating acne but also preventing new acne from forming as they help prevent that initial stage of the follicle getting clogged,” she says. “They can also help with some of the post acne [problems] such as hyperpigmentation.” But keep in mind if you have sensitive skin (or eczema or rosacea), a prescription retinoid might be too strong an option. However, your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter retinol with a low concentration (0.1 to 0.25 percent), which might be better tolerated. Retinol also isn’t a quick fix. It takes time to see results, and it’s something you’ll have to keep using to maintain its benefits. Shah also mentions that retinol plays well with other acne treatments on the list. "Retinol can be combined with other over-the-counter or prescription medications such as benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics, and oral medications. The right combination depends on the severity of the acne and your skin type."
Acne vulgaris is a chronic skin disease of the pilosebaceous unit and develops due to blockages in the skin's hair follicles. These blockages are thought to occur as a result of the following four abnormal processes: a higher than normal amount of oily sebum production (influenced by androgens), excessive deposition of the protein keratin leading to comedo formation, colonization of the follicle by Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) bacteria, and the local release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the skin.[50]
What's Going On: Do you tend to get these at the same time every month — say, just before you get your period? Because these are the work of fluctuating hormones, says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Hormones can put oil production into overdrive, and having an excess of it means that it’s more likely to settle in your pores and cause zits.
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.
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