Salicylic Acid – One of the most common topical ingredients you can find over-the-counter, salicylic acid is generally used to reduce the appearance of acne, by reducing swelling and redness. Also known as a beta-hydroxy acid, it exfoliates your skin4 and unclogs your pores, too, but it is quite strong. You’ll only be able to find this in strengths around 2%, but it can still dry and irritate your skin, especially if yours is sensitive. The safest way to use this ingredient is according to the directions!
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
“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.
Acne is only cosmetic. FALSE. Acne is a disease that gets worse if left untreated. It might not be a life-threatening condition, but it affects how you look and feel about yourself. Bacteria that gets into your pores and clogs them up can quickly multiply, leading to an out-of-control situation. Blemishes should be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible to keep them under control and to prevent permanent scars.

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.


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.
What's Going On: You might be all too familiar with these, which tend to make their debut when you’re in high school. "Blackheads, like whiteheads, are blocked pores," says Zeichner. What gives them their namesake color, though, is the oil. It's already dark, but blackheads also have a larger opening at the surface than whiteheads do, meaning air can enter and oxidize that oil sitting inside the pore, turning it even darker.
The other downside to Proactiv+ is that the bottles are small — like, half the size of Paula’s Choice small. Combine that with its recommended two or three-times daily application, and you’re going to be going through a lot of kits, which ultimately means spending more money on your treatment. If Proactiv is the only thing that works for you, it may very well be worth the investment, but we recommend starting with Paula’s Choice to see if you can get the same results at a cheaper price.
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While you can certainly benefit from a great skin-care regimen, "in cystic acne, usually you need internal treatment," he says. "Topical medications usually don't work. Accutane is a great miracle cure for really bad cystic acne, but most people with cystic acne will improve with oral antibiotics — sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for three weeks."
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.
Retinol: Retinol is simply another word for vitamin A, sort of like how we call vitamin B7 “biotin.” It’s important that our bodies get systemic vitamin A through our diet for good vision, a strong immune system, and general organ function, but some research suggests that vitamin A could have a positive impact on the skin when applied to it directly. The problem is, regular retinol doesn’t actually do much for acne. That’s because the retinoic acid found in retinol isn’t always activated when left to its own devices. We typically have to activate the retinoic acid synthetically through the creation of various medications.
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most popular acne medications available, and it works especially well for pimples because it kills the bacteria that causes them. It works by bringing oxygen under the skin, killing the particular type of bacteria associated with acne, known as p. acnes. P. acnes are anaerobic, meaning they can’t live where there is oxygen, so benzoyl peroxide is a great way to kill bacteria under the skin instantaneously1. This medication can often eradicate acne if used in the right dosage and in the right way.
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.
Even though scientists know how pimples and blackheads are formed, they are still not sure what causes you to have a body full of blemishes and the guy sitting next to you not to have a single spot on his face? It’s probably related to hereditary factors. If your parents dealt with acne when they were younger, you’re more likely to struggle with acne, too.
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.
If you have dark brown spots where acne has healed, you absolutely, positively have to avoid any of the irritant ingredients listed above. Your product has to be gentle enough not to cause irritation and strong enough to remove makeup. If you are on a budget, then Black Opal Skin Perfecting Blemish Wash, Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser, or Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash will work well. ProActiv Renewing Cleanser or PanOxy soap cost a little more but help heal pimples.
Beyond making sure the system contains safe combinations of ingredients, a system can also treat all aspects of acne. By picking and choosing individual products, you may miss an important step. Plus, treatment systems contain ingredients like glycolic acid that help smooth acne scars, something you might not think about when you are shopping for products. Did you know probiotics help reduce inflammation? Or that kojic acid and arbutin can lighten brown spots? When it comes to treating acne, you should leave the mixing to professionals. You still can try out a variety of systems to find the one that works best for you.
According to medical research, tea tree oil gels containing 5 percent tea tree oil may be as effective as medications containing 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. (10) Researchers do indicate that tea tree oil may work more slowly for some individuals, so try to be patient. To make a simple home remedy for acne using tea tree oil mix 4–8 drops of tea tree oil and one teaspoon of coconut oil or jojoba oil. Dap lightly onto the problem areas. Slight tingling is normal, but if the application causes lots of burning then discontinue use. Always use a carrier oil, as tea tree oil can be too harsh when applied directly to skin.

