Acne treatments

Acne Treatment Options

Acne treatments

There are many acne treatment options available to get your acne breakouts under control.

Acne treatments can be divided into three categories: topical (medications you put on your skin, either over-the-counter products or prescriptions), systemic (prescription oral medications), and procedural (treatments done at a spa or dermatology office). The appropriate course of treatment is determined by the type and stage of your acne.

Over-the-counter acne treatments are those products you can get at a drugstore, grocery store, skin spa, or cosmetics store. Many OTC products claim to be good for breakout-prone skin. The trick to finding one that actually works is taking a look at the active ingredients.

The most effective OTC acne treatment products contain at least one of these ingredients:

  • Salicylic acid (0.5% to 2%): Salicylic acid works as an exfoliant, helping your skin shed dead skin cells more effectively. It works best for non-inflamed outbreaks and for blackheads. It also helps other acne-fighting ingredients penetrate the skin better, so it is a good addition to a variety of preparations.
  • Benzoyl peroxide (2.5% to 10%): Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in products such as Clearasil and Proactiv, as well as in prescription acne medications. It works by introducing oxygen into the pores, which kills the bacteria that are associated with acne. It also helps clear the follicle of dead skin cells, which can prevent breakouts.
  • Sulfur: Sulfur reduces skin oiliness, helps the skin slough away cells more effectively to prevent blocked pores, and is anti-microbial. It is good for mild to moderate acne, including moderate inflammatory acne, but isn't effective for severe acne or cystic breakouts. It tends to be gentler on the skin.
  • Glycolic acid: Glycolic acid is a water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that works to speed up cell turnover and exfoliate the skin. It also stimulates the skin to make more collagen, which reduces aging effects. However, it makes your skin sensitive to the sun.

It doesn't matter much what type of product you use, whether it be a cleanser, toner, cleansing pads, or a lotion, so long as it contains a proven acne treatment ingredient. You can also choose several OTC products and put them together to create your own blemish-fighting skincare routine.

OTC acne products could cause excessive dryness, peeling, and redness. If you have sensitive skin, you may wish to start with a single acne treatment product, and slowly add more if needed.

Overall, OTC products are a good choice for mild acne and blackheads, but moderate and severe outbreaks will ly require prescription medications.

For acne that isn't getting better after three months with over-the-counter products, your doctor may recommend treatment with stronger topical prescription medications. In more severe breakouts, oral prescription medication may be recommended.

Prescription topical medications can be used to treat mild breakouts, severe acne, and everything in between. Topical acne treatments come in many different forms, from light water-based gels and creamy lotions to toner- solutions and medicated pads.

Topical treatments available by prescription include:

  • Azelaic acid: Believed to reduce acne bacteria, azelaic acid increases shedding of skin cells and helps prevent hyperpigmentation when used as a cream or gel.
  • Benzoyl peroxide (prescription strength)
  • Topical retinoids are made from synthetic vitamin A and include Retin-A Micro (tretinoin), Tazorac (tazarotene), and the retinoid- compound adapalene (which goes by the brand name Differin). They rapidly exfoliate the skin, keeping your pores unclogged and preventing comedones.
  • Topical antibiotics target the skin bacteria that are associated with acne. Clindamycin and erythromycin are the most common ones used.
  • Combination acne medications combine an antibiotic with another of the topical agents.

Oral acne medications work internally. These medications are typically prescribed for severe breakouts or cystic acne. They're also used for less severe types of acne when topical treatments aren't giving good enough results.

Oral acne treatments are available by prescription only and include:

  • Oral antibiotics: These might be used, but for no longer than three to six months. Because of the rise of resistant bacteria, the American Academy of Dermatology says that treatment with a single antibiotic should be avoided.
  • Isotretinoin: This drug, topical retinoids, is made from a synthetic form of vitamin A. It is considered the most effective for severe acne. However, it is essential that you do not become pregnant while taking it as it can cause severe birth defects. There are several brands of isotretinoin (e.g., Absorica, Zenatane), but you may be most familiar with one that went off the market in 2009: Accutane.
  • Hormonal treatments: Options such as birth control pills and CaroSpir (spironolactone) are not first-line treatments for acne, but they may benefit women who consistently break out around the time of their monthly cycle or who have hormonal disorders that trigger acne.

