Warning: Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. But it is an effective ingredient at drying up pus-filled pimples and whiteheads (you’ve gotta take the good with the bad). It works by sucking up the oil. Sulfur is typically mixed with other active ingredients to get the most efficacy and fragrances to mask the strong scent. You can often find it in masks and spot treatments.
The earliest pathologic change is the formation of a plug (a microcomedone), which is driven primarily by excessive growth, reproduction, and accumulation of skin cells in the hair follicle. In normal skin, the skin cells that have died come up to the surface and exit the pore of the hair follicle. However, increased production of oily sebum in those with acne causes the dead skin cells to stick together. The accumulation of dead skin cell debris and oily sebum blocks the pore of the hair follicle, thus forming the microcomedone. This is further exacerbated by the biofilm created by C. acnes within the hair follicle. If the microcomedone is superficial within the hair follicle, the skin pigment melanin is exposed to air, resulting in its oxidation and dark appearance (known as a blackhead or open comedo). In contrast, if the microcomedone occurs deep within the hair follicle, this causes the formation of a whitehead (known as a closed comedo).
Recommended therapies for first-line use in acne vulgaris treatment include topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and topical or oral antibiotics. Procedures such as light therapy and laser therapy are not considered to be first-line treatments and typically have an adjunctive role due to their high cost and limited evidence of efficacy. Medications for acne work by targeting the early stages of comedo formation and are generally ineffective for visible skin lesions; improvement in the appearance of acne is typically expected between eight and twelve weeks after starting therapy.
Clascoterone is a topical antiandrogen which has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of acne in both males and females and is currently in the late stages of clinical development. It has shown no systemic absorption or associated antiandrogenic side effects. In a direct head-to-head comparison, clascoterone showed greater effectiveness than topical isotretinoin. 5α-Reductase inhibitors such as finasteride and dutasteride may be useful for the treatment of acne in both males and females, but have not been thoroughly evaluated for this purpose. In addition, the high risk of birth defects with 5α-reductase inhibitors limits their use in women. However, 5α-reductase inhibitors can be combined with birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and are frequently used to treat excessive hair in women. There is no evidence as of 2010 to support the use of cimetidine or ketoconazole in the treatment of acne.
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.
Washing your face with regular soap isn't enough to make acne better. The best face wash for acne is effective at removing oil and dirt, but still gentle enough to use regularly without overdrying your skin. Look for topical acne medication ingredients salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide in your face wash and use gentle, nonabrasive cleansing techniques.
Because baby acne typically disappears on its own within several months, no medical treatment is usually recommended. If your baby's acne lingers for much longer, your baby's doctor may recommend a medicated cream or other treatment. Don't try any over-the-counter medications without checking with your baby's doctor first. Some of these products may be damaging to a baby's delicate skin.
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."
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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).