Acne is one of the most common skin conditions. It can pose a painful dilemma and severely impact a person’s self-esteem.
Acne occurs when various pores are blocked. This is frequently due to overactive oil glands, dead skin build-up, or bacteria. And when this happens, the skin becomes inflamed creating what is called a pimple or zit.
It can also occur almost anywhere on the body – most commonly on the face, back, chest, neck, or shoulders.
There are also two types of pimples. Blackheads are open sores, which is why they appear black. Whiteheads are closed and located under the skin, making them appear white. And unfortunately, if a person scratches these spots, it can leave obvious scarring and skin damage.
Luckily, there are various acne treatments available today. There’s a mix of at-home/DIY remedies, as well as many medications, which will be explained in further detail below.
Best Acne Treatments
1ProActiv Solution 3 Step Acne Treatment System
ProActiv is the best selling acne treatment. Their 3 step acne care system includes a cleanser, a toner, and a repair treatment. These work together to clear up existing acne, soothe inflammation or redness, and prevent new breakouts.
This treatment features micro-crystal benzoyl peroxide, an acne medicine that has been proven effective in a form that is quick to work. It targets the cause of your acne at the oil production and dead skin cell level. The cleanser and repair treatment both use the benzoyl peroxide to work, while the toner refreshes and soothes your skin, cutting down on some of the typical side effects and irritation benzoyl peroxide may initially create.
ProActive was developed in the 90s by professional dermatologists. The cleanser exfoliates, cleans, and treats acne. The toner balances your skin, removes excess oil, exfoliates dead skin cells, and hydrates you. The repair treatment attacks acne at the source and treats it to repair your skin.
In this six week treatment, the first week is about getting your skin used to the treatment. This will be the hardest and driest week. The next week starts to unclog your pores. Week 3 is where your acne blemishes begin to heal, and your skin tone starts evening out more. Week 4 is where some people will stop treating their acne because the breakouts are mostly gone, and their skin is soft and healthy but stick with it because acne moves in cycles.
During the 5th week, your skin starts removing the marks and scars left by previous acne breakouts. In the final week, your skin will be done with initial treatment and entering a time where you just need to maintain a good routine to help prevent breakouts.
2Drmtlgy 24 Hour Acne Serum
This serum works as a quick spot treatment for acne and cystic acne. It uses micronized benzoyl peroxide 5 with glycolic acid to zap away zits for fast relief. Within 24 hours, your breakout will be treated, whether you have whiteheads or blackheads that need to go away. This serum also dissolves the oils that clog your pores without drying out your skin, which also helps prevent future breakouts. It contains the purest form of benzoyl peroxide 5%, the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) grade that will deeply penetrate your pores to eliminate the breakouts that are forming before they occur.
The glycolic acid 5% will help to reduce the scarring that acne causes. This sugarcane-based acid exfoliates so that your cells replenish quickly and remove debris. This results in a clear complexion with fewer scars. This serum can reduce inflammation, smooth out redness, and unclog pores on the face, chest, and back. It is effective at reducing the oil in your pores by up to 85% and recommended by dermatologists. It is safe for dry, oily, combination, and normal skin types.
Drmtlgy 24 Hour Acne Serum is also paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free, so you can rest assured that you’re putting good things into your body and leaving behind the damaging ingredients. It is also gluten free and alcohol free, so you won’t feel as much of a burn as other products. It contains no formaldehyde and no hormones. The product was made in the USA and is Prop 65 compliant.
3Acne Free 3 Step 24 Hour Acne Treatment Kit
The Acne Free kit has become one of the best-selling acne kits in retail stores throughout the USA. It was created by a dermatologist to clear up breakouts in 1 to 3 days. The product will clean up breakouts quickly then maintain your skin for up to 2 more months.
Their toner uses skincare ingredients that are found in nature. The witch hazel is also infused with glycolic acid and aloe vera to renew and soothe your skin as it removes debris and oil. The calming and hydrating toner will help prevent the sensitivity and irritation that some acne cleansing regimens cause.
This process works in 3 steps. First, you cleanse your skin with their cleanser. Leave it on for a few minutes so the benzoyl peroxide can penetrate into your pores. Next, rinse your face thoroughly and apply the toner. This will maximize the body’s ability to absorb the acne-fighting ingredients. Then it’s time to apply the treatment. This uses 3.7% benzoyl peroxide that offers a patented time-release formula that allows your face to get continuous treatment throughout the day rather than just at the time of application.