With the exception of isotretinoin, you'll probably use an oral medication in conjunction with another topical acne treatment.

If you're pregnant, acne must be treated carefully. Certain medications isotretinoin and Retin-A (tretinoin), for example, should never be used while pregnant or if you think you could be pregnant.

Procedural treatments are therapies performed by a dermatologist, healthcare practitioner, or esthetician in the office or salon. They can be used to treat mild to severe acne, depending on the procedure.

Some professional acne treatment procedures performed my estheticians may not be covered by health insurance, so you should check with your plan provider. Some you may want to try include:

  • Comedo extractions: Estheticians perform this treatment to clear out clogged pores with precision extraction.
  • Acne treatment facials: The goal of this treatment is to clear your pores so you have fewer breakouts.
  • Chemical peels: These procedures exfoliate the skin to clear the pores. A light chemical peel can be done by an esthetician, while a deeper peel requires a dermatologist.
  • Microdermabrasion: This procedure uses a machine to rapidly remove the outermost layer of the skin, freeing the pores. It may help with mild acne and post-acne hyperpigmentation. It can be performed by an esthetician.

These procedures are done by a physician and are ly to be covered by many insurance plans:

  • Corticosteroid injections: This procedure is performed by a physician to treat large, inflamed acne cysts. There is a risk you will get a pitting scar, however.
  • Acne surgery: Blemish excision might be performed by a physician to drain stubborn lesions.

Phototherapyis aprocedure that was initially developed for treating skin cancer and actinic keratosis. It is performed by specially-trained physicians and their staff. As its effectiveness for acne is still being explored, it may not be covered by insurance.

Procedural therapies aren't meant to be used as the sole acne treatment. Instead, consider these add-ons to help boost your current acne treatment medication.

A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the science of the skin, its treatment, and diseases. Having a professional's help is a great asset in the fight against acne. Your dermatologist can offer many acne treatment options, as well as advice and support.

An esthetician, or skin care therapist, specializes in the treatment and beautification of the skin. Estheticians are not medical doctors; rather they perform cosmetic treatments of the skin, such as facials. They can recommend skin care products for acne-prone skin and offer advice on daily skin care. Estheticians can also perform deep cleansing treatments to help ward off comedones.

Dermatology offices and medi-spas may employ estheticians to offer supportive therapy under the supervision of the doctor, or you can find them at day spas or skin spas.

There are a few alternative treatments that may hold some promise, although more research needs to be done.

Tea tree oil is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. It has traditionally been used for skin infections and wounds.

It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which may help reduce the bacteria responsible for acne breakouts.

Ongoing studies have been building evidence that tea tree oil reduces breakouts in those who have mild to moderate acne when used topically.

Note that studies of tea tree oil for acne are done with a 5% gel (or similarly diluted strength of product) which is washed off after 20 minutes. If you buy tea tree oil at a health food store, you must dilute it in a carrier oil to a 5% strength to avoid redness, itchiness, blistering, and drying of the skin. Alternatively, you can opt for a skincare product that contains tea tree oil.

Building good skincare habits from childhood can help kids and teens (as well as adults) prevent or reduce outbreaks.

By age 9 and throughout the years ahead, people should clean their faces each night with a gentle cleanser (such as Dove or Neutrogena).

All products used should be mild and should be applied gently without scrubbing. An oil-free moisturizer should be used if soap is drying the skin.

It's also important to never pick at or “pop” pimples. While you may think you are draining the lesion, this simply forces the bacteria deeper into the skin to cause more inflammation and can result in infection and even scarring. It's never too late to break yourself of this habit.

Making certain dietary changes, switching to low-glycemic index carbohydrates or reducing dairy, might lessen acne severity for some people.

 Some of the changes suggested follow general dietary guidelines for good health, such as eating more whole grains rather than sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Be aware that the scientific evidence for any step away from a generally healthy diet, such as eliminating dairy, is not conclusive. Especially for children and teens, it is important to provide a balanced diet for growth.

You may be drawn to natural treatments or home remedies to try to clear your skin, but the reality is that most just don't work.

