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.
Hormonal acne is exactly what it sounds like: breakouts that are tied to fluctuations in hormones. If your skin flares up at the same time each month, tends to occur in the same spot (chin, cheeks, jawline), and is characterized by pimples that are deep and cystic, your acne might be hormonal. Hormonal acne is usually due to a sensitivity to androgens, which are a specific type of hormone. With respect to acne, the androgen in charge is testosterone. Testosterone (and estrogen) are produced and needed by both sexes, but women are sensitive to extraneous amounts since it’s unnecessary for their typical functioning. The excess androgen has to go somewhere, and is usually purged via the skin’s androgen receptor cells which creates breakouts. While testosterone remains in the bloodstream, it increases sebum production and can make breakouts worse.
1. Topical Treatment: This refers to acne medications which are applied directly onto the skin, such as creams, gels, serums and ointments. Topical treatments can be found over-the-counter (OTC) or at a pharmacy when prescribed by a doctor. If you’re shopping for topical treatment solutions, look for products that contain acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid that can penetrate pores to loosen and dissolve debris. Topical solutions are generally best suited to treat mild to moderate acne. 2. Systematic Treatment: Systemic acne medications are consumed orally, such as antibiotics or hormone pills, and work from the inside out to help clear your complexion. Antibiotics can help kill the bacteria lodged within infected pores to reduce inflammation, redness and swelling. Hormones pills such as birth control are frequently used to regulate androgen levels and treat hormonal acne. You won’t be able to purchase systemic treatments OTC and will need a doctor’s recommendation for these medications.
Dapsone has shown efficacy against inflammatory acne but is generally not a first-line topical antibiotic due to higher cost and lack of clear superiority over other antibiotics. It is sometimes a preferred therapy in women or for people with sensitive or darker toned skin. Topical dapsone is not recommended for use with benzoyl peroxide due to yellow-orange skin discoloration with this combination. While minocycline is shown to be an effective acne treatment, it is no longer recommended as a first-line antibiotic due to a lack of evidence that it is better than other treatments, and concerns of safety compared to other tetracyclines.
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.
The use of antimicrobial peptides against C. acnes is under investigation as a treatment for acne to overcoming antibiotic resistance. In 2007, the first genome sequencing of a C. acnes bacteriophage (PA6) was reported. The authors proposed applying this research toward development of bacteriophage therapy as an acne treatment in order to overcome the problems associated with long-term antibiotic therapy such as bacterial resistance. Oral and topical probiotics are also being evaluated as treatments for acne. Probiotics have been hypothesized to have therapeutic effects for those affected by acne due to their ability to decrease skin inflammation and improve skin moisture by increasing the skin's ceramide content. As of 2014, studies examining the effects of probiotics on acne in humans were limited.
In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide. Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world. Lower rates are reported in some rural societies. Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty. 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.
Inflammatory Acne: Inflammatory acne is red bumps and pustules, not whiteheads, blackheads and comedones. It doesn't necessarily start as them, either. It arises on its own. Whiteheads, blackheads or comedones that become inflamed can be painful and unsightly. Persistent inflammatory acne may require treatment by a physician or dermatologist, in addition to over-the-counter acne remedies.
Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne vulgaris and can be caused by a variety of factors. This type of acne sees painful lesions develop deep within the skin, which could result in permanent scarring or hyperpigmentation. Cystic acne is easily diagnosed due it its pronounced, inflamed lesions. However, you should consult a dermatologist to rule out other skin conditions which might mimic acne such as rosacea, psoriasis or perioral dermatitis.
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.
Diet. Studies indicate that certain dietary factors, including skim milk and carbohydrate-rich foods — such as bread, bagels and chips — may worsen acne. Chocolate has long been suspected of making acne worse. A small study of 14 men with acne showed that eating chocolate was related to a worsening of symptoms. Further study is needed to examine why this happens and whether people with acne would benefit from following specific dietary restrictions.