What it does: Benzoyl peroxide is the only known substance which can bring oxygen under the skin surface. Since bacteria cannot survive in the presence of oxygen, when used in an adequate dosage, benzoyl peroxide eradicates 99.9% of these bacteria almost immediately. It also exerts a mild drying and peeling effect, which is thought to help prevent breakouts.1-6 Benzoyl peroxide also helps lessen inflammation.7-9 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is just as effective as higher concentrations with less side effects.6,10

Aside from adding bacteria to your skin, these forms of contact can irritate the skin, adding to the appearance of redness and causing increased inflammation. In the event that your pimples get ruptured during this process, the oil and bacteria that was trapped inside could spread to the surrounding skin on your face, which causes acne to spread. So, not only will rubbing, squeezing and scratching leave your acne-ridden skin further irritated, it will increase the amount of acne you will have to deal with.

Just as there are no bells and whistles with Purpose above, there are none with this baby-mild product that renowned dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's creamy, simple and isn't loaded with chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. Cetaphil products are revered in the industry and their cleanser is one of the best drugstore buys out there. Period.


“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
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.”
This single cleanser unclogs pores, clears up blackheads, reduces blemishes, brightens skin tone, smoothes texture, moisturizes, and shrinks the appearance of pores. The ingredients that make all this happen include moisturizers like hyaluronic acid, aloe, and cucumber. Then, there are grapefruit and orange oils to revitalize dull skin. Plus, peptides and panthenol help rebuild texture while Clary Sage purifies.

Contrary to the marketing promises of “blemish banishers” and “zit zappers,” immediate results are not the trademark of acne treatments — a frustrating truth to anyone suffering through a breakout. And while pimples are personal (your stress-induced spots will look and act differently than your best friend’s breakout), the best acne treatments will include a regimen of products to hit all of acne’s root causes. We tested 43 kits to find the most well-rounded breakout-fighting solutions on the market.


“It's worth a shot. $4 of Head and Shoulders applied as a face mask cleared my skin, which was covered in acne and closed comedones. I had tried everything, including birth control and spironolactone and retin-a. I was considering Accutane as a last resort. I also eliminated all fungal triggers. All I used was fungal safe moisturizer + Head and Shoulders.
Active Ingredients Check the product label for key active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, advises dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki, MD, founder of Toronto's Bay Dermatology Centre and author of the skincare book Beyond Soap. Other ingredients to look for include oils that can help to moisturize skin — just make sure the package says non-comedogenic, which means that it won’t clog pores.
Combined oral contraceptive pills contain progesterone and estrogen and help to balance out the levels of testosterone in the body12 One obvious effect of this is birth control, but dermatologists have also found it very useful for treating hormonal acne. Testosterone doesn’t directly cause acne, but when hormone levels fluctuate and testosterone increases above its baseline level, it can lead to increased acne for some. This is because increases in testosterone and other androgens leads to an increase in sebum production, which can cause more clogged pores and more p. acnes bacteria, leading to blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or even cysts.
Have you tried treating your acne with no luck? You might simply be using the wrong product for the type you have. Whether you have periodic breakouts or more stubborn cystic acne, there's a solution. We asked Dr. Neal Schultz, an NYC dermatologist, to share the best treatments for every type of acne. Read on for his expert product recommendations, along with some editor favorites, that'll give you clear skin in no time.

Your pimples need TLC, too. The study on acne vulgaris found that, in an attempt to dry out acne lesions, patients often use too many products or apply excessive amounts to problem areas, resulting in further irritation and over drying of the skin. Vigorous scrubbing and using harsh exfoliants can make acne worse by rupturing whiteheads and blackheads, turning them into painful red ones. And remember: no matter how satisfying it is, picking and popping your zits will also increase inflammation and opportunity for infection.
“Acne cleansers with these ingredients will gradually unclog pores, reduce the size of existing blackheads and slow or stop the formation of new ones,” she says. “Benzoyl peroxide is also the best ingredient for treating the acne-causing bacteria called p. acnes. In fact, study after study continues to show that benzoyl peroxide is more effective than prescription topical antibiotics at treating p. acnes.”
The Exposed Facial Cleanser is our top pick. This cleanser is one of the very best on the market and it works for all skin types. The gentle yet rich formula is ideal for anyone, and it’s especially good for those with sensitive skin. It’s non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and soap free, with just 0.5% salicylic acid. Plus, it’s made with a combination of natural ingredients, including sage leaf extract, and vitamins like pro b5.