There's no scientific evidence to show, for example, that things garlic, apple cider vinegar, Milk of Magnesia (magnesium hydroxide), or other home remedies clear acne.

In some cases, they can actually cause contact dermatitis and make your skin look and feel worse.

Acne is a complicated problem—one that is still not fully understood. It can be hard to treat and is not a condition that goes away overnight.

On the contrary, many people will go through several treatments and regimens before they find one that works for them. Try not to get discouraged. Just starting treatment can help you feel more in control of your skin.

Your dermatologist can help you devise a treatment plan that will work for you. Take that first step.


12 Acne Treatments That Really Work, According to Dermatologists

Acne treatments

When it comes to finding the right acne treatment, there are a million products out there—and they’re not all created equal. From acne washes to creams and spot treatments, the options can be overwhelming, making it impossible to tell which is truly the best acne treatment for you.

Even more frustrating? The fact that we’re still dealing with acne at all. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that can affect people in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s.

And if you thought blackheads and whiteheads were annoying, the deep painful pimples that often pop up in adult acne are much more aggravating—and harder to get rid of.

So, we talked to dermatologists to find out which acne treatments are the most effective on all types of pimples.

Keep reading to learn what causes acne in the first place, plus the best acne treatments worth spending your hard-earned dollars on.

So, what causes acne?

Pimples form when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a plug that blocks the pores. Usually, your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells. But if your body produces a lot of sebum (oil), the dead skin cells can get stuck in your pores, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Sometimes, a bacteria called p. acnes also gets trapped in the pore, where it multiplies. “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 you’ll find below 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.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne

All the dermatologists we talked to agreed on this point. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, it is helpful to work with a derm to get it right.

First, your derm will examine your skin to determine the severity of your acne and give it a “grade” (grade 1 is mild; grade 4 is severe) and figure out which type (or types) you have, the AAD explains. Then, they’ll see which type of treatment would work best: topical or oral (or both). Here’s the difference between each, per the AAD:

  • Topical acne treatment: This is the most common type of acne treatment. Some work by killing acne-causing bacteria while others get rid of acne by decreasing oil. The ingredients in topical acne treatments may include: retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, or salicylic acid.
  • Oral acne treatment: These medications, which work internally, are prescribed when you have red, swollen pimples (acne cysts and nodules). They can come in different forms such as antibiotics (which kill bacteria and decrease inflammation), birth control pills (which helps with hormonal acne), and isotretinoin (commonly referred to as Accutane, even though that specific brand was discontinued).

Here are the best acne treatments for occasional to moderate acne

1. Salicylic acid

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 (BHA) that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells.


Acne Treatments That Work

Acne treatments

Acne is the most common skin problem in the United States. It often appears as an outbreak of pimples on your face. But it can also show up on your chest, neck, back, or shoulders.

While you can cover a rash on your chest or arm with clothes, it's hard to hide bumps and blemishes on your face. Plus, they can be painful. They can affect your mood and make you self-conscious.

Acne happens when a pore gets clogged with oil and dead skin cells. It can affect people of all ages. But there are treatments that can help. The trick is finding what works best for you.

While a pimple will eventually go away, if you have outbreaks a lot, the skin problem that brings it on typically won’t go away by itself. And if you don’t treat it, you could end up with scars.

A skin doctor (dermatologist) can help. She might suggest a cream, lotion, gel, or soap that contains ingredients that can help. Many can be bought without a prescription:

  • Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria and removes extra oil.
  • Resorcinol is for whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Salicylic acid keeps pores from getting clogged.
  • Sulfur removes dead skin cells.
  • Spironolactone blocks excess hormone.

For more serious acne, your doctor may prescribe:

You may need a combination of oral medicine and a cream or lotion. Don’t stop using your treatments if your skin clears. Stick with it until the doctor tells you to stop. This can help keep acne from coming back.

Benzoyl peroxide is the first product many people try, because it’s pretty easy on the skin. Typically, you’ll start with a lower strength no matter what medicine you use. This helps you get used to it. Your doctor can tell you if it’s time to try a higher strength or to switch to something different.

