Genetics play a big part in who gets acne and how severely, but each blemish can be blamed on some combination of sebum production, a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), plugged follicles, and inflammation. Finding a good treatment is really about finding the right combination of ingredients to troubleshoot each of those issues. Some factors that might worsen acne include hormones, certain medications, diet and stress.
Retinoids – Recommended for people with moderate to severe acne, retinoids can unclog your pores, allowing for your other medicated acne treatments to penetrate deeper. They can reduce your potential for outbreaks and the formation of acne scarring2. You can also use a retinoid cream directly as a treatment after your face cleanse, or even take it in the form of a retinoid pill to treat oil/sebum production and to treat inflammation and acne-causing bacteria.
Considerations: Side effects are generally mild and short lived. Most common, in 1-5% of people are itching, burning, stinging, and tingling. Other side effects were reported in less than 1% of people. There have been a few reports from darker skinned people of lightening of the skin. Azelaic acid has not been well studied in people with dark complexions.1

You won't find a face wash in this list that's not universally beloved, but keep in mind that what works for one person won't work for everyone. The biggest secret to finding a great facial cleanser is choosing one that's formulated for your skin type: dry, oily, combination, sensitive or blemished. Unfortunately, few women really know their skin type.
Getting rid of stubborn pimples, blackheads and whiteheads starts with thorough but gentle cleansing of the skin. Try my recipe for Homemade Honey Face Wash to cleanse skin without causing irritation. It features apple cider vinegar, honey, coconut oil, probiotics and essential oils (like tea tree oil). The honey soothes the skin, the coconut oil helps to fight bacteria and fungus, and the tea tree oil helps to invigorate the skin. Dampen skin with warm water, and massage into face and neck. Rinse well and pat dry. Do this each morning and evening and, if needed, after workouts. Refrain from cleansing more often, as this can irritate the skin and cause an overproduction of oil.
“I followed the directions for the patch and after washing my face at night I applied the patch on top of the forming acne cyst. It still had not produced a full head and was just an inflamed bump so I wasn't really sure how well it would work. The patch itself is clear but after leaving it on overnight it turns whitish where the acne was. I put it on Friday night and then left it on for most of Saturday while cleaning my apartment. When I removed it that night to put on my makeup to go out, the patch pulled out the plug and the bump was completely flat.
“This is an awesome fast drying, lightweight lotion. It's easy to apply and dries matte. I use it as a leave-on body treatment and as a wash-off facial treatment, and it works fantastic as both (although BP in general dries me out more than other actives). While I haven't used this in the AM, the texture makes me think it could be used in an AM routine under makeup — it's definitely not greasy or heavy. All in all, a really great drugstore BP lotion.”
While a face mask isn’t totally necessary to clear your acne, sticking to just once a week won’t further irritate or dry out your skin if you like using one. This drugstore treatment from L’Oreal utilizes the power of kaolin clay, which absorbs excess oil, draws out impurities from the skin, and gently exfoliates to speed the healing process of breakouts, according to a review of research published in International Geology Review. It won’t completely wipe out your acne overnight, but it can help control the oil that leads to more pimples and dry out bumps that are particularly stubborn. Plus, it gives you an excuse to pamper yourself.

But the side effects of targeted breakout cream treatments aren’t always worth it. “So many products instruct consumers to use benzoyl peroxide spot treat red bumps and pustules. I don’t recommend it,” says Dr. Lawrence Green, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University. Such high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide cause added irritation and inflammation to already sensitive skin, so with this in mind, we cut kits that included spot treatments.


To properly use sunscreen, you should put it on about 30 minutes before you plan to go outside. You will also need to reapply it if you sweat a lot. Be generous when you put it on and consider looking for a lip balm sunscreen specially made to protect your lips. Finally, make sure you are drinking enough fluid, so you don’t dehydrate your skin while outside.

The side effects depend on the type of treatment you use. Generally, for topical, over-the-counter creams, you can watch out for stinging, redness, irritation and peeling — these side effects usually don’t go any deeper than the skin. Others, like oral antibiotics or hormonal medications, could come with new sets of complications, so we suggest talking to your doctor before pursuing the treatment.
Warning: Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. But it is an effective ingredient at drying up pus-filled pimples and whiteheads (you’ve gotta take the good with the bad). It works by sucking up the oil. Sulfur is typically mixed with other active ingredients to get the most efficacy and fragrances to mask the strong scent. You can often find it in masks and spot treatments.
Cysts are another troublesome type of acne to treat successfully without the help of a doctor. A cyst forms similar to a nodule—way beneath your skin’s surface. However, cysts are thought to form from pustules because they contain pus. They are painful when touched resemble a boil. They appear to be a large, red, swollen lump on the skin surface. People who are prone to them may get one large cyst or a clump of cysts.
The side effects depend on the type of treatment you use. Generally, for topical, over-the-counter creams, you can watch out for stinging, redness, irritation and peeling — these side effects usually don’t go any deeper than the skin. Others, like oral antibiotics or hormonal medications, could come with new sets of complications, so we suggest talking to your doctor before pursuing the treatment.
The Daily Skin Clearing Treatment is an all-over 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream that also touts calming bisabolol and allantoin to alleviate the dryness and irritation that can crop up mid-treatment. Anyone frustrated with oil-slick skin will also love this part of the regimen — it creates a satin mattifying effect, instantly transforming shininess into a glow.
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.
However, unlike the previously discussed treatment options, gender plays a role in how effective dapsone will be. Research has shown11 that female patients who use it get a much better response than male patients. It’s also a slow-working treatment. Studies among adolescents have shown that it is very effective, but it may take up to 12 weeks for improvements to show up, with more improvements taking place with continued use.
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.
The best acne treatment system will include a cleanser, exfoliant and a treatment product that can be used daily. The idea is to have a product that cleans and clears clogged pores, kills bacteria, exfoliates to remove dead cells and spot treats trouble spots to combat stubborn blemishes and reduces inflammation and redness. For those with oily skin, a toner may be useful. For those with black heads, deep cleansing pore strips will help. If you have dry skin, foaming face wash would be something you want to avoid. The point is, a carefully tailored system is the best approach to an effective acne treatment.
Not only does facial sunscreen protect your skin from harmful UV rays (which can lead to skin cancer), but it will also help fade your dark spots and acne scars. That’s because skimping on sunscreen only makes your hyperpigmentation worse, experts warn. Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City recommends this non-greasy drugstore SPF from Neutrogena in Prevention’s round-up of the best sunscreens of the year. It’s especially great for acne-prone skin, since it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and has a matte finish.
Protect your skin. Skin care doesn't end when you leave your bathroom. Wear a noncomedogenic (non-pore clogging) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more that offers both UVA and UVB protection to shield your sensitive skin against the sun's harsh rays. A water- or light liquid-based sunscreen is best for acne-prone skin. Limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. While outside, wear a hat with at least a 2-inch brim and clothing to cover exposed skin.
If you take a close look at the acne-fighting ingredients, you will find that no single ingredient does all the work to get rid of acne. Each one has a unique effect that plays a role in the elimination of acne, but only when they are used combined or in sequence in a system do they have ability to get rid of acne altogether. This is why it is so important to use an effective system for fight acne, not just a single product.
Even though it may be convenient to wash your face with whatever you have in your bathroom, there are a lot of reasons why you want to avoid that like the plague. Summed up in one word, those reasons are; ingredients. Because different people have different skin types, not all ingredients will work the same for everybody, but the general principle remains the same.
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
Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
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