Once believed to strike most often during teen years, acne is now affecting millions of adult women, many of which never had a problem with acne in the past. Some women (and men too) will only deal with acne during puberty and their teenage years, but others will suffer well into adulthood, especially during times of stress and hormonal changes. While acne among adult women is usually linked to hormonal shifts and imbalances that occur during the menstrual cycle, or when transitioning into menopause, it’s important to consider elevated stress levels, a lack of sleep and a poor diet might also be root causes.
Those with dry skin can experience flaking and skin that feels tight. Dehydration is one cause of dry skin, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Also stay away from alcohol and caffeine, which can draw fluid from your body. Exfoliating daily with a product that is non-abrasive will help with skin cell turnover without erasing your skin’s natural oils. Look for moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid (also listed as sodium hyaluronate in the ingredients list), glycerin, and algae, which is a marine component that can attract water and send it to your skin cells. Emollients like camellia oil and squalene are great to smooth and hydrate your skin.

Dear acne, you suck. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that affects women and men in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s. It’s just not fair (throws childlike temper tantrum). 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.


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.

Spironolactone has relatively minor side effects, like low appetite, weakness, or cramping, but there’s one major exception: spironolactone comes with a black box warning about its cancer-causing effects. The FDA is required to include this label based on a study conducted in the 1950s that found carcinogenic properties in the spironolactone given to rats in an experiment. However, the dose of spironolactone used in this study was nearly 500 times higher than the dose currently prescribed, and no studies since have found anything carcinogenic about spironolactone. Because of this, most dermatologists feel comfortable prescribing spironolactone for acne. Still, it’s something to be aware of before you take it. Additionally, those with low blood pressure or kidney conditions are likely not good candidates for spironolactone and may want to explore other acne treatment options.
If you find that acne appears around your hairline, commercial hair products may be to blame. Shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, gels and mousses contain acne-causing ingredients, including petroleum, parabens, silicone, sulfates, panthenol and other chemicals. Try my Homemade Honey Citrus Shampoo that is void of harmful chemicals and leaves hair soft and manageable. Follow with a touch of coconut oil or my Homemade Conditioner made from apple cider vinegar and essential oils.
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.
This top-of-line cleanser is one that really works amazingly for normal, combination and oily skin types. It’s a foaming face wash with 3% sulfur that makes your skin visibly clearer without drying it out. It removes blemishes, unclogs pores, draws out impurities all while calming redness and reducing excess sebum production. The sulfur in it helps to prevent future breakouts and tames even the worst acne breakouts.
Remember, fighting acne requires both external treatment and an internal treatment. Live probiotics support healthy digestion and immune system functioning, plus improves skin health by fighting acne. According to a recent study published in Dermatology Online Journal, researchers indicate that probiotic foods and supplements are promising and safe home remedies for acne. (15) The study indicates that larger trials are still needed, but evidence thus far is promising for using probiotics to improve gut health and fight acne.

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.
If you have oily, tight skin and tend to get age spots or sun spots, try an exfoliant made with glycolic acid right after you cleanse your skin, no more than 4 or 5 times a week. Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads provides just a “dab” of exfoliant that will help lighten the spots without irritating your skin (which over the long run would create new brown spots).

The idea behind using antibiotics for acne is that they can help reduce the number of p. acnes on the skin and relieve an acute case of severe acne. After the person stops taking the antibiotics, the hope is that the reduced numbers of p. acnes will prevent the pimples or cysts from getting out of hand again. However, in reality, most people simply end up taking the antibiotics much longer than they should, and the acne almost always comes back. That’s because, according to The Lancet: Infectious Diseases, over 50 percent of p. acnes strains are resistant to antibiotics7. If your doctor tries to prescribe you antibiotics for your acne, we recommend asking about other courses of action.
Perhaps one of the most popular cleansers for combination skin care on the market today, Boscia's purifying cleansing gel works best for oily to normal skin types. It works by gently cleansing skin without stripping it and adding harsh elements to the skin. It can be a tad drying, so it works best on women with more oily spots than dry spots. You can also use it to cleanse your oily T-zone, but keep it away from your dry spots, where you may want to moisturize more.

