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.

Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[35] By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time.[35] Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis.[35] The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone.[35] Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area.[35] Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration.[35] Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people.[35] In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.[35]

“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.”


Whereas acne vulgaris clogs pores from the bottom up, acne inversa (or hidradenitis suppurativa) is a form of acne that clogs pores from the top down. It’s caused by excessively rapid skin growth, occluding the mouth of pores with shed skin cells. When the pores are blocked and clogged, they become inflamed and can create pimples and acne lesions. This form of acne is usually observed in intertriginous skin, where two skin areas may touch or rub together. Induced or aggravated by heat, moisture, maceration, friction and lack of air circulation. Examples of these areas include underarms, folds of the breasts, and between buttocks cheeks.
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C. acnes also provokes skin inflammation by altering the fatty composition of oily sebum.[45] Oxidation of the lipid squalene by C. acnes is of particular importance. Squalene oxidation activates NF-κB (a protein complex) and consequently increases IL-1α levels.[45] Additionally, squalene oxidation leads to increased activity of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme responsible for conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotriene B4 (LTB4).[45] LTB4 promotes skin inflammation by acting on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) protein.[45] PPARα increases activity of activator protein 1 (AP-1) and NF-κB, thereby leading to the recruitment of inflammatory T cells.[45] The inflammatory properties of C. acnes can be further explained by the bacterium's ability to convert sebum triglycerides to pro-inflammatory free fatty acids via secretion of the enzyme lipase.[45] These free fatty acids spur production of cathelicidin, HBD1, and HBD2, thus leading to further inflammation.[45]
^ Jump up to: a b c Zaenglein, AL; Graber, EM; Thiboutot, DM (2012). "Chapter 80 Acne Vulgaris and Acneiform Eruptions". In Goldsmith, Lowell A.; Katz, Stephen I.; Gilchrest, Barbara A.; Paller, Amy S.; Lefell, David J.; Wolff, Klaus (eds.). Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 897–917. ISBN 978-0-07-171755-7.
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When blocked pores become increasingly irritated or infected, they grow in size and go deeper into the skin. If pimples get trapped beneath the skin’s surface, they can form papules: red, sore spots which can’t be popped (please don’t try! Squeezing the oil, bacteria, and skin cell mixture can result in long term scars that may be unresponsive to acne treatments). They’re formed when the trapped, infected pore becomes increasingly inflamed and irritated, and they usually feel hard to the touch. Papules are small (less than 1 centimeter in diameter) with distinct borders; when clusters of papules occur near each other, they can appear as a rash and make your skin feel rough like sandpaper. Because they’re inaccessible, they’re a bit more difficult to treat, and are therefore considered moderately severe acne.
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 the simplest sense, acne is caused when pores containing hair follicles and sebaceous (oil) glands become clogged. The sebaceous gland is responsible for producing sebum, an oily substance necessary for skin to stay hydrated and soft. However, too much sebum can plug the opening at the top of the pore, trapping a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria leading to acne lesions.
The two laser treatment options above are great for acne scar removal, but aren't generally recommended as acne treatment. If you're still experiencing active acne breakouts and wondering how to get rid of acne with laser treatments, check out photodynamic therapy. It combats active moderate to severe acne while also diminishing older acne scars by using light energy to activate a powerful acne-fighting solution. Patients may require 2 or 3 treatments over several weeks and should expect some redness, peeling and sun sensitivity. This treatment will cost between $2000 to $3500 per series.

Scientists initially hypothesized that acne represented a disease of the skin's hair follicle, and occurred due to blockage of the pore by sebum. During the 1880s, bacteria were observed by microscopy in skin samples affected by acne and were regarded as the causal agents of comedones, sebum production, and ultimately acne.[164] During the mid-twentieth century, dermatologists realized that no single hypothesized factor (sebum, bacteria, or excess keratin) could completely explain the disease.[164] This led to the current understanding that acne could be explained by a sequence of related events, beginning with blockage of the skin follicle by excessive dead skin cells, followed by bacterial invasion of the hair follicle pore, changes in sebum production, and inflammation.[164]


