Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
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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).

Another vice that can lead to worsened acne is alcohol. As we mentioned, your diet and acne are related. One glass of wine won’t trigger a breakout – even contains beneficial antioxidants! – but excessive alcohol consumption can alter your hormone levels. Making matters worse, many people drink due to stress, which also affects acne-inducing hormones. Alcohol impairs the liver’s ability to purify toxins, and if the liver is compromised, toxins are expelled through different channels such as your skin. It’s full of that sugar we just warned you about and weakens your immune system, which inhibits your body’s natural ability to fight off P. acnes bacteria. If you pass out after a night of drinking without washing your face, your pores are more likely to become clogged and create pimples. Almost everyone enjoys indulging in a drink every now and then, but moderation here is key.


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All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
You've probably seen the Proactiv clear skin system advertised on television at some point over the last several years, but does it work? Proactiv is one of the better acne remedies out there for mild cases of inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, hormonal acne and adult acne. The starter kit comes with a gentle benzoyl peroxide exfoliating cleanser, a glycolic acid pore cleanser, and a benzoyl peroxide repairing treatment. 

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.”
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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.
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.
Everything you need to know about blackheads Blackheads are small lesions that often appear on the face or neck. They are a feature of mild acne, and handling blackheads in the right way can help to prevent the acne from becoming more severe. We look at ways to reduce and treat breakouts. Learn more about what causes blackheads and how to get rid of them here. Read now
Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
But the side effects of targeted breakout cream treatments aren’t always worth it. “So many products instruct consumers to use benzoyl peroxide spot treat red bumps and pustules. I don’t recommend it,” says Dr. Lawrence Green, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University. Such high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide cause added irritation and inflammation to already sensitive skin, so with this in mind, we cut kits that included spot treatments.
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]
Light therapy is a treatment method that involves delivering certain specific wavelengths of light to an area of skin affected by acne. Both regular and laser light have been used. When regular light is used immediately following the application of a sensitizing substance to the skin such as aminolevulinic acid or methyl aminolevulinate, the treatment is referred to as photodynamic therapy (PDT).[10][129] PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies.[78] Many different types of nonablative lasers (i.e., lasers that do not vaporize the top layer of the skin but rather induce a physiologic response in the skin from the light) have been used to treat acne, including those that use infrared wavelengths of light. Ablative lasers (such as CO2 and fractional types) have also been used to treat active acne and its scars. When ablative lasers are used, the treatment is often referred to as laser resurfacing because, as mentioned previously, the entire upper layers of the skin are vaporized.[140] Ablative lasers are associated with higher rates of adverse effects compared with nonablative lasers, with examples being postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, persistent facial redness, and persistent pain.[8][141][142] Physiologically, certain wavelengths of light, used with or without accompanying topical chemicals, are thought to kill bacteria and decrease the size and activity of the glands that produce sebum.[129] The evidence for light therapy as a treatment for acne is weak and inconclusive.[8][143] Disadvantages of light therapy can include its cost, the need for multiple visits, time required to complete the procedure(s), and pain associated with some of the treatment modalities.[10] Various light therapies appear to provide a short-term benefit, but data for long-term outcomes, and for outcomes in those with severe acne, are sparse;[144] it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications.[10] A 2016 meta-analysis was unable to conclude whether light therapies were more beneficial than placebo or no treatment, nor how long potential benefits lasted.[145] Typical side effects include skin peeling, temporary reddening of the skin, swelling, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[10]
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Rosemary oil has been around for years and used topically for acne and inflamed skin. (15) A Chinese study concluded that rosemary essential oil helps decrease acne due to its antibacterial effects. To better understand the effects, the study increased the concentration of the rosemary essential oil, resulting in severely damaged bacterial bodies. Treated bacteria eventually led to bacterial death. (16) 
You've probably seen the Proactiv clear skin system advertised on television at some point over the last several years, but does it work? Proactiv is one of the better acne remedies out there for mild cases of inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, hormonal acne and adult acne. The starter kit comes with a gentle benzoyl peroxide exfoliating cleanser, a glycolic acid pore cleanser, and a benzoyl peroxide repairing treatment.
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]

Popping pimples seems to be the quickest way to make the red spots on our skin disappear. But it can permanently damage your skin! When you squeeze a pimple, you’re actually forcing the oil substance and dead skin cells deeper into the follicle. The extra pressure exerted will make the follicle wall rupture, and spill the infected materials into the innermost part of our skin. This skin damage will lead to the loss of tissue, and finally cause acne scars.[2]


“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.”


