“You unfortunately cannot determine the strength of a product strictly by the percentage of its active ingredients because how well a product works depends on how well its inactive ingredients help it penetrate the skin,” explains Dr. Green. “In other words, a 2 percent benzoyl peroxide may be more effective than another brand’s 5 percent benzoyl peroxide because there are other ingredients helping out.”
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.

The good news about oily skin is that it is less likely to wrinkle, is more supple and doesn’t show its age as soon as other skin types. The bad news is that pores get clogged with oil more frequently. Using a daily gentle exfoliator can balance your skin’s tone and texture and keep pores unplugged. There are also anti-bacterial exfoliators that can speed up healing for 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.
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash: This product is marketed for facial acne, but we recommend using on pesky body acne instead. PanOxyl uses benzoyl peroxide, a highly effective acne-fighting ingredient that we’ll describe more just below, but at a concentration that is much too high to be used on your face. Most PanOxyl products contain 10% benzoyl peroxide, which will likely cause peeling and burning on your face, but could be the perfect solution for back or butt acne.
Antibiotics for acne, both topical and oral, used to be the top prescriptions for getting clear skin, but research has revealed that they aren’t the best option for most people today due to something called antibacterial resistance. This is where bacteria mutate, become immune to certain antibiotics, then reproduce offspring that are also immune, creating entire colonies of bacteria that can’t be killed by certain antibiotics.

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.
For example, if you have acne on dry skin, you need something gentle enough to cleanse and exfoliate but not dehydrate, like a Neutrogena cleanser. If you have oily skin, you’re looking to exfoliate and combat oil production with a product like Cetaphil. If you have combination skin, you need something that can treat your unique skin and balance it out, like Exposed Skin Care.
Whether it’s just or not, you are judged by your appearance: the clothes you wear, your hairstyle, your body language. And if you have acne, life can be more difficult for you. You may feel uncomfortable in social settings. You may lose your confidence. It could destroy intimacy with someone you care about. If your poor self-esteem affects your job performance, then having acne could even have a negative impact on your income and career advancement. There’s no such thing as ‘growing out of acne’. It’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously. The only way to fight acne is by treating it. And to fight acne head-on, you need to find the best acne treatment for you.
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.

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.
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.

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.


Any acne treatment is a weeks-long experiment that you’re conducting with your skin. Acne is slow to heal, and in some cases, it can get worse before it gets better (nearly every benzoyl peroxide product we looked at emphasized the likeliness of irritating acne further, and starting off with a lighter application). April W. Armstrong, a doctor at the University of California Davis Health System, recommends waiting at least one month before you deem a product ineffective.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
How to Handle It: If you've tried the usual anti-acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (which, we should warn you, rarely work for this), you should consider paying your dermatologist a visit. "You may need a cortisone injection or an oral medication, like an antibiotic, in addition to topical formulas," says Zeichner. He's also a fan of a prescription topical medication called Epiduo Forte Gel, since, he says, it's been shown to be effective at controlling severe acne without the help of oral treatments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Infused with salicylic acid from white willow bark and antioxidant-rich chamomile and gotu kola, this clarifying face wash is formulated for men and women of all skin types. It exfoliates and unclogs pores to boost cell turnover, soothes inflamed skin and counters free radical damage. Also works as a makeup remover and a deep-cleansing shaving cream!
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.
The first thing you need to do to take care of your skin is to use sunscreen. The best acne treatment never includes sunbathing and staying out in the sun unprotected will not reduce the number of blackheads or whiteheads you have. It will, however, lead to more skin problems down the road and can cause a breakout or two right now. Wrinkles, age spots and even skin cancer are on the agenda of someone who decides they don’t need to protect their skin.

Just as there are no bells and whistles with Purpose above, there are none with this baby-mild product that renowned dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's creamy, simple and isn't loaded with chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. Cetaphil products are revered in the industry and their cleanser is one of the best drugstore buys out there. Period.
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.
Antibiotics for acne, both topical and oral, used to be the top prescriptions for getting clear skin, but research has revealed that they aren’t the best option for most people today due to something called antibacterial resistance. This is where bacteria mutate, become immune to certain antibiotics, then reproduce offspring that are also immune, creating entire colonies of bacteria that can’t be killed by certain antibiotics.
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.

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.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Products: Even though it’s not made in a lab, tea tree oil has been studied and proven to be a powerful anti-acne agent. The Body Shop takes advantage of this ingredient with their full line of tea tree oil products, from pure oil to face wipes to a clay mask, all containing tea tree oil. These products are best for oily skin, pimples, and cystic acne.

Every expert we spoke with said the most critical part of combating acne is combating it every day. “The only way to make any medication work is to use it on a daily basis,” says Dr. Green. Fitz Patrick emphasizes that it really comes down to what you can maintain for the long term: “Kits are great because they take out all the guesswork -- you just follow the instructions. But if four steps is going to be too many for you to keep up week after week, you’ll be better off finding one that has fewer treatments.”
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.

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.
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.)

“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!”
Most people either choose to live with acne, or out of frustration turn to medications or chemical treatments that often have side effects or simply don’t work at all. Dermatologists can prescribe medications to treat acne, including gels, lotions, cleansers and even antibiotics. The harsh chemicals used in over-the-counter and prescription acne products can cause further irritation to already-sensitive or inflamed skin, so using these is not always the best option, or safe for continued use.
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.
Any acne treatment is a weeks-long experiment that you’re conducting with your skin. Acne is slow to heal, and in some cases, it can get worse before it gets better (nearly every benzoyl peroxide product we looked at emphasized the likeliness of irritating acne further, and starting off with a lighter application). April W. Armstrong, a doctor at the University of California Davis Health System, recommends waiting at least one month before you deem a product ineffective.
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