If you notice that you’re breaking out right around your period every month, your acne might be linked to hormones. “A sensitivity to the hormones called androgens manifests in the form of cystic acne,” says Linkner. Androgens, namely testosterone, cause the skin to produce more sebum. More sebum equals more acne. Birth control, which has estrogen and progestin, helps keep hormones balanced and skin clear. Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep, and YAZ are all FDA-approved as acne treatments.
Since benzoyl peroxide is often prescribed in office for handling cystic acne (it kills acne-causing bacteria within the hair follicle), it was the first choice among dermatologists I spoke to as an over-the-counter treatment. There are a couple of different options out there from face washes to topical creams to bodywashes, but dermatologist Ross S. Levy, of CareMount Medical — the director of dermatologic surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine — says that typically “the benzoyl peroxide (5 to 10 percent) topical creams or gels are more effective than the cleansers or washes.” The only danger with benzoyl peroxide to be mindful of is that it will stain clothing and pillowcases. Clean & Clear’s Persa-Gel, which contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, is one of Gonzalez’s go-to recommendations for treating cystic acne at home.
Flutamide, a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, is effective in the treatment of acne in women. 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. In one study, flutamide decreased acne scores by 80% within 3 months, whereas spironolactone decreased symptoms by only 40% in the same time period. In a large long-term study, 97% of women reported satisfaction with the control of their acne with flutamide. 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. As such, the use of flutamide for acne has become increasingly limited, and it has been argued that continued use of flutamide for such purposes is unethical. 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.
Spot treatments are designed to give problem pimples a mega-dose of concentrated benzoyl peroxide — in a couple of regimens, like the Proactiv Teen Kit, the spot treatment had nearly three times the benzoyl peroxide as its all-over treatment. The logic: If benzoyl peroxide can be irritating to the skin in high concentrations, limiting its intensity to just the pimple itself could save the rest of your healthy skin.
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.
^ 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.
Some people use natural treatments like tea tree oil (works like benzoyl peroxide, but slower) or alpha hydroxy acids (remove dead skin and unclog pores) for their acne care. Not much is known about how well many of these treatments work and their long-term safety. Many natural ingredients are added to acne lotions and creams. Talk to your doctor to see if they’re right for you.
Combined oral contraceptives. Four combined oral contraceptives are approved by the FDA for acne therapy in women who also wish to use them for contraception. They are products that combine estrogen and progestin (Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Yaz, others). You may not see the benefit of this treatment for a few months, so using other acne medications with it the first few weeks may help.