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).
^ Jump up to: a b GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence, Collaborators. (8 October 2016). "Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015". Lancet. 388 (10053): 1545–1602. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31678-6. PMC 5055577. PMID 27733282.
In women, acne can be improved with the use of any combined birth control pill.[89] These medications contain an estrogen and a progestin.[90] They work by decreasing the production of androgen hormones by the ovaries and by decreasing the free and hence biologically active fractions of androgens, resulting in lowered skin production of sebum and consequently reduced acne severity.[10][91] First-generation progestins such as norethindrone and norgestrel have androgenic properties and can worsen acne.[15] Although oral estrogens can decrease IGF-1 levels in some situations and this might be expected to additionally contribute to improvement in acne symptoms,[92][93] combined birth control pills appear to have no effect on IGF-1 levels in fertile women.[90][94] However, cyproterone acetate-containing birth control pills have been reported to decrease total and free IGF-1 levels.[95] Combinations containing third- or fourth-generation progestins including desogestrel, dienogest, drospirenone, or norgestimate, as well as birth control pills containing cyproterone acetate or chlormadinone acetate, are preferred for women with acne due to their stronger antiandrogenic effects.[96][97][98] Studies have shown a 40 to 70% reduction in acne lesions with combined birth control pills.[91] A 2014 review found that antibiotics by mouth appear to be somewhat more effective than birth control pills at decreasing the number of inflammatory acne lesions at three months.[99] However, the two therapies are approximately equal in efficacy at six months for decreasing the number of inflammatory, non-inflammatory, and total acne lesions.[99] The authors of the analysis suggested that birth control pills may be a preferred first-line acne treatment, over oral antibiotics, in certain women due to similar efficacy at six months and a lack of associated antibiotic resistance.[99]
Retinoids are medications which reduce inflammation, normalize the follicle cell life cycle, and reduce sebum production.[45][83] They are structurally related to vitamin A.[83] Studies show they are underprescribed by primary care doctors and dermatologists.[15] The retinoids appear to influence the cell life cycle in the follicle lining. This helps prevent the accumulation of skin cells within the hair follicle that can create a blockage. They are a first-line acne treatment,[1] especially for people with dark-colored skin, and are known to lead to faster improvement of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[36]
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Baldwin says squeezing is the best way to get rid of blackheads, but it should be left to a professional if possible. "A good cosmetologist can do an awesome facial," she says. "Pore strips can also help. But both of these are made much easier by starting on a retinoid first. Prescription retinoids soften the pore contents and make the whole process more successful and less painful. With time they will also eradicate the blackheads." The best way to get rid of blackheads for good is with a skin care regimen and the best acne products for clearing the pores. Do not try to pop blackheads or dislodge the blockage with your nails, as your hands may introduce new bacteria to the pores. Instead, see how to get rid of acne fast and prevent blackheads with these acne treatments:
Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response.[32] They are described as firm and raised from the skin.[32][34] Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders.[32] Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.[32]
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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.
Flutamide, a pure antagonist of the androgen receptor, is effective in the treatment of acne in women.[101][108] 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.[101][109][110] In one study, flutamide decreased acne scores by 80% within 3 months, whereas spironolactone decreased symptoms by only 40% in the same time period.[110][111][112] In a large long-term study, 97% of women reported satisfaction with the control of their acne with flutamide.[113] 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.[114] As such, the use of flutamide for acne has become increasingly limited,[113][115][116] and it has been argued that continued use of flutamide for such purposes is unethical.[114] 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.[106][117][118][119]

The main hormonal driver of oily sebum production in the skin is dihydrotestosterone.[1] Another androgenic hormone responsible for increased sebaceous gland activity is DHEA-S. Higher amounts of DHEA-S are secreted during adrenarche (a stage of puberty), and this leads to an increase in sebum production. In a sebum-rich skin environment, the naturally occurring and largely commensal skin bacterium C. acnes readily grows and can cause inflammation within and around the follicle due to activation of the innate immune system.[10] C. acnes triggers skin inflammation in acne by increasing the production of several pro-inflammatory chemical signals (such as IL-1α, IL-8, TNF-α, and LTB4); IL-1α is known to be essential to comedo formation.[45]