Be patient. It can take weeks to see results from any medication. Your acne may look worse before it gets better. Don’t be surprised if you get redness, burning, or dry skin from your acne medicines. If it’s serious, call your doctor.

You may need to try several different medicines before you find what works best for you.

Along with oral medication, lotions, and creams, your doctor may also suggest:

  • Laser or other therapies that use light to treat blemishes
  • Chemical peels to remove dead skin cells
  • Surgical removal of large cysts that can’t be treated with medicine
  • Cyst injections with anti-inflammatory cortisone

These treatments can be done in the doctor’s office or as an outpatient at the hospital.

Some people use natural treatments tea tree oil (works 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.

Wash the area two times a day. Use a gentle cleanser, not soap. Don’t scrub too hard.

Or try cleansing wipes. These already have cleanser in them and are easy to use, then throw away.

Other skin tips:

  • Don’t use too much topical acne medicine — apply just enough to cover problem areas.
  • Many acne medicines (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and tretinoin) make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
  • Don’t use oily makeup, sunscreen, or hair products.
  • Don’t pick at or squeeze your pimples.
  • Keep your hair, hands, and phone off your face.

For men, shaving can irritate your skin and make acne worse. Try an electric razor, or be very careful with a blade.


National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Questions and Answers about Acne.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Acne,” “How to shave.”

Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions: “Acne, Causes,” “Acne, Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why,” “Acne, Are there any effective natural acne treatment options?”

Consumer Reports: “Review of acne treatments,” “Can some drugs make me more sensitive to the sun?”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Acne Skin Care


Understanding Acne Treatment

Acne treatments

The occasional pimple can be concealed. If used at all, over-the-counter cover-up creams and cosmetics should be water-based. Even if outbreaks of acne cannot be eliminated, conventional treatment can provide relief.

The best treatments inhibit sebum production, limit bacterial growth, or encourage shedding of skin cells to unclog pores.

Because many therapies can have side effects, any patient with acne should proceed with caution when trying a new treatment.

People with any type of acne that lowers their self-esteem or makes them unhappy, those with acne that is leaving scars or people with severe, persistent cases of acne, need the care of a dermatologist.

Soap and water. Gentle cleansing of the face with soap and water no more than two times a day can help with acne. However, this does not clear up acne that is already present. Aggressive scrubbing can injure the skin and cause other skin problems.

Cleansers. There are many cleansers and soaps advertised for treating acne. They often contain benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

Benzoyl peroxide. For mild acne, you may try, or your doctor may recommend, treatment with a nonprescription drug that contains benzoyl peroxide. It's believed that this compound works by destroying the bacteria associated with acne.

It usually takes at least four weeks to work and it must be used continuously to keep acne at bay.

many over-the-counter and prescription products, it does not affect sebum production or the way the skin follicle cells are shed, and when you stop using it, the acne comes back. It is available in many forms: creams, lotions, washes, foams,cleansing pads and gels.

Benzoyl peroxide can cause dry skin and can bleach fabrics, so take care when applying it. Consider wearing an old T-shirt to bed if you are applying it to your back or chest overnight.

Salicylic acid. On the skin, salicylic acid helps to correct the abnormal shedding of cells. For milder acne, salicylic acid helps unclog pores to resolve and prevent lesions.

It does not have any effect on sebum production and does not kill bacteria. It must be used continuously, just benzoyl peroxide, because its effects stop when you stop using it — pores clog up again and the acne returns.

Salicylic acid is available in many acne products, including lotions, creams, and pads.

Sulfur. In combination with other substances such as alcohol and salicylic acid, sulfur is a component of many over-the-counter acne medications. It usually isn't used by itself because of its unpleasant odor. It's unclear how sulfur works, but it has only a marginal benefit in most cases.

Topical retinol gel or creams. Retinol works to keep pimples from being able to form. It affects the growth of cells, causing increased cell turnover to unblock pores.

 Your acne may appear to get worse before it gets better because it will work on the pimples that have already started forming beneath your skin. It must be used continuously and may take 8-12 weeks to get results. Retinol used to be available in only a prescription strength.

Differin Gel is the only topical retinoid approved as an over-the-counter treatment for acne.