Processed Foods: Ingredients found in processed and junk food such as chips, breakfast cereals and white bread are acne-inducing villains. Preservatives and additives can trigger hormonal fluctuations, and greasy fast food leads to inflammation all over your body – including your face. Refined grains are quickly broken down and turned into sugar, which creates a terrible effect on skin by aggravating acne.

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]


In general, it is recommended that people with acne do not wash affected skin more than twice daily.[15] For people with acne and sensitive skin, a fragrance free moisturizer may be used to reduce irritation. Skin irritation from acne medications typically peaks at two weeks after onset of use and tends to improve with continued use.[15] Cosmetic products that specifically say "non-comedogenic", "oil-free", and "won't clog pores" are recommended.[15]
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.
Although the late stages of pregnancy are associated with an increase in sebaceous gland activity in the skin, pregnancy has not been reliably associated with worsened acne severity.[137] In general, topically applied medications are considered the first-line approach to acne treatment during pregnancy, as they have little systemic absorption and are therefore unlikely to harm a developing fetus.[137] Highly recommended therapies include topically applied benzoyl peroxide (category C) and azelaic acid (category B).[137] Salicylic acid carries a category C safety rating due to higher systemic absorption (9–25%), and an association between the use of anti-inflammatory medications in the third trimester and adverse effects to the developing fetus including too little amniotic fluid in the uterus and early closure of the babies' ductus arteriosus blood vessel.[47][137] Prolonged use of salicylic acid over significant areas of the skin or under occlusive dressings is not recommended as these methods increase systemic absorption and the potential for fetal harm.[137] Tretinoin (category C) and adapalene (category C) are very poorly absorbed, but certain studies have suggested teratogenic effects in the first trimester.[137] Due to persistent safety concerns, topical retinoids are not recommended for use during pregnancy.[138] In studies examining the effects of topical retinoids during pregnancy, fetal harm has not been seen in the second and third trimesters.[137] Retinoids contraindicated for use during pregnancy include the topical retinoid tazarotene, and oral retinoids isotretinoin and acitretin (all category X).[137] Spironolactone is relatively contraindicated for use during pregnancy due to its antiandrogen effects.[1] Finasteride is not recommended as it is highly teratogenic.[1]
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Eat healthily. Foods that are highly processed and contain a lot of oils greatly increase the amount of acne on your body. Getting the proper amount of nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein help your skin to regenerate faster and limit unnecessary oil production. When at all possible, avoid foods that are processed or contain a lot of sugar (think junk foods).[11]
The use of antimicrobial peptides against C. acnes is under investigation as a treatment for acne to overcoming antibiotic resistance.[10] 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.[179] Oral and topical probiotics are also being evaluated as treatments for acne.[180] 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.[180] As of 2014, studies examining the effects of probiotics on acne in humans were limited.[180]

It’s no surprise that coconut oil may help since it’s so useful in just about anything. But there is a reason for this. Coconut oil contains properties that encourage the elimination of bacteria, which is why there are so many uses of coconut oil for skin. Lauric acid is the main ingredient in coconut oil, and this acid that makes it an effective treatment against acne because it provides antibacterial results. (17)  

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.


Antibiotics. These work by killing excess skin bacteria and reducing redness. For the first few months of treatment, you may use both a retinoid and an antibiotic, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. The antibiotics are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin). Topical antibiotics alone aren't recommended.
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