Harsh soaps have ingredients that strip your skin of oil will put anyone at risk of pimples and clogged pores due to dry, tightened skin. Almost all body washes, no matter how gentle they claim to be, are designed to remove excess oils from your body quickly and easily. That includes removing dirt and oil from around tougher bodily hairs and pores. But the skin and hair on your face is nothing like the rest of your body. Facial skin is thinner than body skin, even though it has more sebaceous glands (glands that secrete sebum). This makes it more tender, more prone to acne and even more susceptible to aging. Thus, it has to be treated differently than the rest of your body.
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.
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.
The cleanser and powerful acne treatment in a single formula are designed to treat and prevent breakouts in just one easy step. It’s a deep-cleaning, oil-free formula for cleansing deep into your pores to help anyone, with any skin type, get rid of acne. With only 2% salicylic acid, this gentle formula has special skin soothers that help prevent irritation and over-drying, leaving your skin feeling soft and smooth without the oiliness.
A review published in the Archives of Dermatological Research found evidence that sleep deprivation, stress and other aspects of “modern life” are linked to adult female acne. The researchers point out that “Modern life presents many stresses including urban noises, socioeconomic pressures and light stimuli. Women are especially affected by stress during daily routine. Women also have a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. Sleep restriction is added to these factors, with several negative consequences on health, including on hormonal secretion and the immune system.” (7)
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.
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.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a derm who won’t tell you to run to the drugstore to pick up this retinoid, the only one available OTC. A retinoid (a vitamin A derivative that speeds cell turnover) can treat acne by exfoliating the skin to prevent clogged pores, says Dr. Meinhardt, who recommends Differin to patients. Use a few times per week and then build up to nightly use, he says. (Once you’ve got control of your acne, check out these OTC retinol products for a complete skin overhaul. They’ll ban blemishes, reduce wrinkles, and combat aging.)

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.
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.
This type of skin can be oily and dry or oily and normal. Different places on your face will have different symptoms. The good news is that you probably won’t have acne on your cheeks since the skin there is usually less oily. You may have to use different treatments on different areas of your face, though. The T-Zone area of the forehead, nose and chin may be oilier, so exfoliating with a gentle cleanser each day should keep your facial skin balanced. You should look for a moisturizer that isn’t too heavy but that will hold in your skin’s moisture. Gel-like moisturizers are absorbed into combination skin quickly, but don’t over moisturize or your pores may become clogged. You may need to try several brands before finding one that works for you.
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.
According to Dr. Bailey, it’s not enough to have a facial cleanser designed for acne-prone skin. Half the battle is properly washing your face. Here’s what she recommends: “First, wet your face with warm water, then lather your cleanser over all of your facial skin. Depending on your skin type, you can use your fingers, an exfoliating cloth or a sonic skin-cleansing brush system. Rinse well with warm water to remove the lather entirely. Some of the important acne cleanser ingredients will stay behind, but the cleanser’s foaming agents, as well as built-up oil, dead cells, products and bacteria, will be rinsed off of your skin.”
Exposed Skin Care: Exposed Skin Care products include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid (see below for more details), all at low concentrations that are safe for all skin types. Plus they also incorporate powerful natural ingredients, like tea tree oil, vitamin E, and green tea extract. Before jumping straight to the strongest (and harshest) prescription treatment available, we highly recommend giving this gentle but effective brand a try for a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, you can always send your empty product bottles back to the company and they will reimburse you in full.
In most cases, acne products need to be used for at least 30 days before you can begin to ascertain its efficacy. Some skin and acne types may see noticeable results in a few days and end up totally clear in just a few weeks. Others may take several weeks to see the slightest change, or need to have their regimen adjusted as their skin adapts. Treating acne can often be a months-long process.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids – These are synthetic acids derived from sugary fruits that remove dead skin cells3 while reducing inflammation. The two common types that can be found in over-the-counter acne treatments are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Another benefit of these acids is that they improve the appearance of your acne scars and make your pores look smaller by stimulating the growth of new, healthy skin.
Considerations: Ask your doctor before using any other products on your skin while using erythromycin, as it may be too irritating. This includes other prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines (including those listed on this site), and harsh or abrasive cleansers, perfumes, or make-up.2 People report burning as the most frequent side effect, and also peeling, dryness, itching, redness, and oiliness, among others.2
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.
Tea Tree Oil – Another anti-bacterial ingredient that is common in over-the-counter treatments, tea tree oil combats acne-causing bacteria. While the FDA hasn’t officially approved it for acne treatment, some dermatologists say it’s almost as effective as benzoyl peroxide for clearing skin, although it doesn’t work quite as fast. It can be used for spot treatment as well.
Acne and stress aren’t connected. FALSE. Scientific studies have shown the opposite to be true. Students with acne were examined before and after major exams at school, and their acne got worse when they experienced stress before exams. It is a double-edged sword. Acne can cause stress, but it can also get worse with stress. Stress hormones such as cortisol can overstimulate the oil glands in your skin. And we already know that oil, bacteria and dead skin cells are what really cause acne. So try to keep away from stressors while you try to get your skin healthier.
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What it is: You may have heard of tretinoin in reference to "Retin-A" wrinkle treatments. Tretinoin is retinoic acid and vitamin A acid combined, and comes in various strengths in creams, gels, and liquids for topical use on the skin. It is used to treat acne and also to treat sun damaged skin or wrinkles and is usually applied once per day.1Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


How to Handle It: Your best bet is benzoyl peroxide. "Benzoyl peroxide can kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation," says Zeichner. Try a cream like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual-Action Acne Treatment ($37), which also exfoliates with lipo-hydroxy acid. Be aware that it can seriously dry out skin so moisturize well after you use it.
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.
The best acne treatment will also include gentle cleanser. Regular bars of soap have harsher cleansers in them that can create problems of their own and encourage bacteria to spread. It is also a good idea to use makeup wipes to clean off any makeup (if you wear it) before you wash your face. Only washing your face without the wipe or wiping your face without the wash is not a good combination. You will either end up missing some of the makeup or you will end up leaving preservatives and other residues on your face.
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.
Some acne cleansers and face soaps have added ingredients to fight acne and improve the skin's appearance. Medicated cleansers contain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, sodium sulfacetamide, or benzoyl peroxide, which can help clear up skin while cleaning it. Salicylic acid helps clear blocked pores and reduces swelling and redness. Benzoyl peroxide exfoliates the skin and kills bacteria. Sodium sulfacetamide interferes with the growth of bacteria.
How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
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.

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.
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