Considerations: Cigarette smoking with oral contraceptive use increases the risk of serious heart disease.2 There are many negative side effects and positive side effects to taking birth control pills for acne. Talk to your doctor to decide if it is right for you.1-3 While it is a widely held belief, evidence does not show a correlation between pregnancy rates and concurrent administration of birth control pills and oral antibiotics. [With the exception of anti-tuberculosis drugs like rifampin.]
A complete skin care regimen to control acne usually starts with washing. The ideal face wash creates a soft creamy lather in warm water. It rinses off dirt, excess oil, and makeup, leaving the face ready for the next step in daily skin care, whether that is toner, moisturizer, exfoliant, sunblock, or more makeup. It is fragrance-free, and it does not create a foam, film, or tingly sensation on the face. Any product that foams and suds vigorously, like a detergent, is a strict no-no for acne treatment, especially on dry skin.
I turn to Reddit for many things, from nostalgic news to the best anti-aging products, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that there is power in numbers. To find the best drugstore acne products, I trawled hundreds of posts and comments on the popular subreddit r/SkincareAddiction (relatable!) and found the most highly recommended treatments you can buy.
One of the best face washes for sensitive skin, this soap-free, fragrance-free, non-comedogenic cleanser works to remove excess oil from your skin without irritation. It’s great for oily and combination skin types, as it cleans and purifies without making the skin taut and dry. Its formula is glycerin-based for a gentle cleanser that won’t provoke even the most sensitive of skin types.

Commercial sunscreens are packed with harmful chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin and acne-prone skin. Research shows that coconut oil has an SPF value of 8, as does olive oil. (14) To use as sun protection, apply a moderate amount to exposed skin every couple of hours and try to avoid spending too much time in direct sunlight during “peak” hours, which is about from 10am-3pm each day.
Retinoids: Retinoids are substances that are derived from vitamin A, which includes retinol, but also includes synthetic versions of retinol with activated retinoic acid which tends to be more effective in treating acne. Retinoic acid has been shown to reduce sebum production8 and regulate skin cell production9, which together can greatly reduce acne. These synthetic retinoids include adapalene, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and others. Although these synthetic options are more reliably effective, they also tend to have more side effects, like burning, itching, and dryness. Unlike retinol, which is available over-the-counter, nearly all synthetic retinoids are prescription-only. One of the main exceptions is Differin, which is a brand that sells a topical gel containing adapalene, a mild synthetic retinoid, over-the-counter.

Dr. Skotnicki recommends Bioderma Micellar Cleanser for acne. It’s one of the few products that can be used safely on both the face and body, even by people who are also taking acne medication. Its gentle formula won’t irritate skin, and it contains a patented “Fludiactiv” complex that helps regulate sebum quality to prevent pores from becoming clogged.
The alkaline ingredients in Ivory Soap reach into the skin and dissolve the fats and ceramides that lock moisture in and keep the skin soft and flexible. Tight skin constricts pores, locking oil and acne bacteria inside. If you wash your face with Ivory Soap once or twice a day, you almost certainly will have no big pieces of dirt or grime lurking in enlarged pores, but you are likely to have an ongoing problem with whiteheads and blackheads, and the constant irritation will also make pimples redder and more inflamed.

Azelaic acid is a natural acid that is derived from various grains like wheat and barley. It helps reduce acne by preventing skin cell buildup, killing p. acnes bacteria, and reducing inflammation4. This means it can help reduce all kinds of acne, from blackheads to pimples. Blackheads and whiteheads form when dead skin cells combine with sebum, the oil our skin naturally produces and get clogged in a pore. To get rid of this kind of acne, it helps to regulate your skin cell production and exfoliate your skin to remove excess dead skin cells. Azelaic acid is a great way to do both of these things, while also decreasing inflammation and killing bacteria. When the skin is inflamed, it swells slightly, causing the pores to constrict. This traps dead skin cells and sebum inside, leading to blackheads and whiteheads, and if bacteria get trapped as well, then pimples can also form.
If your acne is severe, painful, or refusing to get lost, you may just be beyond what an over-the-counter treatment can do. Not only can a professional set you up with the really powerful stuff, but also Fitz Patrick explains that “working closely with an aesthetician or dermatologist means you can keep tweaking a routine to make it work best for you.”
The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Products: Even though it’s not made in a lab, tea tree oil has been studied and proven to be a powerful anti-acne agent. The Body Shop takes advantage of this ingredient with their full line of tea tree oil products, from pure oil to face wipes to a clay mask, all containing tea tree oil. These products are best for oily skin, pimples, and cystic acne.
Pustules, as their name suggests, are filled with pus. They usually have a white or yellow center surrounded by extremely inflamed skin that is pink or red. The pus isn’t just bacteria and skin cells—it contains some dead white blood cells that were trying to fight the bacteria, too. Squeezing these can cause the skin around them to darken and scar.
According to Dr. Bailey, the best facial cleansers for acne should have at least one of these key ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Cleansers with these ingredients can penetrate your pores and eliminate pore-clogging impurities—like dead skin cells, makeup, excess oil and bacteria—that irritate skin and make acne worse.

