Contrary to the marketing promises of “blemish banishers” and “zit zappers,” immediate results are not the trademark of acne treatments — a frustrating truth to anyone suffering through a breakout. And while pimples are personal (your stress-induced spots will look and act differently than your best friend’s breakout), the best acne treatments will include a regimen of products to hit all of acne’s root causes. We tested 43 kits to find the most well-rounded breakout-fighting solutions on the market.
Many treatment options for acne are available, including lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures. Eating fewer simple carbohydrates such as sugar may help. Treatments applied directly to the affected skin, such as azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, are commonly used. Antibiotics and retinoids are available in formulations that are applied to the skin and taken by mouth for the treatment of acne. However, resistance to antibiotics may develop as a result of antibiotic therapy. Several types of birth control pills help against acne in women. Isotretinoin pills are usually reserved for severe acne due to greater potential side effects. Early and aggressive treatment of acne is advocated by some in the medical community to decrease the overall long-term impact to individuals.
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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.
Acne appears to be strongly inherited with 81% of the variation in the population explained by genetics. Studies performed in affected twins and first-degree relatives further demonstrate the strongly inherited nature of acne. Acne susceptibility is likely due to the influence of multiple genes, as the disease does not follow a classic (Mendelian) inheritance pattern. Several gene candidates have been proposed including certain variations in tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-1 alpha, and CYP1A1 genes, among others. The 308 G/A single nucleotide polymorphism variation in the gene for TNF is associated with an increased risk for acne. Acne can be a feature of rare genetic disorders such as Apert's syndrome. Severe acne may be associated with XYY syndrome.
There has been a long-observed link between higher stress levels and the incidence of breakouts, and studies have shown that stress can worsen acne’s frequency and severity. Sebaceous glands contain receptors for stress hormones, making them upregulated and kicking sebum production into overdrive. Unfortunately, those with stress sometimes fall victim to a vicious acne cycle. Anxious types have a tendency to pick their skin and pop pimples under stress. This bad habit can exacerbate blemishes by pushing the buildup deeper into the pore, inducing cellular damage, rupturing cellular walls, and spreading bacteria. In extreme cases, sometimes people become so worried or embarrassed about their skin that they compulsively pick at every little thing that shows up. This condition is called acne excoriee, and can turn mild acne into severe scars.
Flutamide, a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, is effective in the treatment of acne in women. It has generally been found to reduce symptoms of acne by 80 or 90% even at low doses, with several studies showing complete acne clearance. In one study, flutamide decreased acne scores by 80% within 3 months, whereas spironolactone decreased symptoms by only 40% in the same time period. In a large long-term study, 97% of women reported satisfaction with the control of their acne with flutamide. Although effective, flutamide has a risk of serious liver toxicity, and cases of death in women taking even low doses of the medication to treat androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions have occurred. As such, the use of flutamide for acne has become increasingly limited, and it has been argued that continued use of flutamide for such purposes is unethical. Bicalutamide, a pure androgen receptor antagonist with the same mechanism as flutamide and with comparable or superior antiandrogenic efficacy but without its risk of liver toxicity, is a potential alternative to flutamide in the treatment of androgen-dependent skin and hair conditions in women.
Many different treatments exist for acne. These include alpha hydroxy acid, anti-androgen medications, antibiotics, antiseborrheic medications, azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, hormonal treatments, keratolytic soaps, nicotinamide, retinoids, and salicylic acid. They are believed to work in at least four different ways, including the following: reducing inflammation, hormonal manipulation, killing P. acnes, and normalizing skin cell shedding and sebum production in the pore to prevent blockage. Common treatments include topical therapies such as antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids, and systemic therapies including antibiotics, hormonal agents, and oral retinoids.
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.
Antibiotics. These work by killing excess skin bacteria and reducing redness. For the first few months of treatment, you may use both a retinoid and an antibiotic, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. The antibiotics are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin). Topical antibiotics alone aren't recommended.