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.

If you're willing to invest in some serious skincare to soothe your acne-prone skin woes, Lancer's blemish-control polish is a great addition to your skincare routine. This treatment can be used as an exfoliant in conjunction with the best spot treatment for your acne type to further treat severe acne and improve the overall appearance of blemishes.

Dermabrasion is an effective therapeutic procedure for reducing the appearance of superficial atrophic scars of the boxcar and rolling varieties.[32] Ice-pick scars do not respond well to treatment with dermabrasion due to their depth.[32] The procedure is painful and has many potential side effects such as skin sensitivity to sunlight, redness, and decreased pigmentation of the skin.[32] Dermabrasion has fallen out of favor with the introduction of laser resurfacing.[32] Unlike dermabrasion, there is no evidence that microdermabrasion is an effective treatment for acne.[8]


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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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Sometimes birth control alone isn’t enough to really make a difference in hormonal acne. That’s when your doctor might recommend adding in an androgen blocker such as Spironalactone. Spiro (as it’s called) minimizes the amount of androgen hormones in circulation by blocking the receptors that bind with testosterone. When these pills are taken at the same time as an oral contraceptive, 90 percent of women see an improvement in breakouts, according to Linkner. The drug is sometimes prescribed to women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to relieve androgen-related symptoms like excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.

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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.
Misperceptions about acne's causative and aggravating factors are common, and those affected by it are often blamed for their condition.[176] Such blame can worsen the affected person's sense of self-esteem.[176] Until the 20th century, even among dermatologists, the list of causes was believed to include excessive sexual thoughts and masturbation.[165] Dermatology's association with sexually transmitted infections, especially syphilis, contributed to the stigma.[165]

Tea tree oil is renowned for being good for your skin. In addition to this, it also contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which makes it highly beneficial for acne treatment. In fact, studies that compare tea tree oil to the acne medication benzoyl peroxide shows it to be just as effective. But please remember to dilute tea tree oil before you use it; otherwise, your skin may get irritated.
This at-home skin peel available at Sephora tightens pores, reduces oil, helps retexturize skin and diminishes dark spots. It's paraben and sulfate free, non-comedogenic and isn't tested on animals. Use this peel each week as part of your clear skin regimen to help even out skin tone and gently remove unhealthy top skin layers, revealing new, healthier skin underneath. 
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Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[35] By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time.[35] Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis.[35] The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone.[35] Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area.[35] Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration.[35] Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people.[35] In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.[35]
Cortisone is a quick fix for acne emergencies. We mean got a big board meeting tomorrow kind of quick. Go into the dermatologist’s office for a shot of this corticosteroid, and acne will disappear in 24 to 48 hours. The treatment works to curb inflammation, which makes it best for cystic breakouts and can be really good at combatting hormonal flare-ups. If done incorrectly, a cortisone shot can leave a small depression in the skin that lasts about eight weeks. “It’s a rare side effect that happens if dosage of cortisone is too high,” explains Linkner. “You want to go to someone who knows what they’re doing.”

^ White, Stephen D.; Bordeau, Patrick B.; Blumstein, Philippe; Ibisch, Catherine; GuaguÈre, Eric; Denerolle, Philippe; Carlotti, Didier N.; Scott, Katherine V. (1 September 1997). "Feline acne and results of treatment with mupirocin in an open clinical trial: 25 cases (1994–96)". Veterinary Dermatology. 8 (3): 157–164. doi:10.1046/j.1365-3164.1997.d01-16.x. ISSN 1365-3164.
But Accutane has mixed reviews for a reason. It makes the skin super dry and sensitive, which means it’s important to keep moisturizers and lip balm nearby while you’re on the treatment. Oh, and don’t even think about waxing your eyebrows (just imagine your skin ripping off). There’s another downside to Accutane: It requires a lot of paperwork and office visits. Since isotretinoin can cause birth defects, you have to come into the dermatologist once a month to get a pregnancy test and take a lengthy survey with embarrassing questions about your sex life to prove that you are using sufficient birth control. These precautions are intense, but dermatologists agree that the final results for Accutane are like no other. “This is one of the few medicines that I can look [patients] in the eye and guarantee them it will work,” says Friedman.
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.