You will see the results from the top performers in the comparison chart. Although any of these treatment systems can safely and effectively help reduce blemishes, Exposed Skin Care stands above the rest as the best acne treatment system. All the products are safe and regulated by the FDA, but Exposed Skin Care also works for a variety of skin types, including sensitive skin. The thing we like most about Exposed Skin Care is the 6-month money back guarantee. Many blemish products expect you to use them for six to eight weeks before you see results and then only provide you with a 1-month guarantee. If you purchase individual products in the store, you are stuck with them, since many do not come with any guarantees. Exposed Skin Care allows you to give their product a fair trial before you decide if it is working for your skin.
Both salicylic acid and benzoyl acid are commonly found in the top acne treatments for getting rid of mild to severe acne. They work in tandem to getting rid of the dead skin and killing bacteria, which are two of the main contributors to the spread of acne. Salicylic acid breaks up the skin to clear pores from skin, oil and bacteria and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria slowly over a 48-hour period.
For some, the right dosage can be found over-the-counter in concentrations as low as 2.5 percent or up to 10 percent, but for others, a prescription dosage is needed to see the best results. Prescription doses rarely go over 10 percent, as benzoyl peroxide is known to cause stinging, burning, itching, flaking, peeling, and redness2 when used in concentrations over 5 percent, but they may combine the benzoyl peroxide with other acne medications.
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.
Many doctors treat whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples, with either a prescription for an antibiotic or prescription strength benzoyl peroxide or both. These treatments are harsh for mild to moderate problems. If you have an exceptionally deep skin infection causing nodules or cysts, you should be given a referral to a dermatologist. This is also true if you have an aggressive form of acne that causes blemishes to grow together all over your upper body (acne conglobata). You will probably need laser therapy or surgical reconstruction procedures if you have this rare condition.
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.
For some, the right dosage can be found over-the-counter in concentrations as low as 2.5 percent or up to 10 percent, but for others, a prescription dosage is needed to see the best results. Prescription doses rarely go over 10 percent, as benzoyl peroxide is known to cause stinging, burning, itching, flaking, peeling, and redness2 when used in concentrations over 5 percent, but they may combine the benzoyl peroxide with other acne medications.
Conversely, not using any facewash on your skin leaves you with the build-up of dead skin cells, dirt, grime and excess oils. While many others swear by using the simple combination of warm water and a facial cloth for their skincare routine, warm water isn’t always enough to penetrate your oil-clogged pores that have dirt and bacteria trapped inside. If you think you might disagree, imagine rinsing an oily, used frying pan with just warm water. Without a proper cleanser, you can’t cut into the grease buildup or eliminate harmful bacteria. The same applies for your skin.

There’s evidence that eating a low glycemic diet, meaning one that doesn’t include lots of processed grains/flour products and added sugar, is one the best home remedies for acne because it can help prevent it.  Glycemic index measures how quickly foods raise blood sugar. Processed and refined foods, like those common in the Western diet, are high-glycemic, while meats and whole plant foods are low on the glycemic scale.
Oftentimes, our first instinct when we encounter bumps, pimples and other blemishes on our skin is to touch it. But if you’ve been dealing with acne for a while, you’ve probably learned by now that these practices only make acne and skin problems worse. For starters, our hands come into contact with more bacteria, pathogens and contaminants than any other part of our bodies. Even when we try to wash our hands often, there is only so much of that we can avoid putting on our faces every time we reach out to touch it. So, there’s the fact that we could be adding harmful bacteria our facial skin to begin with. But it doesn’t end there.
If you’re looking for a hormonal solution to your acne but don’t want to take a combined oral contraceptive, spironolactone may be the answer. This oral medication is a potassium-sparing diuretic originally designed to treat high blood pressure, but is now also used to treat acne. It mainly functions by reducing sebum production, leading to less acne formation13. If you are able to get pregnant, you don’t necessarily need to take a combined oral contraceptive, but you will want to use some form of birth control since spironolactone, like Accutane, is a well-known teratogen and is known for causing birth defects.
Although some people think they can get the best acne treatment by mixing and matching products, this is not the recommended method of treating blemishes. Aside from doctors, few people understand how different products can react with each other. In some cases, combining two products increases how well both work. For example, green tea extract and salicylic acid complement each other. Skin care system makers usually hire doctors to help improve the effectiveness of their systems.
The Pore Targeting Treatment gel and Complexion Perfecting Hydrator moisturizer slip on nicely, with the former powered by skin-loving glycerin and the latter by a whole slew of delicious ingredients, like licorice root extract, sodium hyaluronate, bisabolol, and allantoin. The three-step solution is easy to use and makes cleansing the face a quick, efficient process.
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
However, salicylic acid isn’t just for those of us with sensitive skin. It can also help those of you with tougher skin, through higher concentrations. Over-the-counter, you can find salicylic acid in concentrations up to 2 percent, but if you want something even more intense, many spas and dermatology offices offer salicylic acid chemical peels with 20-30 percent salicylic acid. Beware, these peels will likely leave your face very photosensitive for a few days, but they have been known to significantly reduce sebum for a few weeks at a time.
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.