Alcohol and acetone. Alcohol is a mild anti-bacterial agent, and acetone can remove oils from the surface of the skin. These substances are combined in some over-the-counter acne drugs. These agents dry out the skin, have little or no effect on acne, and are generally not recommended by dermatologists.

Herbal, organic, and “natural” medications. There are many herbal, organic, and natural products marketed to treat or prevent acne. The effectiveness of these agents isn't proven and they are unly to have much benefit.

Note: When pus-filled pimples are ready to break, apply a hot towel for a few minutes to encourage the natural bursting process. Inflamed pimples should be opened only by a nurse or doctor using surgical instruments and following antiseptic practices. Squeezing pimples yourself may lead to further inflammation and perhaps permanent scars.

Antibiotics. Antibiotics may be used on top of the skin (topical) or taken orally (systemic). Antibiotics work by clearing the skin of acne-causing bacteria and reducing inflammation. There are several topical products available in creams, gels, solutions, pads, foams, and lotions.

Topical antibiotics are limited in their ability to penetrate the skin and clear more deep-seated acne, whereas systemic antibiotics circulate throughout the body and into sebaceous glands.

However, systemic antibiotics often cause more side effects than topicals, but they can be used for more severe kinds of acne. Usually, topical antibiotics aren't recommended alone as an acne treatment, as they can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance in skin bacteria.

However, using benzoyl peroxide with a topical antibiotic may reduce the chances of developing antibiotic resistance.

Topical clindamycin (Cleocin T, Clinda-Derm) and erythromycin (Ilotycin) are antibiotics that are also anti-inflammatory drugs and are effective against a number of bacteria. They should always be combined with benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid and applied directly to the skin. Oral erythromycin is also available, but you may become resistant to its effects, limiting its usefulness.

Other oral antiinflammatory antibiotics often used are doxycycline, minocycline, and tetracycline, all of which are quite effective in many cases of acne.

Antibiotics do not address the other causative factors in acne and may take several weeks or months to clear it up. Antibiotics are often used in combination with other drugs that “unclog” follicles. Many oral antibiotics for acne should not be used during pregnancy.

Retinoids or vitamin A derivatives. These drugs are available as topical or oral drugs. Topical retinoids clear up moderate-to-severe acne by affecting the way the skin grows and sheds.

They can be used in combination with other acne products, such as benzoyl peroxide and oral antibiotics. Topical retinoids don't have the severe side effects of oral retinoids; however, they aren't recommended for pregnant or nursing women.

Side effects of topical retinoids include redness, dryness, and itchy skin.

For severe cystic acne, isotretinoin (Absorica, Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret) is the most effective therapy. This drug is the only drug that intervenes in all of the causes of acne. It can often even clear severe acne that hasn't responded to other treatments. However, the product can have side effects.

It can cause severe birth defects and must NEVER be taken by a woman who is pregnant or who is not using contraception. In addition, it shouldn't be taken by a woman who is nursing. Some studies suggest its use has been associated with an increased risk of depression, suicide, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Talk to your doctor about the potential risks of this drug.

Other side effects are dry skin and lips, muscle and joint pain, headache, elevated triglyceride levels (a type of cholesterol), elevated liver enzymes, and, rarely, temporary hair shedding. For most people taking these drugs, side effects are tolerable and not a reason to discontinue therapy before the acne clears up.

Azelaic acid. Another topical is azelaic acid, which comes in a gel, cream or foam and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is more commonly used for another type of condition called rosacea, but it may help mild acne.

Dapsone. Dapsone is a topical gel that is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.

Oral contraceptives. Birth control pills contain female hormones that work by counteracting the effect of male hormones (such as testosterone) on acne. Their use is limited to female patients. The maximum benefit of oral contraceptives on acne occurs in three to four months. Side effects include nausea, weight gain, spotting, breast tenderness, and blood clots.

Spironolactone (Aldactone). Spironolactone is an oral drug that can block the action of the body’s hormones on the skin’s oil glands. This medication is not FDA-approved for acne, but is especially helpful for women who have acne that worsens around the time of menstruation and menopause.

Another common drug your doctor may try is triamcinolone, a type of corticosteroid solution that is injected directly into acne nodules.