Although there is not enough research to determine if certain foods cause breakouts, there are certain changes you can make to your diet to help prevent them. For breakfast, switching to plain oatmeal that has only been sweetened with fresh fruit can help prevent excessive androgen production. When you eat fish, opt for salmon, which is high in omega-3s. One omega-3 called DHA is an anti-inflammatory. Snacking on sunflower seeds can give you more vitamin E in your diet. Vitamin E helps the immune system fight off bacteria before inflammation and cysts occur. Finally, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day. Your body needs almost half a gallon each day.
One of the most gentle face cleansers we selected is this one from Paula’s Choice. It won’t dehydrate sensitive skin because it has just 0.5% salicylic acid. But it still contains enough to unclog pores and exfoliate dead skin. You’ll hardly know that it’s working because it’s so pleasant to use. The silky texture glides on and lathers away oil and grime. Furthermore, there are no parabens or artificial fragrances in the formula.
What's Going On: Do you tend to get these at the same time every month — say, just before you get your period? Because these are the work of fluctuating hormones, says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Hormones can put oil production into overdrive, and having an excess of it means that it’s more likely to settle in your pores and cause zits.
Brand names:  Acne Treatment, BenzEFoam, PanOxyl, Acetoxyl, Acne-10, Acne-Clear, Acnomel BP 5, Alquam-X Acne Therapy Gel, Benprox, Benzac, Benzac AC, Benzac AC Wash, Benzac W, Benzagel, Benzagel Wash, Benzashave, BenzEFoam Ultra, BenzePro, Benziq, Benziq Wash, Binora, BP Foaming Wash, BPO-5 Wash, BPO-10 Wash, BPO 3 Foaming Cloths, BPO 6 Foaming Cloths, BPO 9 Foaming Cloths, BPO Gel, BP Wash, Brevoxyl, Brevoxyl Acne Wash Kit, Brevoxyl Creamy Wash, Clearskin, Clinac BPO, Delos, Desquam-X Wash, Fostex Wash 10%, Inova, NeoBenz Micro, NeoBenz Micro SD, NeoBenz Micro Wash Plus Pack, Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser / Mask, Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne, Oscion, Oxy-10, Oxy Daily Wash, Pacnex, PanOxyl 4% Acne Creamy Wash, PanOxyl 10% Acne Foaming Wash, Peroderm 7 Wash, Persa-Gel, PR Benzoyl Peroxide Wash, Riax, SE BPO, SoluCLENZ Rx, Triaz …show all
Sodium sulfacetamide-sulfur is another acne medications often found in over-the-counter treatments, and it works especially well for those with mild-moderate acne that is largely made up of pimples. This is because it effectively dries out excess sebum without drying out the skin, and some studies suggest that this combination of sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur has antibacterial properties. According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, sodium sulfacetamide 10 percent-sulfur 5 percent can significantly reduce the size of p. acnes colonies when used as an emollient foam6. This treatment option is also available as a facewash, topical gel, and topical cream, and can be found at most drugstores.

“I use it approximately three nights a week either layered over my moisturizer or directly after cleansing. It has reduced my overall breakouts, decreased the time it takes for my breakouts to heal, and helped overall to even my skin tone and minimize pore appearance. I also think it has made my skin slightly less oily, as long as I moisturize properly. I do not use any chemical exfoliation currently, but use a konjac sponge occasionally to help with any dead skin or texture. I have not experienced any excessive dryness or flaking, and also did not ever purge. It is my HG for my acne and I plan on repurchasing until the end of time.”

Considerations: Because tazarotene is a retinoid (vitamin A derivative), like Accutane, it should not be used by women who are pregnant because of potential harm to the fetus. Exposure to sunlight should be avoided. Wind or cold may be more irritating when taking tazarotene. Side effects occured in 10-30% of patients and included dry peeling skin, burning, stinging, dry skin, redness, and itchiness.
For individuals suffering from the cystic form of acne, a controlled clinical trial has found that Guggul supplements (also known as guggulsterone) outperformed 500 milligrams of tetracycline by a small margin. (16) In the study, 25 milligrams of guggulsterone taken twice daily for three months resulted in the reduction of acne, but more importantly, 50 percent fewer participants had acne relapses. Researchers noted that patients with oily skin responded remarkably better to guggul than others in the study.
Acne is caused by what you eat. SOMEWHAT FALSE. This isn’t a complete lie, but studies are still being done. To date, there have only been small studies done on a few people that have shown a possible connection between acne and high carbohydrate foods like bread, pastries and sodas. There are also studies involving more people, but they relied on adults remembering their acne and eating habits when they were in high school. There just isn’t enough evidence to link any food with breakouts. Some people swear that certain foods make their acne worse. The best way to determine if a food is causing your pimples to appear is by keeping a food/skin diary. Keep track of everything you eat and assess your skin condition in the morning and evening of each day. If you find a pattern, it can’t hurt to avoid the foods that lead to more blackheads and whiteheads. Keep in mind that eating a balanced diet is always a good idea.
“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
×