If even a trace of sodium lauryl sulfate is left on the skin for more than an hour, however, the upper layer of living skin cells is irritated and dies. Tiny flakes of skin make the texture of the skin look uneven, and they can clog pores. The scent of sodium lauryl sulfate also causes your nose and tongue to be less sensitive to sweet tastes and their associated odors, so you will crave sugar.
For years the French have have opted for super moisturizing cold creams. You simply massage this in and then wipe off with a tissue or a warm washcloth and you're left with super soft skin. It removes makeup without leaving skin feeling "tight." Plus, because you aren't using water to rinse the face, you might be saving your skin from the drying effects of water.
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.
What it is: Originally under the brand name "Accutane" but now available only in generic form, isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A taken in pill form for 15-20 weeks. Doctors normally prescribe it for people with "severe nodular acne" that does not respond to other treatments. Nodules are inflammatory lesions with a diameter of 5mm or more. A single course of 15-20 weeks has been shown to result in complete clearing and long-term remission of acne in many people.1-2 Learn more on the Accutane page of acne.org.
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.”
The best acne medication differs from person to person, but because acne is caused by so many different factors, the best solution for most people is an acne treatment that includes multiple key ingredients. For the vast majority of people with acne, the best medicine for acne is a gentle, over-the-counter option that treats the causes of acne without irritation the skin. Below, we’ve included three of our favorite over-the-counter acne treatment options.
“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.
Resorcinol – Almost always found coupled with sulfur, this ingredient breaks down hardened, rough or scaly skin, while disinfecting and fighting infections5. This ingredient is often used topically to treat pain and itching stemming from small injuries like scrapes and cuts, burns, bug bites, sunburn, poison ivy and more. It’s also used to treat skin conditions like eczema, seborrhea, psoriasis, warts, corns and other disorders. It is generally found in strengths of up to 2%.
Considerations: THERE IS AN EXTREMELY HIGH RISK THAT A DEFORMED INFANT CAN RESULT IF PREGNANCY OCCURS WHILE TAKING ACCUTANE IN ANY AMOUNT AND EVEN FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME. FEMALES WHO ARE PREGNANT OR WHO MAY BECOME PREGNANT WHILE UNDERGOING TREATMENT SHOULD NOT TAKE ACCUTANE. There are many other warnings as well.1-3 Side effects of Accutane are many, some of which include dry and cracked lips, dry skin, dry nose and mouth, mild to moderate muscle or joint aches.1-2,4-7
The trick is to identify a cleanser that offers a deep clean without over-drying the skin, which naturally produces less oil with age, says Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. "Adult or hormonal acne is different than teen acne—people are often dry on the top layer of skin, and broken out underneath that layer,” Dr. Wu says. “So Proactiv or Clean & Clear won't work as well once you hit your 30s.”
“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.”
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