Genetics is thought to be the primary cause of acne in 80% of cases.[2] The role of diet and cigarette smoking is unclear, and neither cleanliness nor exposure to sunlight appear to play a part.[2][13][14] In both sexes, hormones called androgens appear to be part of the underlying mechanism, by causing increased production of sebum.[5] Another frequent factor is excessive growth of the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes, which is normally present on the skin.[15]

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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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.

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. 

This article was medically reviewed by Hilary Baldwin, MD. Baldwin, medical director of the Acne Treatment Research Center, is a board-certified dermatologist with nearly 25 years of experience. Her area of expertise and interest are acne, rosacea and keloid scars. Baldwin received her BA and MA in biology from Boston University. She became a research assistant at Harvard University before attending Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed a medical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital before becoming a resident and chief resident in dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
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]
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.

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Several scales exist to grade the severity of acne vulgaris, but no single technique has been universally accepted as the diagnostic standard.[68][69] Cook's acne grading scale uses photographs to grade severity from 0 to 8 (0 being the least severe and 8 being the most severe). This scale was the first to use a standardized photographic protocol to assess acne severity; since its creation in 1979, the scale has undergone several revisions.[69] The Leeds acne grading technique counts acne lesions on the face, back, and chest and categorizes them as inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Leeds scores range from 0 (least severe) to 10 (most severe) though modified scales have a maximum score of 12.[69][70] The Pillsbury acne grading scale simply classifies the severity of the acne from grade 1 (least severe) to grade 4 (most severe).[68][71]

Eat healthily. Foods that are highly processed and contain a lot of oils greatly increase the amount of acne on your body. Getting the proper amount of nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein help your skin to regenerate faster and limit unnecessary oil production. When at all possible, avoid foods that are processed or contain a lot of sugar (think junk foods).[11]
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 educational health content on What To Expect is reviewed by our team of experts to be up-to-date and in line with the latest evidence-based medical information and accepted health guidelines, including the medically reviewed What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. This educational content is not medical or diagnostic advice. Use of this site is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy. © 2019 Everyday Health, Inc

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.”
Popping pimples seems to be the quickest way to make the red spots on our skin disappear. But it can permanently damage your skin! When you squeeze a pimple, you’re actually forcing the oil substance and dead skin cells deeper into the follicle. The extra pressure exerted will make the follicle wall rupture, and spill the infected materials into the innermost part of our skin. This skin damage will lead to the loss of tissue, and finally cause acne scars.[2]

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).
Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient, and it’s very effective at killing the P. acnes bacteria that causes breakouts. But benzoyl isn’t without its downsides. The leave-on creams and cleansing treatments can dry out sensitive skin types and bleach clothing if you aren’t careful. Board-certified dermatologist Eric Meinhardt, M.D., previously told SELF that it's best to stick to formulations that have no more than 2 percent of benzoyl peroxide listed on the active ingredients chart; stronger concentrations are harder on your skin without being any tougher on bacteria.
Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response.[32] They are described as firm and raised from the skin.[32][34] Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders.[32] Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.[32]

The Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution is mostly water, but its 2 percent salicylic acid is enough to eat through oil and remove the dead skin cells clogging your pores — and it boasts a higher concentration than nearly every other kit we looked at. Sodium hyaluronate, the super-moisturizing humectant we fell in love with in our review on the Best Face Moisturizer, also caught our eye sitting smack dab in the middle of the ingredients list.


Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response.[32] They are described as firm and raised from the skin.[32][34] Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders.[32] Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.[32]
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.
Tea tree oil is renowned for being good for your skin. In addition to this, it also contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which makes it highly beneficial for acne treatment. In fact, studies that compare tea tree oil to the acne medication benzoyl peroxide shows it to be just as effective. But please remember to dilute tea tree oil before you use it; otherwise, your skin may get irritated.
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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