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.
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.
Considerations: Benzoyl peroxide is able to produce complete clearing of acne only when used in an adequate dosage and within a properly applied benzoyl peroxide regimen. Some dryness, redness, and itchiness is to be expected in the first few weeks of use.6 Scientists call this initial period the "hardening effect" of benzoyl peroxide. About 1-3% of people are allergic to benzoyl peroxide and experience an inflammation of the skin or severe crusting.3This should not be confused with the "hardening effect" of benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide, like any other peroxide, can bleach hair and fabric.1
“My skin is very sensitive and I get rosacea and eczema (my skin pretty much hates the world). This is so gentle and non irritating, even during flare ups. My dermatologist said it's one of the most gentle face washes on the market. It's fragrance free and has a creamy almost gel like consistency, not as watery as some other non foaming cleansers. I don't wear makeup, but I don't think this would remove makeup if you did, so you'd probably need to remove makeup before using this cleanser.”
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
“So I read somewhere about using calamine to dry out and get rid of zits and I decided to try it out last night. I had three super-prominent pimples (one already popped a few days ago, the other two still forming), and I used a cotton ball to dab calamine from a bottle I've owned for over a decade onto the affected area. I left it on overnight, and in the morning, the already popped pimple was a quarter its previous side and the other two were completely gone! I don't think my skin has ever had such a quick response to anything before. The one drawback was that it really dries out the area, so you need to especially moisturize those spots in the morning.”
What it is: Spironolactone is a prescription medication in tablet form used to treat certain patients with hyperaldosteronism (the body produces too much aldosterone, a naturally occurring hormone), low potassium levels, and in patients with edema (fluid retention) caused by various conditions.1 Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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Shah often recommends over-the-counter retinols or prescription retinoids to her acne-prone patients. “I find that compared to other treatments they are beneficial for not just treating acne but also preventing new acne from forming as they help prevent that initial stage of the follicle getting clogged,” she says. “They can also help with some of the post acne [problems] such as hyperpigmentation.” But keep in mind if you have sensitive skin (or eczema or rosacea), a prescription retinoid might be too strong an option. However, your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter retinol with a low concentration (0.1 to 0.25 percent), which might be better tolerated. Retinol also isn’t a quick fix. It takes time to see results, and it’s something you’ll have to keep using to maintain its benefits. Shah also mentions that retinol plays well with other acne treatments on the list. "Retinol can be combined with other over-the-counter or prescription medications such as benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics, and oral medications. The right combination depends on the severity of the acne and your skin type."
Although home remedies are generally convenient and popular, some have significant counterproductive effects on the skin. The famous Procter & Gamble product Ivory Soap is probably the world’s most frequently used acne face wash ingredient. It is also probably the world’s worst acne face wash ingredient. Often advertised as “so pure that it floats,” Ivory Soap is depicted with pictures of babies and fair-skinned blondes to imply that it is a good and inexpensive face wash for acne-affected skin. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
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.
If you have oily, tight skin and tend to get age spots or sun spots, try an exfoliant made with glycolic acid right after you cleanse your skin, no more than 4 or 5 times a week. Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads provides just a “dab” of exfoliant that will help lighten the spots without irritating your skin (which over the long run would create new brown spots).

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.
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.”
We suggest avoiding spot treatments. “Benzoyl peroxide, when placed on red spots, can actually cause more irritation and inflammation to the area. It’s best used to prevent red bumps and pustules, and applied all over the area you want to treat,” said Townsend, who was also quick to naysay a spot-treat-only approach: “Acne affects all of the pores. If someone is going to spot treat against my advice, I still suggest they spot treat one day and treat the whole face the next.”
“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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