In 2007, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that glycemic load can greatly affects acne. 43 males with acne, aged 15 to 25, were separated into two groups. For twelve weeks, one group ate a diet that was 25 percent protein and 45 percent low-glycemic carbohydrates. The other group ate carbs without any control of glycemic index, resulting in a higher glycemic diet. At the end of the study, the acne had decreased in the low-glycemic group by almost twice the rate of the high-glycemic group! (17)
Benzoyl Peroxide – A strong compound that kills the bacteria that causes acne1. It also gets rid of excess oil and the build-up of dead skin cells which clog your pores. This ingredient is exceptionally strong, and it can cause some side effects like redness, dry skin, burning or stinging and scaling. You’ll only find it in products at 2.5% to 10% strength. However, dermatologists recommend that adults stick to a low-dose of benzoyl peroxide, at around 3% for minimal irritation and to avoid bleaching your skin, hair or clothing.
If you’re used to seeing advertisements for acne treatments using five or six different products to clear up blemishes, you might be surprised that a simple three-step kit is our top pick. In fact, we favored Paula’s Choice for its simplicity. This twice-daily, three-step kit — which includes a cleanser, an anti-redness exfoliant, and a leave-on treatment — is concise without cutting corners.

I've been using it now for quite some time (along with a few other Tracie Martyn products and the hyaluronic acid product my dermatologist recommended) and it's my new obsession. My drying, aging skin problems have cleared up. No more flaky skin. No more grease face from Pond's (my long-time love), no more tight skin feeling from the other cleansers I've tried that are really not for dry skin.
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Begin with benzoyl peroxide. If you're not sure which acne product to buy, start with one that contains benzoyl peroxide. It's effective and well-tolerated by most people. Give it a few days before expecting to see results. Check product labels for the type and amount of its active ingredient. Stronger isn't always better with benzoyl peroxide. In some cases, a 2.5 percent product works as well as those with stronger concentrations — and with fewer side effects.

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.”


Remember, when making the choice to buy a certain face wash, always consider your unique skin type. A face wash tailored to your skin type will give you the best results, and help you clear up your acne. Also, keep in mind that a good face wash is only one important step in a system of skin care for clear and healthy skin. With the right adjustments, you can achieve that glowing, beautiful skin you know you deserve.
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.

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.

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.


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.”
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.
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.

Named one of Prevention’s best moisturizers for oily, acne-prone skin, dermatologists recommend Cetaphil due to its lightweight, non-greasy, noncomedogenic formula (meaning it won’t further clog your pores). It’s also free of fragrances, making it especially great for sensitive skin types. Hydrating glycerin, dimethicone, and vitamin E work to combat any dryness caused by acne treatments.
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How to Handle It: Speaking of touching, don't! Picking it, squeezing it, or poking at it will only worsen the situation. These may disappear on their own after a few days. Otherwise, Zeichner suggests visiting your dermatologist for a shot of cortisone, which will reduce inflammation and shrink it in just 24 to 48 hours. But if a last-minute appointment isn't in the cards, play mad scientist. First, ice the area, and then apply salicylic acid gel, benzoyl peroxide gel, and 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. The combo will calm skin, kill bacteria, and draw out excess oil from the pimple — all things necessary to take this down, says Zeichner.
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.
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.
While a few people suffer from acne that is so severe it requires a medical prescription from a doctor, most people with mild to medium acne problems can find decent over-the-counter treatments that really work. The first key to getting your acne cleanser right is to know what active ingredients combat your acne, and then finding an acne treatment that contains it. Here are a few of the ingredients you want to look for:
“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.”
“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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