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Efforts to better understand the mechanisms of sebum production are underway. The aim of this research is to develop medications that target and interfere with the hormones that are known to increase sebum production (e.g., IGF-1 and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone).[10] Additional sebum-lowering medications being researched include topical antiandrogens and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor modulators.[10] Another avenue of early-stage research has focused on how to best use laser and light therapy to selectively destroy sebum-producing glands in the skin's hair follicles in order to reduce sebum production and improve acne appearance.[10]
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]
Pharaohs are recorded as having had acne, which may be the earliest known reference to the disease. Since at least the reign of Cleopatra (69–30 BC), the application of sulfur to the skin has been recognized as a useful treatment for acne.[163] The sixth-century Greek physician Aëtius of Amida is credited with coining the term "ionthos" (ίονθωξ,) or "acnae", which is believed to have been a reference to facial skin lesions that occur during "the 'acme' of life" (puberty).[164]
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.
Bowling was right not to worry. Baby acne — or newborn acne, as it’s called to distinguish it from infantile acne, which occurs in older babies — is usually harmless and quite common. “It occurs in about 20 percent of newborns, typically around the time when they’re 3 – to 4-weeks-old,” says Mary Yurko, M.D., PhD, a pediatric dermatologist in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Acne is at least in part due to hereditary factors. Those whose parents have a history of acne are likely to struggle with the same condition. Your genetic makeup can determine how to get rid of pimples, how sensitive your skin is, how reactive you are to hormonal fluctuations, how quickly you shed skin cells, how you respond to inflammation, how strong your immune system is to fight off bacteria, how much oil your sebaceous glands produce, and the list goes on and on. All of these determinants can cause acne to develop more easily and determine what’s good for pimples in your complexion.

How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
Azelaic acid has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate acne when applied topically at a 20% concentration.[66][129] Treatment twice daily for six months is necessary, and is as effective as topical benzoyl peroxide 5%, isotretinoin 0.05%, and erythromycin 2%.[130] Azelaic acid is thought to be an effective acne treatment due to its ability to reduce skin cell accumulation in the follicle, and its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.[66] It has a slight skin-lightening effect due to its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis, and is therefore useful in treating of individuals with acne who are also affected by postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[1] Azelaic acid may cause skin irritation but is otherwise very safe.[131] It is less effective and more expensive than retinoids.[1]
There has been a long-observed link between higher stress levels and the incidence of breakouts, and studies have shown that stress can worsen acne’s frequency and severity. Sebaceous glands contain receptors for stress hormones, making them upregulated and kicking sebum production into overdrive. Unfortunately, those with stress sometimes fall victim to a vicious acne cycle. Anxious types have a tendency to pick their skin and pop pimples under stress. This bad habit can exacerbate blemishes by pushing the buildup deeper into the pore, inducing cellular damage, rupturing cellular walls, and spreading bacteria. In extreme cases, sometimes people become so worried or embarrassed about their skin that they compulsively pick at every little thing that shows up. This condition is called acne excoriee, and can turn mild acne into severe scars.
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.
The severity of acne vulgaris (Gr. ἀκµή, "point" + L. vulgaris, "common")[24] can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe as this helps to determine an appropriate treatment regimen.[20] There is no universally accepted scale for grading acne severity.[15] Mild acne is classically defined by the presence of clogged skin follicles (known as comedones) limited to the face with occasional inflammatory lesions.[20] Moderate severity acne is said to occur when a higher number of inflammatory papules and pustules occur on the face compared to mild cases of acne and are found on the trunk of the body.[20] Severe acne is said to occur when nodules (the painful 'bumps' lying under the skin) are the characteristic facial lesions and involvement of the trunk is extensive.[20][25]
Combination therapy—using medications of different classes together, each with a different mechanism of action—has been demonstrated to be a more efficacious approach to acne treatment than monotherapy.[10][47] The use of topical benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics together has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics alone.[10] Similarly, using a topical retinoid with an antibiotic clears acne lesions faster than the use of antibiotics alone.[10] Frequently used combinations include the following: antibiotic and benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic and topical retinoid, or topical retinoid and benzoyl peroxide.[47] The pairing of benzoyl peroxide with a retinoid is preferred over the combination of a topical antibiotic with a retinoid since both regimens are effective but benzoyl peroxide does not lead to antibiotic resistance.[10]
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]
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.”
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]
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]
Therefore, it is very important that you wear sunscreen everyday, with an SPF of 30.Of note, after SPF 30, there are decreasing marginal returns in UVB protection. The % of UVB protection as a function of SPF Value is a log graph and plateaus after SPF 30. Therefore, there is not much difference in protection between SPF 40 and 50. Sunscreens with an SPF 100 are banned in some countries.
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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