There are packaged products that contain some combination of the aforementioned ingredients, too. Zeichner likes Clean & Clear’s Acne Triple Clear face wash with salicylic acid in it, but says to sit with it for a bit to let it sink into skin. “Allow salicylic acid to sit on the skin while you sing the alphabet before rinsing, to ensure enough contact time for it to do its job.”
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).[32][33] They may be further classified as ice-pick scars, boxcar scars, and rolling scars.[31] Ice-pick scars are narrow (less than 2 mm across), deep scars that extend into the dermis.[32] Boxcar scars are round or ovoid indented scars with sharp borders and vary in size from 1.5–4 mm across.[32] Rolling scars are wider than icepick and boxcar scars (4–5 mm across) and have a wave-like pattern of depth in the skin.[32]

How to Handle It: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon. "This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Best of Beauty winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid. The formula does double duty: It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. And since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.
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.[86] 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.[86]
Isotretinoin (previously known as Accutane) is the most effective form of acne therapy and the only one that can actually result in a cure for your acne. After finishing a course 80 percent of people never see acne again. It works so well because it unclogs pores, kills bacteria, reduces oil production and reduces inflammation. It's taken as a daily pill. Isotretinoin has numerous rare and potential side effects that has made it a controversial choice, but for patients with severe acne there is often no other option. Patients taking isotretinoin must also be on highly effective birth control as the drug can cause birth defects. Isotretinoin can only be taken under close medical supervision.

Azelaic acid has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate acne when applied topically at a 20% concentration.[66][128] Treatment twice daily for six months is necessary, and is as effective as topical benzoyl peroxide 5%, isotretinoin 0.05%, and erythromycin 2%.[129] Azelaic acid is thought to be an effective acne treatment due to its ability to reduce skin cell accumulation in the follicle, and its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.[66] It has a slight skin-lightening effect due to its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis, and is therefore useful in treating of individuals with acne who are also affected by postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[1] Azelaic acid may cause skin irritation but is otherwise very safe.[130] It is less effective and more expensive than retinoids.[1]
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]
Get at least eight hours of sleep. Sleeping kills two birds with one stone, as it helps to relax your body as well as detoxify it. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, chances are your skin hasn’t had the time or ability to renew its skin cells. Regulate your sleep cycle by going to bed at a consistent time every night and sleeping for a minimum of eight hours at least.[12]

Keep in mind that even if some products market themselves toward severe acne breakouts, all the kits we looked at are definitely designed for mild to moderate acne. Not sure if you fit on that scale? You’re not alone! When you’re in the middle of a breakout, all acne seems severe, so it can be difficult to self-diagnose your symptoms. We talked to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists to better understand the differences between the various types of acne (see below).
Genetics play a big part in who gets acne and how severely, but each blemish can be blamed on some combination of sebum production, a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), plugged follicles, and inflammation. Finding a good treatment is really about finding the right combination of ingredients to troubleshoot each of those issues. Some factors that might worsen acne include hormones, certain medications, diet and stress.
How to Handle It: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon. "This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Best of Beauty winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid. The formula does double duty: It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. And since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.
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Flutamide, a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, is effective in the treatment of acne in women.[100][107] It has generally been found to reduce symptoms of acne by 80 or 90% even at low doses, with several studies showing complete acne clearance.[100][108][109] In one study, flutamide decreased acne scores by 80% within 3 months, whereas spironolactone decreased symptoms by only 40% in the same time period.[109][110][111] In a large long-term study, 97% of women reported satisfaction with the control of their acne with flutamide.[112] Although effective, flutamide has a risk of serious liver toxicity, and cases of death in women taking even low doses of the medication to treat androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions have occurred.[113] As such, the use of flutamide for acne has become increasingly limited,[112][114][115] and it has been argued that continued use of flutamide for such purposes is unethical.[113] Bicalutamide, a pure androgen receptor antagonist with the same mechanism as flutamide and with comparable or superior antiandrogenic efficacy but without its risk of liver toxicity, is a potential alternative to flutamide in the treatment of androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions in women.[105][116][117][118]