4Puriderma Acne Spot Treatment for Acne-Prone Skin
Puriderma Acne Spot Treatment uses a lot of the elements of nature to treat and soothe your skin. It combines premium tea tree oils with plant extracts and vitamin E to provide an all-natural, extra strength spot treatment for your acne. This treatment won’t work quite as quickly as benzoyl peroxide to treat your acne, but it comes with a great trade-off that is worth the wait.
There are far fewer aggressive side effects from this method. Studies that were conducted showed that tea tree oil was as effective as benzoyl peroxide with a slower onset but reduced side effects.
Along with the tea tree oil, this product uses the extract from the calendula officinalis flower, lavender extract, salix alba extract, and panax ginseng. These ingredients treat acne naturally instead of using medications that result in irritation, itching, and peeling.
5Differin Adapalene Gel
Differin Gel is another option that has withstood the test of time. Once available by prescription only, this gel has been released as safe for over the counter production and cleared by the FDA. This formula was developed by dermatologists and offers a lot less hassle compared with twice-daily 3-step routines, as it’s a once-daily topical gel.
Topical retinoids changed the way acne treatment worked by offering a great alternative to the previous acne forms. They have been studied frequently and proven effective. Differin gel was the first over the counter topical retinoid treatment to get cleared by the FDA.
This gel works by turning your cells over more quickly and reducing the inflammation that occurs underneath the surface of your skin. This can reduce up to 87% of acne in just 12 weeks. It’s gentle enough on your skin that you can even enjoy the sunlight without irritation.
6Iconic Acne Pimple Healing Patch
These acne healing patches will blend in with your skin. They use hydrocolloids to treat blemishes and spots while you go about your day. These patches also reduce inflammation, absorb pus and fluids from larger breakouts, and soothe your skin.
They are waterproof and breathable, offering 24 hours of protection that can be applied under makeup and are nearly invisible once applied to your skin. They are made from hypoallergenic ingredients and use a special hydrocolloid bandage. They use tea tree and Calendula oils to fight acne.
These patches let you know when it’s time to change them by turning white. They protect your upset acne-ridden pore from even more contaminants, too. The natural ingredients don’t irritate your skin or dry it out Simply clean your acne spot, dry your skin, then apply the patch.
7Eva Naturals Skin Clearing Serum Vitamin C+
This serum combines several different effective treatments to provide a supercharged face serum formula. It’s got 20% vitamin C, 2% salicylic acid, 5% hyaluronic acid, 3.5% niacinamide, 2% retinol, and 10% MSM to provide a skin cleanse that also reduces visible signs of aging.
This serum is made in the USA and offers a satisfaction guarantee. The antioxidants will protect your skin from the sun and repair any sun damage already existing. The hyaluronic acid moisturizes and hydrates, reducing signs of aging, and the Niacinamide naturally reduces inflammation and corrects hyperpigmentation.
This serum can unclog pores, minimize the size of them, exfoliate, and fight acne. The natural aloe and soothing ingredients counteract the side effects of the medications so it’s safe for all skin types.
8Cutie Academy Aliver Scar Removal Cream
Sometimes, clearing up a breakout just isn’t enough. The breakouts often leave red patches and scars all over your face. This gel is a great option or removing acne scars that linger once the breakout fades.
This product can drastically reduce and eliminate the appearance of scars in anywhere from 30 to 60 days, depending on how old and deep the scar runs. It uses natural ingredients like allatonin, Centella Asiatica, glycerin, and ginseng.
The Aliver gel can remove scars and acne marks, act as an anti-inflammatory, repair and regulate oil secretion, and penetrate into the skin to soften scar tissue, resulting in lighter skin. Not only is it effective on acne scars, but it also works well on burned skin, surgical scars, stretch marks, and more.
9Smacne 30 Day Acne Treatment Kit
Smacne uses tea tree oil, benzoyl peroxide, jojoba oil, aloe vera, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, ad hyaluronic acid for a total cystic acne treatment regime. It is one of the most complete acne treatments available for eliminating breakouts because it combines science and nature.
This treatment will cleanse your skin of any bacteria using a scientific cream that combines natural ingredients with benzoyl peroxide. It will also use glycolic and salicylic acids to exfoliate and unclog pores. Finally, it hydrates and moisturizes with hyaluronic acid, which will allow for more vibrant and healthy skin. It can even repair previous damage with the jojoba oil.
10NXN 4 Step Clear Skin System for Acne Treatment
The NXN kit uses probiotics and natural fruit extracts along with salicylic acid to treat breakouts for any skin type. The kit includes a toner, a cleanser, a spot treatment, and an overnight treatment.