Oral antibiotics are recommended for no longer than three months as antibiotic courses exceeding this duration are associated with the development of antibiotic resistance and show no clear benefit over shorter courses.[87] Furthermore, if long-term oral antibiotics beyond three months are thought to be necessary, it is recommended that benzoyl peroxide and/or a retinoid be used at the same time to limit the risk of C. acnes developing antibiotic resistance.[87]
Frequently used topical retinoids include adapalene, isotretinoin, retinol, tazarotene, and tretinoin.[47] They often cause an initial flare-up of acne and facial flushing, and can cause significant skin irritation. Generally speaking, retinoids increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight and are therefore recommended for use at night.[1] Tretinoin is the least expensive of the topical retinoids and is the most irritating to the skin, whereas adapalene is the least irritating to the skin but costs significantly more.[1][84] Most formulations of tretinoin cannot be applied at the same time as benzoyl peroxide.[15] Tazarotene is the most effective and expensive topical retinoid, but is not as well-tolerated.[1][84] Retinol is a form of vitamin A that has similar but milder effects, and is used in many over-the-counter moisturizers and other topical products.
Have you tried treating your acne with no luck? You might simply be using the wrong product for the type you have. Whether you have periodic breakouts or more stubborn cystic acne, there's a solution. We asked Dr. Neal Schultz, an NYC dermatologist, to share the best treatments for every type of acne. Read on for his expert product recommendations, along with some editor favorites, that'll give you clear skin in no time.

Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is usually the result of nodular acne lesions. These lesions often leave behind an inflamed darkened mark after the original acne lesion has resolved. This inflammation stimulates specialized pigment-producing skin cells (known as melanocytes) to produce more melanin pigment which leads to the skin's darkened appearance.[35] People with darker skin color are more frequently affected by this condition.[36] Pigmented scar is a common term used for PIH, but is misleading as it suggests the color change is permanent. Often, PIH can be prevented by avoiding any aggravation of the nodule, and can fade with time. However, untreated PIH can last for months, years, or even be permanent if deeper layers of skin are affected.[37] Even minimal skin exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can sustain hyperpigmentation.[35] Daily use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen can minimize such a risk.[37]

Baby acne is usually mild, and it’s limited to the face 99 percent of the time, says Teri Kahn, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore. “Typically, baby acne appears in the form of little whiteheads and blackheads on the forehead, cheeks, and chin,” she says. Other skin conditions, like eczema, show up on other parts of the body.
How to Handle It: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon. "This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Best of Beauty winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid. The formula does double duty: It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. And since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.
A major mechanism of acne-related skin inflammation is mediated by C. acnes's ability to bind and activate a class of immune system receptors known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), especially TLR2 and TLR4.[45][64][65] Activation of TLR2 and TLR4 by C. acnes leads to increased secretion of IL-1α, IL-8, and TNF-α.[45] Release of these inflammatory signals attracts various immune cells to the hair follicle including neutrophils, macrophages, and Th1 cells.[45] IL-1α stimulates increased skin cell activity and reproduction, which in turn fuels comedo development.[45] Furthermore, sebaceous gland cells produce more antimicrobial peptides, such as HBD1 and HBD2, in response to binding of TLR2 and TLR4.[45]
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This article was medically reviewed by Hilary Baldwin, MD. Baldwin, medical director of the Acne Treatment Research Center, is a board-certified dermatologist with nearly 25 years of experience. Her area of expertise and interest are acne, rosacea and keloid scars. Baldwin received her BA and MA in biology from Boston University. She became a research assistant at Harvard University before attending Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed a medical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital before becoming a resident and chief resident in dermatology at New York University Medical Center. 

Benzoyl peroxide attacks the P. acnes bacteria. However, one of its main side effects is dryness: If you’re going to use anything with benzoyl peroxide, make sure to moisturize afterwards. Sulfur and azelaic acid are less common and less severe alternatives to benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Peter Lio, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University, says sulfur-based treatments are “a good fit for patients who can’t tolerate the side effects of benzoyl peroxide.”
Baby acne generally goes away on its own after a month or so. As far as actual baby acne treatment, your pediatrician may suggest that you wash your baby’s face with warm water and a gentle soap, says Dr. Kahn. (There is no proof that breast milk, which some moms swear by as a homeopathic remedy, actually works.) Don’t pick at your baby’s acne; you’ll cause scarring, she warns.
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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.
The side effects depend on the type of treatment you use. Generally, for topical, over-the-counter creams, you can watch out for stinging, redness, irritation and peeling — these side effects usually don’t go any deeper than the skin. Others, like oral antibiotics or hormonal medications, could come with new sets of complications, so we suggest talking to your doctor before pursuing the treatment.

In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide.[9][18] Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world.[19][20][21] Lower rates are reported in some rural societies.[21][22] Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty.[23] Although acne becomes less common in adulthood, it persists in nearly half of affected people into their twenties and thirties and a smaller group continue to have difficulties into their forties.[2]
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