Every expert we spoke with said the most critical part of combating acne is combating it every day. “The only way to make any medication work is to use it on a daily basis,” says Dr. Green. Aesthetician and Rodan + Fields Consultant, Jessica Fitz Patrick emphasizes that it really comes down to what you can maintain for the long term: “Kits are great because they take out all the guesswork -- you just follow the instructions. But if four steps is going to be too many for you to keep up week after week, you’ll be better off finding one that has fewer treatments.”
Minocycline is available in generic form or the branded formulation, Solodyn. The most-prescribed oral antibiotic acne medication for moderate to severe inflammatory acne like cystic acne, Solodyn is a minocycline like those mentioned above. However, it comes in an extended release formula that allows it to work to clear skin over the course of the day with just one daily dose.
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.
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What's Going On: If it's big, red, and painful, you're probably experiencing cystic acne, one of the more severe types. "Cystic pimples are caused by genetics and hormonal stimulation of oil glands," says Zeichner. Not only are they large, but they're also notoriously tough to treat. They often recur in the same place, because even if you manage to get rid of one, it can keep filling up with oil again and again, like an immortal pimple.
It starts when greasy secretions from the skin's sebaceous glands (oil glands) plug the tiny openings for hair follicles (plugged pores). If the openings are large, the clogs take the form of blackheads: small, flat spots with dark centers. If the openings stay small, the clogs take the form of whiteheads: small, flesh-colored bumps. Both types of plugged pores can develop into swollen, tender inflammations or pimples or deeper lumps or nodules. Nodules associated with severe cases of acne (cystic acne) are firm swellings below the skin's surface that become inflamed, tender, and sometimes infected.
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).
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.
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.
And a retinoid, which we’ve touched on before, is beneficial for exfoliating the skin and purging your pores of dirt and oil, which is why Zeichner says they’re helpful for cysts, too. He recommends Differin, the only prescription-strength retinoid that’s available over the counter, and which many derms here have suggested to us before for acne-prone skin. He says you can use a pea-size amount and start applying it every other night as your skin gets adjusted to it (or combine it with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for a stronger mixture).
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.
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.
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.”
The three-piece set doesn’t come with a sun protection treatment, but Paula’s Choice has one in the line, the Clear Ultra-Light Daily Fluid SPF 30+. “Sun protection is really important, especially with acneic skin,” says Townsend. “In many cases, stronger acne products can make the skin photosensitive to the sun.” This isn’t your normal gloppy white sunscreen. Its fluid formula slips over tender skin, doesn’t need a ton of rubbing in, and also leaves a mattifying finish.
Acne mechanica is caused by heat, friction, and pressure against the skin, often the result of wearing sports gear such as a helmet or baseball cap. It is sometimes called "sports-induced acne" because it occurs frequently in athletes. Preventive measures include wearing an absorbent material under sports equipment and showering immediately after activity.
Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is a first-line treatment for mild and moderate acne due to its effectiveness and mild side-effects (mainly skin irritation). In the skin follicle, benzoyl peroxide kills C. acnes by oxidizing its proteins through the formation of oxygen free radicals and benzoic acid. These free radicals are thought to interfere with the bacterium's metabolism and ability to make proteins. Additionally, benzoyl peroxide is mildly effective at breaking down comedones and inhibiting inflammation. Benzoyl peroxide may be paired with a topical antibiotic or retinoid such as benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide/adapalene, respectively.
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).
Inflammatory Acne: Inflammatory acne is red bumps and pustules, not whiteheads, blackheads and comedones. It doesn't necessarily start as them, either. It arises on its own. Whiteheads, blackheads or comedones that become inflamed can be painful and unsightly. Persistent inflammatory acne may require treatment by a physician or dermatologist, in addition to over-the-counter acne remedies.
It is widely suspected that the anaerobic bacterial species Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium. acnes) contributes to the development of acne, but its exact role is not well understood. There are specific sub-strains of C. acnes associated with normal skin, and moderate or severe inflammatory acne. It is unclear whether these undesirable strains evolve on-site or are acquired, or possibly both depending on the person. These strains have the capability of changing, perpetuating, or adapting to the abnormal cycle of inflammation, oil production, and inadequate sloughing of dead skin cells from acne pores. Infection with the parasitic mite Demodex is associated with the development of acne. It is unclear whether eradication of the mite improves acne.
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.
^ Hay, RJ; Johns, NE; Williams, HC; Bolliger, IW; Dellavalle, RP; Margolis, DJ; Marks, R; Naldi, L; Weinstock, MA; Wulf, SK; Michaud, C; Murray, C; Naghavi, M (October 2013). "The Global Burden of Skin Disease in 2010: An Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Skin Conditions". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 134 (6): 1527–34. doi:10.1038/jid.2013.446. PMID 24166134.
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.
Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
The treatment regimen your doctor recommends depends on your age, the type and severity of your acne, and what you are willing to commit to. For example, you may need to wash and apply medications to the affected skin twice a day for several weeks. Often topical medications and drugs you take by mouth (oral medication) are used in combination. Pregnant women will not be able to use oral prescription medications for acne.