The cleanser targets the skin most likely to get acne to prevent future breakouts. The toner is gentle and will clarify and prepare your skin for the targeted treatments. The treatment itself is a maximum strength sulfur infusion that will reduce your blemish size and eliminate acne.
The overnight treatment is lightweight and will help to clear up any congested skin. The organic green tea found in the formula will soothe skin and reduce redness while the salicylic acid will dissolve the dirt and oil clogging your pores.
How We Ranked
The first thing we looked at, when ranking the best acne treatment, was clinical trials. Anyone can say they effectively reduce acne, and a lot of people can get independent studies to look into their product. All of the acne treatments on our list underwent testing from scientists outside of the sales industry, standing up as effective in multiple trials across multiple different study options. Companies that provided multiple studies that were proven to be both fair and effective, like Proactiv and Puriderma, ranked highly.
Next we looked at the treatment ingredients. Although there are a lot of options, the treatments that have proven most effective scientifically are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids, and tea tree oils. All 4 of these have undergone extensive study and proved themselves to be more effective than even other types of treatment that passed clinical trials. Companies like Drmtlgy 24 Hour Acne Serum and Differin Adapalene Gel ranked highly because they used abundant amounts of proven ingredients.
Another thing we looked at was how your skin reacts to these products. A lot of acne medications are very aggressive and can often cause problems with itching and peeling that make the treatment miserable. The treatments in our list are appropriate for all skin types. Although one or two of them require caution, and could not reduce all of the effects, for our products, within a week of beginning treatment you should no longer experience too much irritation.
Finally, we insisted on natural ingredients and safe products. The products on our list do not contain toxins. They are safe for your skin. The majority of them derive their formula from all-natural ingredients found in nature, most of which people are already familiar with. Tea tree oil, lavender, aloe, and ginseng have been used for quite some time to soothe the body.
After all this, we determined the top 10 best acne treatments on the market.
1Benzoyl peroxide has been found to reduce inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. It further eliminates acne-causing bacteria, which may play a role in prevention.
Benzoyl peroxide has been used as an acne treatment agent for decades. A 1997 study explored benzoyl peroxide use in conjunction with clindamycin. Patients were treated with the topical gel for 11 weeks. Researchers found the 2 ingredients when combined together were superior to either of these compounds by themselves (1).
A more recent 2007 study concluded with similar results. Instead of using clindamycin, adapalene was used as the second ingredient. This study lasted 12 weeks. They evaluated the success of the solution based on lesion count, adverse effects, and cutaneous tolerability. As previous studies had found, it was an effective acne treatment and prevention method (2).
Many more studies have proven the use of benzoyl peroxide in treating acne. Another study found it was very effective for pustular and papular lesions, but that it had an even greater effect was found on inflammatory lesions (3).
2Salicylic acid helps the skin shed dead skin cells easier, without clogging pores. Some studies have even stated that its superior to the well-known benzoyl peroxide remedy (4).
One study explored salicylic acid peels in relation to acne treatment. 25 acne patients were treated with the salicylic acid peel for 2 weeks. This study found that the peels reduced acne and oily skin. Minimal side effects were found in about 16%, but moderate to significant improvements in acne symptoms were found in 88% (5).
3Blue light irradiation and laser therapy is considered a very effective acne treatment. A 2004 study looked at the use of blue light phototherapy in the treatment of acne. 31 participants were irradiated with blue light on one side of their face for facial acne 2 times a week for 4 weeks.
The other half of their face was left untreated and was considered the ‘control group’ to determine if the blue light made any difference. Researchers concluded that it was a viable treatment method. However, the researchers did not that it was better for patients with nodulocystic lesions (6).
Another study conducted in 2002 had similar findings. This particular study looked at 104 patients who had acne vulgaris. The 4 treatment groups were as follows: blue light, mixed blue and red light, cool white light and 5% benzoyl peroxide cream. In the phototherapy groups the therapy was performed for 15 minutes every day. After only 12 weeks, researchers saw a 76% improvement in inflammatory lesions in the mixed blue and red light group. The study further saw no adverse effects from this type of treatment (7).
Researchers further explored laser and light therapy acne treatment methods in another separate study. The study concluded by saying that laser and light therapy offered a faster solution for acne patients, with less side effects than oral antibiotics (8).
4Topical antibiotics is a viable acne treatment for inflammatory types of acne. Topical antibiotics have been used for over 30 years for acne treatment. However, a review of studies done in the past decades has shown that this type of treatment only works well for inflammatory acne types.
