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.
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 leave 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.