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.
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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]
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]

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]

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]
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.
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).

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.
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