It further outlined how erythromycin, clindamycin or tetracycline when combined with zinc, tretinoin or benzoyl peroxide showed the best results. But for inflammatory acne types, it was not a sufficient treatment. The antibiotics target the inflammatory response, decreasing acne occurrence (9).
A major problem that has been noticed by scientists and doctors with the use of antibiotics for acne treatment is that a person may develop antimicrobial resistance (10).
5Sulfur-containing lotions, foams, and cleansers may also reduce and prevent acne. Scientists examined the use of a sodium sulfacetamide 10%-sulfur 5% foam treatment for acne. They did various case studies to determine its effectiveness.
The study discussed how it is worthwhile acne treatment in terms of reducing and maintaining that reduction. Most notably, this combination was found to have moisturizing capacities as well, preventing the drying out of the skin (11).
6The more natural, tea tree leave oil, may work just as well as benzoyl peroxide in acne treatment. An older study done in 1990 determined that tea tree oil also had a significant effect on acne conditions. The major difference was that the onset of the tea tree leave oil was slower than benzoyl peroxide. Yet, less adverse effects and side effects were found by participants that only used the tea tree leave oil (12).
A more recent study published in 2017 also looked into tea tree oil as an acne treatment. Participants used the tea tree oil gel directly on their face for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, participants had less facial acne lesions. These results showed that tea tree oil is an excellent acne treatment option for mild to moderate acne sufferers (13).
7Resorcinol topical prevents the build-up of skin cells. In one study, they looked at using resorcinol for chemical peels. It was found to reduce acne symptoms (14).
Typically, resorcinol is found with sulfur products for acne treatment. Many people find these works for them. However, some reports have shown that they do tend to dry out the skin, citing that a balanced skin routine involving moisturization is also important.
8Hormonal therapy is commonly used for women as an acne treatment. It is often used when other treatment methods have failed to work (15).
For instance, birth control pills are commonly prescribed to treat chronic acne issues. Studies have also shown that the hormones, DHT, testosterone, DHEAS, estrogens, the growth hormones, and the insulin-like growth factors, may play a significant role in acne development.
A 2010 review explored hormonal antiandrogens in relation to acne and its treatment. The review concluded stating that hormonal antiandrogens as treatment for acne is limited to women, particularly those that show signs of peripheral hyperandrogenism or hyperandrogenemia. It was also stated that this only seemed to work in these more complex cases (16).
A 1997 study observed the use of norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol for acne treatment in women. It was found to work effectively in treating moderate acne in the women that participated in the study (17).
9Flutamide is a nonsteroidal androgen receptor blocker that is frequently used to treat prostate cancer. Yet, it also shows promise in treating acne, again specifically in women. In fact, one study showed results involving an 80% improvement in acne symptoms when taking 250 milligrams of flutamide per day (18).
10Isotretinoin, a vitamin A medication, treats acne in more severe nodulocystic and inflammatory cases. But studies have noted severe side effects and it is usually a last resort. For example, hepatitis, hypertriglyceridemia, intracranial hypertension, arthralgia, myalgias, night blindness, and hyperostoses are rare but serious side effects that may result from the use of this treatment method.
It may also have detrimental effects if a woman is pregnant. There’s also been further worries that it may lead to psychiatric conditions, such as depression (19).
11Dermabrasion therapy is used to exfoliate the skin, removing more superficial layers, and thus, treating acne conditions. It helps prevent scarring, opens pores, and helps in the removal of dead skin cells. Few complications have been found by this method. Studies have reported it being a very effective acne treatment (20).
One study explored the use of dermabrasion therapy during treatment with oral isotretinoin. Surprisingly, researchers found this combined method to significantly reduce scarring in acne patients (21).
It has also been suggested to use laser or other combinations in conjunction with dermabrasion. The emphasis has largely been placed on its use in reducing scarring, especially on the facial area.
In one study, 22 people applied lactic acid lotion to their faces twice a day for one year. Most of them experienced a significant reduction in acne, while only two people experienced less than a 50% improvement (26).
13Apple cider vinegar may reduce the appearance of scarring. When applied directly to the skin, some of the organic acids found in apple cider vinegar have been shown to help with this. The process of applying organic acids to the skin is often referred to as “chemical peeling.” The acids remove the damaged, outer layers of the skin and promote regeneration.
Specifically, chemical peeling with succinic acid has been shown to suppress inflammation caused by P. acnes, which may help prevent scarring (27).
1Flare-ups involving acne are common. Sometimes, it may seem like a treatment method is working, but down the road a person may build up a tolerance or experience another flare-up.
