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."
Light therapy is a treatment method that involves delivering certain specific wavelengths of light to an area of skin affected by acne. Both regular and laser light have been used. The evidence for light therapy as a treatment for acne is weak and inconclusive. Various light therapies appear to provide a short-term benefit, but data for long-term outcomes, and for outcomes in those with severe acne, are sparse; it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications. A 2016 meta-analysis was unable to conclude whether light therapies were more beneficial than placebo or no treatment, nor how long potential benefits lasted. PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies.
Even better than one stand-alone cream is a multipronged combination of acne treatments. “A good place to start is to use a combination of salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and a topical retinoid,” says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Salicylic acid helps remove excess oil from the surface of the skin and exfoliate the dead cells, while benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria and helps reduce inflammation.”
Back acne (sometimes called "bacne") is a potentially embarrassing and sometimes painful condition where clogged hair follicles on the back cause pimples and blackheads. Back acne can be caused by the same factors as other types of acne: diet, hormones, certain medications, genetics or any combination thereof. But when you're considering how to get rid of back acne, also remember that most people have their back covered the majority of the day. The clothing we wear matters, and the way in which we wash the skin on our back is key for clear skin, the whole body over. Learn more about common back acne causes, the best acne products for your body, and how to prevent acne on the back from returning in this section.
Doxycycline is another of the tetracyclines that's equally effective in treating acne. It comes in generic versions and also as the branded Doryx and Acticlate which are easier on the stomach. Originally FDA approved for the treatment of rosacea, Oracea is a non antibiotic dose of doxycycline that is often used as an acne treatment, as well. Taken orally, it can be used as solo therapy or in combination with a topical acne treatment regimen. More severe cases of acne might need higher doses of doxycycline, but since Oracea is not an antibiotic, many patients can be "down-graded" to Oracea after improvement and it's suitable for longterm use as it doesn't cause antibiotic resistance.
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.
Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties. It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells. Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy. 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.
If your baby still has acne at 3- to 6-months-old, infantile acne may be the culprit. “These bumps tend to be more red and inflammatory,” says Dr. Kahn. “You’ll see more of the different types of acne than with baby acne, including pustules and cysts, not just whiteheads and blackheads.” And unlike baby acne, infantile acne is linked to family history: Your baby is more likely to get it if you or your partner had severe acne as a teen. Acne in older babies can also be an indication that your baby is more likely to have acne later in life. Like baby acne, infantile acne rarely needs treatment; if there’s a lot of redness and swelling, however, your doctor might want to treat it with a topical antibiotic.
For UVA protection, a sunscreen with a high UVA protection of PA+++ or higher of PA++++ as recommended, especially to treat PIE. PPD is the UVA equivalent of SPF; use a sunscreen with a minimum of PPD20. The PA+ system has a + that corresponds to a tier of PPD protection. Of note, different countries use different PA systems. Japan and Taiwan changed their PA system to a 4+ tier system while Korea uses a 3+ tier system.
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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.”
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.