It's a common misconception that those with oily skin shouldn't moisturize. Be sure you're treating your entire face to a full routine and not solely relying on spot treatments to battle your breakouts. If your acne comes with a side of oil, this is your best bet for a daily moisturizer. It contains panadoxine, a vitamin B6 derivative that improves skin’s overall healthy balance by visually minimizing pore size and shine.
How to Handle It: If you've tried the usual anti-acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (which, we should warn you, rarely work for this), you should consider paying your dermatologist a visit. "You may need a cortisone injection or an oral medication, like an antibiotic, in addition to topical formulas," says Zeichner. He's also a fan of a prescription topical medication called Epiduo Forte Gel, since, he says, it's been shown to be effective at controlling severe acne without the help of oral treatments.
Therefore, it is very important that you wear sunscreen everyday, with an SPF of 30.Of note, after SPF 30, there are decreasing marginal returns in UVB protection. The % of UVB protection as a function of SPF Value is a log graph and plateaus after SPF 30. Therefore, there is not much difference in protection between SPF 40 and 50. Sunscreens with an SPF 100 are banned in some countries.
Isotretinoin (previously known as Accutane) is the most effective form of acne therapy and the only one that can actually result in a cure for your acne. After finishing a course 80 percent of people never see acne again. It works so well because it unclogs pores, kills bacteria, reduces oil production and reduces inflammation. It's taken as a daily pill. Isotretinoin has numerous rare and potential side effects that has made it a controversial choice, but for patients with severe acne there is often no other option. Patients taking isotretinoin must also be on highly effective birth control as the drug can cause birth defects. Isotretinoin can only be taken under close medical supervision.
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.
Acne vulgaris and its resultant scars have been associated with significant social and academic difficulties that can last into adulthood, including difficulties obtaining employment.[31][177] 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.[165] 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.[165]

The Pore Normalizing Cleanser is designed just to cleanse, not treat, which is a good thing: The Nurse Practitioner study emphasizes the importance of washing with mild cleansers in conjunction with topical acne medications to combat or avoid excessive skin irritation. This one is water-based and fragrance-free, and uses sodium laureth sulfate (as opposed to its harsh cousin sodium lauryl sulfate) to eliminate any chance for irritation.


Antiandrogens such as cyproterone acetate and spironolactone have been used successfully to treat acne, especially in women with signs of excessive androgen production such as increased hairiness or skin production of sebum, or baldness.[10][47] Spironolactone is an effective treatment for acne in adult women, but unlike combined birth control pills, is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for this purpose.[1][36][99] The medication is primarily used as an aldosterone antagonist and is thought to be a useful acne treatment due to its ability to additionally block the androgen receptor at higher doses.[36] Alone or in combination with a birth control pill, spironolactone has shown a 33 to 85% reduction in acne lesions in women.[90] The effectiveness of spironolactone for acne appears to be dose-dependent.[90] High-dose cyproterone acetate alone has been found to decrease symptoms of acne in women by 75 to 90% within 3 months.[100] It is usually combined with an estrogen to avoid menstrual irregularities and estrogen deficiency.[101] The medication has also been found to be effective in the treatment of acne in males, with one study finding that a high dosage reduced inflammatory acne lesions by 73%.[102][103] However, the side effects of cyproterone acetate in males, such as gynecomastia, sexual dysfunction, and decreased bone mineral density, make its use for acne in this sex impractical in most cases.[102][103][104] Hormonal therapies should not be used to treat acne during pregnancy or lactation as they have been associated with birth disorders such as hypospadias, and feminization of the male babies.[47] In addition, women who are sexually active and who can or may become pregnant should use an effective method of contraception to prevent pregnancy while taking an antiandrogen.[105] Antiandrogens are often combined with birth control pills for this reason, which can result in additive efficacy.[36][106]
A BHA product often cited includes salicylic acid, it must be between a pH between 3 and 4 to work. A BHA works to slough (to get rid of) off dead skin cells and encourage new skin growth. As a result, you may experience dry skin and scaliness around your acne, but this will dissipate over time as your skin begins to regenerate faster. Use this in a cleanser or spot treatment daily on the acne-affected areas of your skin.[6]

While you can certainly benefit from a great skin-care regimen, "in cystic acne, usually you need internal treatment," he says. "Topical medications usually don't work. Accutane is a great miracle cure for really bad cystic acne, but most people with cystic acne will improve with oral antibiotics — sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for three weeks."