2Most treatment is for the long-term. As aforementioned, flare-ups are common. Many acne sufferers end up using preventative methods for the rest of their life to avoid further incidences.
3Isotretinoin can cause reproductive problems, cutaneous issues, ocular issues, neurological effects, musculoskeletal problems, and hepatic issues (30).
4Benzoyl peroxide has found to be irritant to some individuals. Participants in a few studies reported an irritated dermatitis from treatment. It may also increase UV sensitivity and cause issues relating to toxicity (31, 32).
6Primrose oil can cause IBS like effects. This includes nausea, upset stomach, loose stools, headaches and stomach pain.
7Blue light or phototherapy treatment can cause pain, stinging, peeling, erythema, pruritus, oozing and pustules (35).
8Resorcinol may pose issues for pregnant women. Oral usage causes poisoning and a chain of other serious problems, including unconsciousness, drowsiness, seizures, hypothermia, and respiratory failure (36).
9Salicylic acid may cause an allergic reaction. However, this depends on the individual and it is rare. Usually, this kind of reaction occurs shortly after application, which is why it is important to apply a small amount to tiny area first.
10All topical drugs may cause dryness or skin irritation, such as allergies. It varies from individual to individual in most cases.
11Hormonal therapy may lead to mood swings or menstrual changes. However, there are a variety of different types. Make sure you thoroughly discuss with your doctor possibly side effects and risks involved.
In order to prevent skin damage, apple cider vinegar should be used in small amounts and diluted with water.
Aloe vera can be used in any amount to help treat acne.
Standard salicylic acid dosages for creams, washes, astringents, and other OTC products usually contain concentrations between 0.5 and 5 percent. It can be used at any point due its gentleness.
When using tea tree oil as acne treatment, the ideal ratio of water to tea is 9:1.
When selecting a benzoyl peroxide product, start with a 5 percent concentration. You may start with a gentle wash, and then move up to a gel-based version as your skin gets accustomed to the ingredient. If you aren’t seeing results after six weeks, you may move up to a 10 percent concentration.
But light therapy requires eight 10- or 20-minute treatments over a month.
The effective dosage for primrose oil to treat acne is six 450-milligram (mg) capsules of EPO three times daily for a total of eight weeks.
There is no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but most health organizations recommend healthy adults consume a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.
Apple cider vinegar should be diluted due to its high acidity. It’s recommended to have a 3:1 ratio of water to apple cider vinegar when applying topically to treat acne.
What foods cause acne? There are 6 main food groups scientifically proven to cause acne. These include sugar, dairy, fast food, peanut butter, whey protein and spicy food. Avoid them if you are prone to acne breakouts.
Can acne be cured? Some people maintain that acne can be cured through dietary changes however science says that acne can’t be ‘cured’, it can only be treated and managed successfully.
Is there a difference between acne and pimples? Pimples are the one which emerges due to the blockage in the skin pores. If it is not treated properly then it may result in severe acne. Acne refers to the skin disease involving sebum, keratinization, and bacteria. It can range from very mild acne consisting of mostly blackheads, to severe cystic acne.
What causes acne? There are four main factors that cause acne. These include excess oil production, bacteria, hair follicles clogged by oil and dead skin cells and hormonal changes (specifically androgens).
Does ice help pimples? Yes, like any inflammation, a few minutes of ice on a pimple can help reduce the swelling, markedly shrinking your spot.
Does hormonal acne ever go away? Most often, acne will go away on its own at the end of puberty, but some people still struggle with acne in adulthood. Almost all acne can be successfully treated, however.
Does birth control help hormonal acne? The hormones in combination birth control pills can help reduce acne. The pills decrease the circulation of androgens, which decreases the production of sebum. The pills must contain both estrogen and progestin to be effective against acne. The minipill only contains progestin, so it doesn’t improve acne.
How long until minocycline clears acne? Oral antibiotics can take about six to eight weeks to start working, so you won’t see results right away. Even if you aren’t seeing any improvement, it’s important to keep taking minocycline as directed by your doctor.
There are numerous acne treatment methods. The key is to find the right one for you and your skin.
Overall, the evidence shows that blue light, laser, or phototherapy may provide the best treatment for most when compared to the topical applications available. Frequently, with the appropriate treatment, acne symptoms will clear up in about 6-8 weeks.
Make sure you are aware of any side effects before you begin use of any treatment method. It’s important to discuss your options with your doctor or dermatologist and determine what is right for you. They know your health situation best and will be able to provide a more informed decision and more specific options for you.