Patients taking acne drugs should be alert to possible side effects and interactions with other drugs and herbal remedies.

The topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can leave skin reddened, dry, and sensitive to sunlight.

Oral antibiotics may cause sensitivity to sunlight and stomach upset.

Benzoyl peroxide may inhibit the effects of some topical retinoids, so never apply them at the same time of day.

Taking oral antibiotics for more than a few weeks may leave women susceptible to yeast infections.

Some over-the-counter acne products can cause rare but serious allergic reactions or severe irritation. Seek emergency medical attention if you have symptoms such as throat tightness, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, or swelling of the face or tongue. Also stop using the product if you develop hives or itching. Symptoms can appear anywhere from minutes to a day or longer after use.

Some adults carry scars from acne. Some relatively aggressive surgical procedures can improve scars. Procedures include dermabrasion, several types of lasers, and chemical peeling. These procedures remove the scarred surface and expose unblemished skin layers. Dermatologists may also use the following:

  • microneedling to stimulate collagen and lessen the appearance of scars
  • subcision where a needle is used under the scars to break them up
  • fillers, which are injections under the scars to lift them up to the surrounding skin surface

Dermatologists may use more superficial peels such as glycolic or salicylic acid help to loosen whiteheads and blackheads and decrease pimples.

Microdermabrasion has little effect on acne itself, but is effective in combination with lasers. Before considering any treatment it is important to discuss the procedures, necessary precautions, and ly results with a doctor.

Because of acne's association with fluctuating hormone levels and possible genetic influences, many doctors believe there is no way to prevent it. The accepted wisdom is that neither good hygiene nor diet can prevent outbreaks.

Treatments can control acne and minimize future breakouts. Sensible skin care is recommended, especially during adolescence.

The basics include a daily bath or shower and washing the face and hands with unscented or mildly antibacterial soap.

Other tips for preventing future outbreaks include:

  • Use non-comedogenic or sensitive skin products to reduce the chance of new lesions and minimize skin irritation.
  • Use a mild cleanser twice a day.
  • Avoid cleansers or products that contain scrubbing particles or have a gritty texture. These products can irritate the skin and lead to breakouts.
  • Use a daily non-comedogenic moisturizer and sunscreen.
  • Wear makeup that is non-comedogenic.
  • Avoid picking, squeezing, or popping pimples. This can lead to scarring and skin infections.


American Academy of Dermatology.

The Merck Manual, Seventeenth Edition.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

News release, FDA.

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Getting Started


How to manage teen acne, according to dermatologists

Acne treatments

If you made it through your teens without a breakout, consider yourself something of a unicorn. Acne, a skin disorder that primarily affects the face, shoulders, chest and back, plagues an estimated 80 percent of people between ages 11 and 30 at some point, according to The National Institutes for Health.

Fueled by fluctuating hormones that increase oil production (sometimes further aggravated by a teen’s desperate attempts to make it all stop), breakouts happen when that oil (also known as sebum) combines with dead skin cells, trapping bacteria, causing inflammation and clogging pores, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“To keep the skin from getting dry, the skin makes oil in little wells called ‘sebaceous glands’ that are found in the deeper layers of the skin. “Whiteheads” or “blackheads” are clogged sebaceous glands.

Blackheads are not caused by dirt blocking the pores, but rather by oxidation (a chemical reaction that occurs when the oil reacts with oxygen in the air).

People with acne have glands that make more oil and are more easily plugged, causing the glands to swell,” explains Adnan Mir, MD, Committee Chair for the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, Assistant Professor at New York Medical College, and dermatopathologist at Dermpath Diagnostics in Port Chester, New York.

Mona Gohara, MD, dermatologist at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut, says there’s no standard age or period of time when this “oil surge” of sebum calms down. “It’s completely genetic,” she says.

“Some people never get it, for some people, it lasts 5 years.

” And your acne might not end with your teenaged years — studies have shown as many as 22 percent of adult women suffer from acne at one time or another.

What’s more, acne can take a toll on a teen’s already delicate sense of confidence.

