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).
Acne usually improves around the age of 20, but may persist into adulthood.[75] Permanent physical scarring may occur.[20] There is good evidence to support the idea that acne and associated scarring negatively affect a person's psychological state, worsen mood, lower self-esteem, and are associated with a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts.[3][31][51] Another psychological complication of acne vulgaris is acne excoriée, which occurs when a person persistently picks and scratches pimples, irrespective of the severity of their acne.[61][156] This can lead to significant scarring, changes in the affected person's skin pigmentation, and a cyclic worsening of the affected person's anxiety about their appearance.[61] Rare complications from acne or its treatment include the formation of pyogenic granulomas, osteoma cutis, and solid facial edema.[157] Early and aggressive treatment of acne is advocated by some in the medical community to reduce the chances of these poor outcomes.[4]
How to Handle It: Consider salicylic acid your secret weapon. "This beta hydroxy acid helps remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells from the skin's surface to keep pores clear," says Zeichner. Try Clinique's Acne Solution Clearing Gel, a two-time Best of Beauty winner that packs both salicylic acid and sea whip extract — an ingredient with skin-soothing properties — to help counteract the dryness sometimes caused by salicylic acid. The formula does double duty: It works as a spot treatment for mild to moderate acne and as a nightly allover treatment for pimple prevention. And since it dries clear, you can wear it to fight zits whenever, wherever.
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]
Acne that’s more inflammatory is denoted as moderate acne. This happens when there are occasional nodules and possibly mild scarring. Severe acne occurs when there are a lot of inflammatory lesions, nodules and possibly scarring. It’s also considered severe if the acne is still present after six months of treatment or if it causes serious psychological issues.
If your acne is severe, painful, or refusing to get lost, you may just be beyond what an over-the-counter treatment can do. Not only can a professional set you up with the really powerful stuff, but also Fitz Patrick explains that “working closely with an aesthetician or dermatologist means you can keep tweaking a routine to make it work best for you.”

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.
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Acne remedies benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are key ingredients in body washes designed to get rid of acne. Choose an oil-free body wash with acne medication like benzoyl peroxide or 2 percent salicylic acid. Apply the body wash to the affected areas and leave on for a minute or two to allow the acne medication to work its magic. Rinse well. Remember that products that contain benzoyl peroxide bleach fabric and may ruin towels, clothes and sheets/pillow cases. Change to white or something you don't mind bleaching.
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]
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.
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Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
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