Chemical peels can be used to reduce the appearance of acne scars.[32] Mild peels include those using glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, Jessner's solution, or a lower concentrations (20%) of trichloroacetic acid. These peels only affect the epidermal layer of the skin and can be useful in the treatment of superficial acne scars as well as skin pigmentation changes from inflammatory acne.[32] Higher concentrations of trichloroacetic acid (30–40%) are considered to be medium-strength peels and affect skin as deep as the papillary dermis.[32] Formulations of trichloroacetic acid concentrated to 50% or more are considered to be deep chemical peels.[32] Medium-strength and deep-strength chemical peels are more effective for deeper atrophic scars, but are more likely to cause side effects such as skin pigmentation changes, infection, and small white superficial cysts known as milia.[32]

Drugs.com provides accurate and independent information on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Data sources include IBM Watson Micromedex (updated 3 June 2019), Cerner Multum™ (updated 4 June 2019), Wolters Kluwer™ (updated 31 May 2019) and others.


This inflammatory cascade typically leads to the formation of inflammatory acne lesions, including papules, infected pustules, or nodules.[1] If the inflammatory reaction is severe, the follicle can break into the deeper layers of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue and cause the formation of deep nodules.[1][66][67] Involvement of AP-1 in the aforementioned inflammatory cascade leads to activation of matrix metalloproteinases, which contribute to local tissue destruction and scar formation.[45]
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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.
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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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If your baby still has acne at 3- to 6-months-old, infantile acne may be the culprit. “These bumps tend to be more red and inflammatory,” says Dr. Kahn. “You’ll see more of the different types of acne than with baby acne, including pustules and cysts, not just whiteheads and blackheads.” And unlike baby acne, infantile acne is linked to family history: Your baby is more likely to get it if you or your partner had severe acne as a teen. Acne in older babies can also be an indication that your baby is more likely to have acne later in life. Like baby acne, infantile acne rarely needs treatment; if there’s a lot of redness and swelling, however, your doctor might want to treat it with a topical antibiotic.

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Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne.[151] Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne.[151] Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis.[1] Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against C. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties.[65] Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality.[152] There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.[151]
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.”
Microneedling is a procedure in which an instrument with multiple rows of tiny needles is rolled over the skin to elicit a wound healing response and stimulate collagen production to reduce the appearance of atrophic acne scars in people with darker skin color.[140] Notable adverse effects of microneedling include postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and tram track scarring (described as discrete slightly raised scars in a linear distribution similar to a tram track). The latter is thought to be primarily attributable to improper technique by the practitioner, including the use of excessive pressure or inappropriately large needles.[140][147]

Blackheads appear as small black dots on the skin. They usually occur on the face – especially the nose and T-Zone – but can also be seen on the back, neck, chest, shoulders and arms. Blackheads are one of two types of comedones, or acne lesions caused by clogged pores. Blackhead comedones are open versus closed, leaving the plug at the top of the clogged pore exposed to air on the skin’s surface. It’s this exposure to oxygen that accounts for their color, which can not only be black but also gray, yellow or brown. When melanin – a pigment produced by oil glands and found within sebum – makes contact with air, it oxidizes and turns dark. Blackheads are a mild, usually painless form of acne, as there’s less inflammation associated with this type of lesion.
How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
Antibiotics are an acne treatment used to kill acne-causing bacteria. They may be applied directly on the skin (topical) or taken by mouth (oral). Topical antibiotics kill bacteria in the upper portion of your pores, while oral antibiotics can reach to the lower depths of the pores. Antibiotics used for acne treatment include clindamycin or tetracyclines like doxycycline or minocycline. These antibiotics are the most effective for treating acne because they both kill bacteria and act as anti-inflammatory agents to calm down the skin.
If you notice that you’re breaking out right around your period every month, your acne might be linked to hormones. “A sensitivity to the hormones called androgens manifests in the form of cystic acne,” says Linkner. Androgens, namely testosterone, cause the skin to produce more sebum. More sebum equals more acne. Birth control, which has estrogen and progestin, helps keep hormones balanced and skin clear. Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep, and YAZ are all FDA-approved as acne treatments.
Salicylic acid and azelaic acid. Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in whole-grain cereals and animal products. It has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many conventional acne treatments when used twice a day for at least four weeks. It's even more effective when used in combination with erythromycin. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is an option during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Side effects include skin discoloration and minor skin irritation.
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