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.
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:
A 2013 study on acne vulgaris in The Nurse Practitioner concurred that a multidimensional approach to acne is usually necessary because most people have a combination of symptoms. Based on the advice of dermatologists and aestheticians, we turned our focus to regimen sets, analyzing the ingredients of more than 40 kits before finding our top picks.
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.
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%.
When whiteheads and blackheads become infected with bacteria, called Propionibacterium acnes, it leads to inflammatory acne. Regular bacteria is found in most whiteheads and blackheads, but P. acnes is attracted to the closed, oily environment. This bacteria makes acne more difficult to treat. The four different pimple types that characterize inflammatory acne are papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.

First, it’s a cleansing oil, not the typical gel wash or liquid. Next, it has a potent blend of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acid for superior exfoliation. Third, it contains natural ingredients that repair damage to the skin and get rid of acne. For example, soapwort extract dissolves oil without the need for drying sulfates. Then, vitamin B and lavender combine to reduce oil secretion and inflammation. Finally, watercress is full of antioxidant vitamins that heal damage caused by the sun.
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.
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.
Ask any dermatologist for advice on how you can reduce the chances of breakouts, and they’re most likely going to mention taking probiotics as one of their top tips. This facial cleanser, infused with tea tree oil, willow bark and yogurt, targets irritation-causing bacteria while controlling oil production. It also features a biocomplex of vitamins A, C and E, coenzyme Q10 and antioxidants that diminish wrinkles and other visible signs of aging.
“I have had acne pretty much since I hit puberty (now 25) and this is the only cleanser I have found that doesn't break me out or dry me out! My skin leans towards the dry side and is prone to dehydration but this cleanser leaves my skin feeling perfect! For those of you who are dry and live in a drier climate this might be a little stripping, but for me it works well. It is the perfect gentle cleanser with no frills or extras. According to cosdna.com, this contains no acne-triggers, so it will probably stay my holy grail for life! I cannot say that this cleanser has single-handedly cleared me up, but it is part of my overall healthy skin routine!”

For those with acne-prone skin, it can be tough finding a sunscreen that doesn’t clog pores and meshes well with your skincare regimen. Oily sunscreens often lead to breakouts. In addition to the wash, toner, moisturizer and treatments, the Clear Start kit includes an acne-safe (read: oil-free) sunscreen in its lineup — perfect for those wanting the best of both worlds in avoiding all types of red faces.
Dapsone is a topical gel medicine sold under the brand name Aczone for treating severe acne, and it’s perfect for people who want a low-maintenance acne treatment plan. Unlike many of the best acne medications, dapsone only needs to be applied once daily, and it is the only medications most people will need, though it’s always good to include a face wash and moisturizer in your skin care routine if possible. Dapsone can function on its own because it is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory10, effectively taking care of two of the biggest causes of acne.
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
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.
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.
If you have non-inflamed acne, it means you have a lot of blackheads and whiteheads, but not a lot of redness and swelling. Most common acne face washes can work well for you. If you have inflamed acne, you want to make sure you buy a facial cleanser that has the ingredients to reduce inflammation, swelling, and redness. But you also want to be careful not to buy or use anything that can cause irritation, dry skin and thus, more redness and swelling.
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.

Simple alcohols like isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and denatured alcohol are everywhere in acne treatment because they trick you into thinking they’re working: Splash some on and any oil on your face instantly vaporizes. However, these ingredients destroy the skin’s barrier, called the acid mantle. When your acid mantle is damaged, you’re actually more susceptible to breakouts, enlarged pores, and inflammation. To make matters worse, evaporating all the oil on your face can actually set your sebaceous glands into overdrive, leaving your skin oilier than ever. If any product included a simple alcohol high up in its ingredients list, we nixed its whole kit.
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.
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.
Acne isn’t just a problem for teens. According to studies, those pesky zits and pimples can pop up at any age. Whether it’s your diet, environment or stress that’s to blame, you don’t have to suffer helplessly. To get the skinny on acne, we talked to board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology Physicians, Inc. and founder of DrBaileySkinCare.com. Here, she shares her best tips on how to choose the right acne cleanser for you, as well as how to use it to get the best results.
Salicylic acid and azelaic acid. Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in whole-grain cereals and animal products. It has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many conventional acne treatments when used twice a day for at least four weeks. It's even more effective when used in combination with erythromycin. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is an option during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Side effects include skin discoloration and minor skin irritation.
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