Fractional laser treatment is less invasive than ablative laser treatment, as it targets only a fraction of the skin at a time. Fractional lasers penetrate the top skin layers, where its light energy stimulates collagen production and resurfaces the top layer of the epidermis. Treatments typically last between 15 and 45 minutes and effects become visible in 1 to 3 weeks.

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.
Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is usually the result of nodular acne lesions. These lesions often leave behind an inflamed darkened mark after the original acne lesion has resolved. This inflammation stimulates specialized pigment-producing skin cells (known as melanocytes) to produce more melanin pigment which leads to the skin's darkened appearance.[35] People with darker skin color are more frequently affected by this condition.[36] Pigmented scar is a common term used for PIH, but is misleading as it suggests the color change is permanent. Often, PIH can be prevented by avoiding any aggravation of the nodule, and can fade with time. However, untreated PIH can last for months, years, or even be permanent if deeper layers of skin are affected.[37] Even minimal skin exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can sustain hyperpigmentation.[35] Daily use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen can minimize such a risk.[37]
Hormonal treatments for acne such as combined birth control pills and antiandrogens may be considered a first-line therapy for acne under a number of circumstances, including when contraception is desired, when known or suspected hyperandrogenism is present, when acne occurs in adulthood, when acne flares premenstrually, and when symptoms of significant sebum production (seborrhea) are co-present.[127] Hormone therapy is effective for acne even in women with normal androgen levels.[127]
C. acnes also provokes skin inflammation by altering the fatty composition of oily sebum.[45] Oxidation of the lipid squalene by C. acnes is of particular importance. Squalene oxidation activates NF-κB (a protein complex) and consequently increases IL-1α levels.[45] Additionally, squalene oxidation leads to increased activity of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme responsible for conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotriene B4 (LTB4).[45] LTB4 promotes skin inflammation by acting on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) protein.[45] PPARα increases activity of activator protein 1 (AP-1) and NF-κB, thereby leading to the recruitment of inflammatory T cells.[45] The inflammatory properties of C. acnes can be further explained by the bacterium's ability to convert sebum triglycerides to pro-inflammatory free fatty acids via secretion of the enzyme lipase.[45] These free fatty acids spur production of cathelicidin, HBD1, and HBD2, thus leading to further inflammation.[45]

Ablative lasers deliver an intense wavelength of light to the skin, removing thin outer layers of the skin (epidermis). In addition, collagen production is stimulated in the underlying layer (the dermis). Patients are typically numbed with local anesthetic and the ablation is done as an outpatient procedure. CO2 and erbium are the ablative lasers most often used for acne scar treatment.


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.
Our favorite for banishing blemishes on the fly, Glossier's zit stick is not only effective, but it's portable. Just stash it in your purse for any unexpected breakouts! Packed with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this convenient roll-on works extremely quickly. In a clinical trial, 83% of test subjects said that it lessened the appearance of pimples in just 3 hours. We've tried it ourselves and can confirm the 3-hour claim is true.
The Daily Skin Clearing Treatment is an all-over 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream that also touts calming bisabolol and allantoin to alleviate the dryness and irritation that can crop up mid-treatment. Anyone frustrated with oil-slick skin will also love this part of the regimen — it creates a satin mattifying effect, instantly transforming shininess into a glow.
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You’ve probably heard of the benefits of retinoid creams for anti-aging, but vitamin A is also efficient at clearing up acne. “[Retinoids] cause skin cells to turn over at a faster rate, decrease oil production, and help skin exfoliate,” board-certified dermatologist Rita Linkner, M.D., tells SELF. Another benefit: Acne is inflammation, and retinoids are anti-inflammatory.

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.
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