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.
Chemical peels can be used to reduce the appearance of acne scars. 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. Higher concentrations of trichloroacetic acid (30–40%) are considered to be medium-strength peels and affect skin as deep as the papillary dermis. Formulations of trichloroacetic acid concentrated to 50% or more are considered to be deep chemical peels. 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.
You won't find a face wash in this list that's not universally beloved, but keep in mind that what works for one person won't work for everyone. The biggest secret to finding a great facial cleanser is choosing one that's formulated for your skin type: dry, oily, combination, sensitive or blemished. Unfortunately, few women really know their skin type.
Properly selected face cleanser will help rid your skin of bacteria that clog pores and multiply in them. High-quality face cleaning also removes dead skin cells, making acne treatment more effective. It will take a strong but gentle remedy to remove dirt without new irritations. Therefore, you should avoid abrasive scrubs and soaps for the face, which can deprive the skin of its natural oils and may cause the painful irritation.
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A complete skin care regimen to control acne usually starts with washing. The ideal face wash creates a soft creamy lather in warm water. It rinses off dirt, excess oil, and makeup, leaving the face ready for the next step in daily skin care, whether that is toner, moisturizer, exfoliant, sunblock, or more makeup. It is fragrance-free, and it does not create a foam, film, or tingly sensation on the face. Any product that foams and suds vigorously, like a detergent, is a strict no-no for acne treatment, especially on dry skin.
Sometimes birth control alone isn’t enough to really make a difference in hormonal acne. That’s when your doctor might recommend adding in an androgen blocker such as Spironalactone. Spiro (as it’s called) minimizes the amount of androgen hormones in circulation by blocking the receptors that bind with testosterone. When these pills are taken at the same time as an oral contraceptive, 90 percent of women see an improvement in breakouts, according to Linkner. The drug is sometimes prescribed to women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to relieve androgen-related symptoms like excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.
A 2013 study on acne vulgaris in The Nurse Practitioner concurred that a multidimensional approach to acne is usually necessary because most people have a combination of symptoms. Based on the advice of dermatologists and aestheticians, we turned our focus to regimen sets, analyzing the ingredients of more than 40 kits before finding our top picks.
A major mechanism of acne-related skin inflammation is mediated by P. acnes's ability to bind and activate a class of immune system receptors known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), especially TLR2 and TLR4. Activation of TLR2 and TLR4 by P. acnes leads to increased secretion of IL-1α, IL-8, and TNF-α. Release of these inflammatory signals attracts various immune cells to the hair follicle including neutrophils, macrophages, and Th1 cells. IL-1α stimulates increased skin cell activity and reproduction, which in turn fuels comedo development. Furthermore, sebaceous gland cells produce more antimicrobial peptides, such as HBD1 and HBD2, in response to binding of TLR2 and TLR4.
Simple alcohols like isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and denatured alcohol are everywhere in acne treatment because they trick you into thinking they’re working: Splash some on and any oil on your face instantly vaporizes. However, these ingredients destroy the skin’s barrier, called the acid mantle. When your acid mantle is damaged, you’re actually more susceptible to breakouts, enlarged pores, and inflammation. To make matters worse, evaporating all the oil on your face can actually set your sebaceous glands into overdrive, leaving your skin oilier than ever. If any product included a simple alcohol high up in its ingredients list, we nixed its whole kit.
“You unfortunately cannot determine the strength of a product strictly by the percentage of its active ingredients because how well a product works depends on how well its inactive ingredients help it penetrate the skin,” explains Dr. Green. “In other words, a 2 percent benzoyl peroxide may be more effective than another brand’s 5 percent benzoyl peroxide because there are other ingredients helping out.”
Exposed Skin Care: Exposed Skin Care products include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid (see below for more details), all at low concentrations that are safe for all skin types. Plus they also incorporate powerful natural ingredients, like tea tree oil, vitamin E, and green tea extract. Before jumping straight to the strongest (and harshest) prescription treatment available, we highly recommend giving this gentle but effective brand a try for a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, you can always send your empty product bottles back to the company and they will reimburse you in full.
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). PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies. 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. 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. 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. As of 2012, evidence for various light therapies was insufficient to recommend them for routine use. 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. 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; it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications. 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. Typical side effects include skin peeling, temporary reddening of the skin, swelling, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
If you’re used to seeing advertisements for acne treatments using five or six different products to clear up blemishes, you might be surprised that a simple three-step kit is our top pick. In fact, we favored Paula’s Choice for its simplicity. This twice-daily, three-step kit — which includes a cleanser, an anti-redness exfoliant, and a leave-on treatment — is concise without cutting corners.
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In severe cases, oral isotretinoin may be considered. This medication can be very effective but can also cause serious side effects including severe birth defects. Strict protocols must be followed. Monthly appointments with the treating doctor must be kept throughout the treatment period to monitor for any side effects. In females of child-bearing age, protocol includes two forms of birth control. The treatment period is usually five months.
Lastly, it is important to incorporate topical medications such as retinoids, topical antibiotics and topical anti-inflammatory agents to better resolve and control the adult acne. Added benefits such as anti-aging with use of topical retinoids are a plus as well. Thus, there is hope for adult female acne. Birth control pills that contain estrogen or medication that decreases the effects of male hormones (antiandrogens) may help certain women. Some birth control pills have been approved for the treatment of acne. Dr. Turner can help you determine if this is an effective treatment option for you.
Acne treatment that you apply to the skin: Most acne treatments are applied to the skin. Your dermatologist may call this topical treatment. There are many topical acne treatments. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic, or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.