Azelaic acid has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate acne when applied topically at a 20% concentration.[66][129] Treatment twice daily for six months is necessary, and is as effective as topical benzoyl peroxide 5%, isotretinoin 0.05%, and erythromycin 2%.[130] Azelaic acid is thought to be an effective acne treatment due to its ability to reduce skin cell accumulation in the follicle, and its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.[66] It has a slight skin-lightening effect due to its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis, and is therefore useful in treating of individuals with acne who are also affected by postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[1] Azelaic acid may cause skin irritation but is otherwise very safe.[131] It is less effective and more expensive than retinoids.[1]
Keep in mind that even if some products market themselves toward severe acne breakouts, all the kits we looked at are definitely designed for mild to moderate acne. Not sure if you fit on that scale? You’re not alone! When you’re in the middle of a breakout, all acne seems severe, so it can be difficult to self-diagnose your symptoms. We talked to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists to better understand the differences between the various types of acne (see below).
Comedones associated with acne vulgaris are usually easy to clear using OTC products, but papules and pustules are a little tougher to treat. Since they arise from trapped, infected pores, the first step in their treatment is to remove the inflammation and reduce the swelling so the pore can heal and breathe. Nodules are one of the few acne conditions that actually demand treatment, as some risk the potential of becoming cancerous. Medical treatment with traditional antibiotic therapy will relieve the symptoms of your acne nodule and gradually decrease its size.
Doxycycline is another of the tetracyclines that's equally effective in treating acne. It comes in generic versions and also as the branded Doryx and Acticlate which are easier on the stomach. Originally FDA approved for the treatment of rosacea, Oracea is a non antibiotic dose of doxycycline that is often used as an acne treatment, as well. Taken orally, it can be used as solo therapy or in combination with a topical acne treatment regimen. More severe cases of acne might need higher doses of doxycycline, but since Oracea is not an antibiotic, many patients can be "down-graded" to Oracea after improvement and it's suitable for longterm use as it doesn't cause antibiotic resistance.
Use a toner after cleansing. After you wash your face, exfoliate, or apply a face mask, apply a toner to the entirety of your face. Toners work to tighten pores making it less likely that dirt and oil will become trapped in them. Buy acne toners at a local drugstore, or use witch hazel or apple cider vinegar dabbed on with a cotton ball. Don’t rinse toners after application - allow them to stay on your skin.

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.
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect the First Year. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.
The relationship between diet and acne is unclear, as there is no high-quality evidence that establishes any definitive link between them.[52] High-glycemic-load diets have been found to have different degrees of effect on acne severity.[7][53][54] Multiple randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies have found a lower-glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne.[53] There is weak observational evidence suggesting that dairy milk consumption is positively associated with a higher frequency and severity of acne.[51][52][53][55][56] Milk contains whey protein and hormones such as bovine IGF-1 and precursors of dihydrotestosterone.[53] These components are hypothesized to promote the effects of insulin and IGF-1 and thereby increase the production of androgen hormones, sebum, and promote the formation of comedones.[53] Available evidence does not support a link between eating chocolate or salt and acne severity.[52][55] Chocolate does contain varying amounts of sugar, which can lead to a high glycemic load, and it can be made with or without milk. Few studies have examined the relationship between obesity and acne.[2] Vitamin B12 may trigger skin outbreaks similar to acne (acneiform eruptions), or worsen existing acne, when taken in doses exceeding the recommended daily intake.[57] Eating greasy foods does not increase acne nor make it worse.[58][59]

Risk factors for the development of acne, other than genetics, have not been conclusively identified. Possible secondary contributors include hormones, infections, diet and stress. Studies investigating the impact of smoking on the incidence and severity of acne have been inconclusive.[2][38][39] Sunlight and cleanliness are not associated with acne.[14]
Similar to the above natural acne remedies, these acne treatments can be inexpensive and worth giving a try. Best of all, these use products you probably already have in your household, like apple cider vinegar and toothpaste. Use home remedies for acne with caution if you have cystic acne, open sores or inflammatory acne, which are best treated with medical supervision.

Acne treatment that you apply to the skin: Most acne treatments are applied to the skin. Your dermatologist may call this topical treatment. There are many topical acne treatments. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic, or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.
×