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Dear acne, you suck. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that affects women and men in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s. It’s just not fair (throws childlike temper tantrum). And if you thought blackheads and whiteheads were annoying, the deep painful pimples that often pop up in adult acne are much more aggravating—and harder to get rid of. So, we talked to dermatologists to find out which acne treatments are the most effective on all types of pimples.

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.


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]
Dear acne, you suck. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that affects women and men in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s. It’s just not fair (throws childlike temper tantrum). And if you thought blackheads and whiteheads were annoying, the deep painful pimples that often pop up in adult acne are much more aggravating—and harder to get rid of. So, we talked to dermatologists to find out which acne treatments are the most effective on all types of pimples.

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.
All acne is not, actually, created equal. This makes perfect sense, seeing as there are so many factors — i.e. hygiene, hormones, and genetics — that can both lead to and exacerbate your breakouts. But knowledge is power, and just knowing that there are different types, and that each kind requires its own plan of attack, puts you ahead of the clear-skin curve. Once you figure out what you're working with, it gets far easier to treat. Here, your ultimate guide to identifying, and then taking down, every type of acne out there, according to dermatologists. Find out how to identify and deal with the different kinds of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, blind pimples, and cystic zits.
The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943.[83] Benzoyl peroxide was first proposed as a treatment in 1958 and has been routinely used for this purpose since the 1960s.[168] Acne treatment was modified in the 1950s with the introduction of oral tetracycline antibiotics (such as minocycline). These reinforced the idea amongst dermatologists that bacterial growth on the skin plays an important role in causing acne.[164] Subsequently, in the 1970s tretinoin (original trade name Retin A) was found to be an effective treatment.[169] The development of oral isotretinoin (sold as Accutane and Roaccutane) followed in 1980.[170] After its introduction in the United States it was recognized as a medication highly likely to cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy. In the United States, more than 2,000 women became pregnant while taking isotretinoin between 1982 and 2003, with most pregnancies ending in abortion or miscarriage. About 160 babies were born with birth defects.[171][172]
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.
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How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
Several scales exist to grade the severity of acne vulgaris, but no single technique has been universally accepted as the diagnostic standard.[68][69] Cook's acne grading scale uses photographs to grade severity from 0 to 8 (0 being the least severe and 8 being the most severe). This scale was the first to use a standardized photographic protocol to assess acne severity; since its creation in 1979, the scale has undergone several revisions.[69] The Leeds acne grading technique counts acne lesions on the face, back, and chest and categorizes them as inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Leeds scores range from 0 (least severe) to 10 (most severe) though modified scales have a maximum score of 12.[69][70] The Pillsbury acne grading scale simply classifies the severity of the acne from grade 1 (least severe) to grade 4 (most severe).[68][71]
Any acne treatment is a weeks-long experiment that you’re conducting with your skin. Acne is slow to heal, and in some cases, it can get worse before it gets better (nearly every benzoyl peroxide product we looked at emphasized the likeliness of irritating acne further, and starting off with a lighter application). April W. Armstrong, a doctor at the University of California Davis Health System, recommends waiting at least one month before you deem a product ineffective.
Many skin conditions can mimic acne vulgaris, and these are collectively known as acneiform eruptions.[28] Such conditions include angiofibromas, epidermal cysts, flat warts, folliculitis, keratosis pilaris, milia, perioral dermatitis, and rosacea, among others.[20][72] Age is one factor which may help distinguish between these disorders. Skin disorders such as perioral dermatitis and keratosis pilaris can appear similar to acne but tend to occur more frequently in childhood, whereas rosacea tends to occur more frequently in older adults.[20] Facial redness triggered by heat or the consumption of alcohol or spicy food is suggestive of rosacea.[73] The presence of comedones helps health professionals differentiate acne from skin disorders that are similar in appearance.[8] Chloracne, due to exposure to certain chemicals, may look very similar to acne vulgaris.[74]
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^ Jump up to: a b c Zaenglein, AL; Graber, EM; Thiboutot, DM (2012). "Chapter 80 Acne Vulgaris and Acneiform Eruptions". In Goldsmith, Lowell A.; Katz, Stephen I.; Gilchrest, Barbara A.; Paller, Amy S.; Lefell, David J.; Wolff, Klaus (eds.). Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 897–917. ISBN 978-0-07-171755-7.
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.
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca, is one of my favorite and most recommended remedies for acne because it has amazing microbial properties that help fight the bacteria causes acne. A study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology revealed that tea tree oil provides positive results for mild acne with no serious adverse effects. The study asked participants to apply tea tree oil to the affected area of the face twice a day for three months with assessments conducted at four, eight and 12 weeks of use. The acne was reduced, making tea tree oil a great choice for how to get rid of pimples. (14)
Several scales exist to grade the severity of acne vulgaris, but no single technique has been universally accepted as the diagnostic standard.[68][69] Cook's acne grading scale uses photographs to grade severity from 0 to 8 (0 being the least severe and 8 being the most severe). This scale was the first to use a standardized photographic protocol to assess acne severity; since its creation in 1979, the scale has undergone several revisions.[69] The Leeds acne grading technique counts acne lesions on the face, back, and chest and categorizes them as inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Leeds scores range from 0 (least severe) to 10 (most severe) though modified scales have a maximum score of 12.[69][70] The Pillsbury acne grading scale simply classifies the severity of the acne from grade 1 (least severe) to grade 4 (most severe).[68][71]
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Tea tree oil is renowned for being good for your skin. In addition to this, it also contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which makes it highly beneficial for acne treatment. In fact, studies that compare tea tree oil to the acne medication benzoyl peroxide shows it to be just as effective. But please remember to dilute tea tree oil before you use it; otherwise, your skin may get irritated.
If you have acne that's not responding to self-care and over-the-counter treatments, make an appointment with your doctor. Early, effective treatment of acne reduces the risk of scarring and of lasting damage to your self-esteem. After an initial examination, your doctor may refer you to a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions (dermatologist).
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