The New England Journal of Medicine notes “the psychological effects of acne can be profound, and persons with acne are at risk for substantial, negative effects on quality of life, similar to those seen in persons with asthma, epilepsy or arthritis. Adolescents and adults with acne have higher rates of anxiety, low self-worth and depression than those without acne.”

There are generally two means by which to treat teen acne and pimples: washing your face preemptively with appropriate cleansers and spot treating breakouts when they arise.

“Always wash your face daily, and twice a day if your skin is oily or gets dirty throughout the day,” says Samer Jaber, MD, founder of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City.

Be sure to remove all makeup before bed (Gohara, who is a skincare expert for Kleenex, recommends using their Soothing Lotion Facial Tissue with Aloe to remove makeup from lips to prevent dryness), and try to cleanse your face after working out.

Here are 5 products to try:

Dove Beauty Bar

Gohara says a no-soap cleanser, the very affordable Dove Beauty Bar, cleanses without aggravating already inflamed skin.

La Roche Posay, Effaclar Gel Facial Wash for Oily Skin

Mir says acne-sufferers should look for non-comedogenic products because they won’t block pores. This foaming cleanser — recommended by Gohara — is both non-comedogenic and contains zinc pidolate, which has astringent, anti-inflammatory properties shown to improve acne.

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin

“Foam based cleansers are better for those with oily skin,” says Jabar, who s this one from CeraVe. “Cleansers with ingredients glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can be very helpful for those with acne, but be careful as they can be irritating and drying.”

All three dermatologists recommend spot treating pimples, from the second they’re coming on until they’re just about all gone, preferably with a product containing a retinoid, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

“Differin gel is the only OTC retinoid available without a prescription and was a prescription medication for years,” says Jaber. “If there’s one thing to pick to do for your acne, start using Differin gel at bedtime. Wash with a gentle cleanser, dry, and apply a pea size of Differin onto the entire face.”

Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Treatment Gel

This spot treatment, with 10-percent benzoyl peroxide, got a mention from both Gohara and Jabar for its strong, zit-zapping properties.

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, Glass Bottle Drying Lotion

Jaber recommends this tried and true quick-drying formula to those who are allergic to benzoyl peroxide. It contains salicylic acid to fight acne and calamine to calm irritated skin.

Believe it or not, over-washing can leave teen skin susceptible to more breakouts. “One of the mistakes I commonly see with teens is they really want to get their skin better, and so they over-dry their skin,” says Jaber. “Dry skin can actually make breakouts worse.”

“Teens tend to turn to their favorite r or influencer and start putting what I call ‘the kitchen sink approach’ on their face, and it can stoke the fire,” Gohara says. Acne breakouts can take 5-7 days to calm down and disappear, so it’s important to stick to a basic routine and give it time.

Mir says teenaged skin already sluffs off dead skin cells on its own so he discourages the use of apricot scrubs or scrubs containing beads, because these products can be abrasive and irritating. Gohara also says scrubbing is also a big no-no.

“Sometimes, teens think acne is from dirt and they start to scrub it, but scrubbing is bad and over washing the face is bad,” she says, recommending teens use a gentle exfoliant once a week, in the form of glycolic pads.

Here are some recommended options:

Glycolix, Elite Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Treatment Pads

Gohara says this exfoliant is gentle yet effective and easy to use, especially after teen sporting events.

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads

Gohara says these pads, made for sensitive skin, exfoliate gently with an alcohol-free (non-drying) formula.

Though it isn’t the absolute worst thing a teen can do (if the pimple has come to a head), all three dermatologists warn against popping pimples — spot treating them is more effective.

“Picking and popping pimples can lead to scarring, because you increase inflammation.

Once in a while a dermatologist will do it, and some people feel a compulsion to pick and pop, but it's something that we to discourage,” says Mir.

Gohara says if breakouts leave scars or don’t respond to a regular routine of gentle cleansing, exfoliation and spot treatment, a consultation with a dermatologist might be in order. “Some people need something stronger to manage their acne, an oral antibiotic,” Gohara says.

And teens shouldn’t get discouraged. Though acne can be really annoying, 99.9% cases are curable, says Gohara.

Want more tips these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on , and Instagram.

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Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review

Acne treatments

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