Generally, you feel the discomfort of breakouts from the moment you first open your eyes in the morning. You look in the mirror merely to confirm your fears—pimples, blemishes, blackheads and whiteheads glaring back at you. You immediately declare war, but in the midst of all the skin care regimens on the market for fighting blemishes, what is the best acne treatment to get rid of breakouts quickly? If you have severe acne, your best treatment is probably going to be whatever your dermatologist prescribes to treat it. However, if you have only mild to moderate acne, going to a dermatologist can be expensive and unnecessary.
Still, it’s daunting to walk into the beauty section of a store and try to figure out which is the best acne treatment from among the myriad of products. Or worse is when you try to find top blemish treatment products online. That is why we decided to do the research and come up with a guide to purchasing some of the top blemish treatment systems. We chose to check out four popular products on the market today, and then write an informative article that goes beyond reviewing those treatments. We want to help you get rid of blemishes forever.
We wrote a summary of our findings about the four best acne treatments on the table below. Based on a quick read of the table it appears Exposed Skin Care is the best acne treatment. If you want more information about the best treatments, when to see a dermatologist, breakout myths, and other essential acne topics, continue reading to discover how you can conquer this problem.
What Exactly Is Acne?
Many people believe acne is a hormonal skin disease that only affects teenagers. This is not true. While pimples usually appear in adolescence, they continue affecting adults. In fact, dermatologists see blemishes in people even in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.
There are small openings in the skin called pores that connect to oil glands and a hair. The oil glands produce sebum, which carries dead skin cells and dirt to the skin’s surface along the hair follicle. Sometimes the dead skin cells create clogged pores by clumping into a plug. Pores that only contain sweat glands without hair and oil glands are not usually involved in breakouts.
There are different types of acne. Acne vulgaris is the most common with pimples, blackheads and whiteheads appearing on the face, chest, shoulders and back. Acne mechanica is acne caused by pressure, friction and heat such as under the rim of a baseball cap. Dermatologists see it more frequently in athletes. Acne conglobata is a severe form of acne sometimes caused by steroids. In it, acne nodules cover most of the torso, neck and face, and they are interconnected underneath the skin.
A comedo is any kind of clogged pore. These develop into blackheads, which are black not because of dirt but because they are open to the air and it discolors the oil and bacteria. Comedones also develop into whiteheads, which are closed at the surface of the skin. Papules are small red or pink bumps that are inflamed and sometimes painful. Pustules look like whiteheads with severe inflammation and yellowish pus inside. Nodules and cysts are deeper in the skin and involve a larger area. These are very painful and should be treated by a dermatologist because they can leave scars and dark spots on the skin permanently.
The Psychological Side Effects of Acne
People often overlook the psychological side effects of acne while the physical side effects make the front page. Yes, the physical side effects are the ones we see the most: spots, inflammation, scarring. However, the longer pimples go untreated: the more likely long-term serious psychological side effects will occur. Anxiety, poor self-image, and depression occur, and frequently those around the person do not realize it. These psychological side effects can last longer than the acne itself and create even worse problems down the road.
If the best acne treatments are used quickly, they not only control blemishes and pimples but also prevent significant psychological side effects from taking hold. Having acne is a big deal, and as this YouTuber reveals, the things that are said to people who have it are not always helpful. Although she tries to make light of the situation, you can tell how much it hurt.
Should I See a Dermatologist?
Dermatologists rank acne on a scale of 1-4 with 1 being mild and 4 being very severe. The number and type of blemishes determine the severity. Severe acne is sometimes called cystic acne. A licensed dermatologist should always treat severe, cystic acne, but surface cleansers, gels, lotions, moisturizers, creams, and other acne products can treat milder forms. Since no two people (and no two cases of acne) are alike, what worked for your cousin’s best friend’s roommate might not work for you, but positive reviews from many people are a good place to start.
A dermatologist has access to all the best acne treatments that are sold over-the-counter as well as prescription medication that is both topical and oral, and they can also perform acne surgeries. Some dermatological surgeries deal with scarring and darkening skin only after your acne issues are resolved. There are a few surgeries that are done to treat pimples or to drain blackheads and whiteheads safely.
So when do you go to an expert for treatment? Painful, cystic acne is classified as severe acne. If many of your blackheads and whiteheads are inflamed and form hard nodules under the skin, you should seek professional help. You should also see a doctor right away if you have serious social and psychological side effects from your acne, such as anxiety and depression.
If you don’t have cystic acne and you don’t have serious psychological side-effects, you should first purchase an effective, drugstore treatment. Then be patient. It can take up to eight weeks for blemishes to clear up even when a dermatologist is treating you with the best acne treatments. As long as an over-the-counter product begins to work within the same period, you don’t need to spend the extra money to see a dermatologist.
How Did I Get Acne?
While every type of acne is a skin disorder affecting both hair follicles and oil glands, as of 2018, it is uncertain what causes it. There are, however, many known things that aggravate it and make it worse. Some of the risk factors include:
- Pressure or friction: Things that contact your skin for extended periods of time, such as cell phones, backpacks, and baseball caps, can cause pimples at the contact point.
- Genetics: If your family has a history of acne chances are good you will develop it too.
- Oily lotions, gels, and creams: If you expose your skin to more oil, it can cause acne inflammation. This includes working around grease vats.
- Age: Acne is most common in adolescents even though it can affect people, especially women, in any age group.
- Stress: Although stress won’t cause a new breakout, it can make your current breakout worse.
- Hormonal changes: Women, teens, and people using certain medications that affect hormonal levels are more susceptible to pimples.
Some liquid foundations and other types of makeup can cause blemishes to flare up. For this reason, you should look for makeup that is “non-comedogenic.” Makeup should also be oil-free and should regularly be removed. Oily makeup that is not labeled “non-comedogenic” can not only worsen makeup but also can interfere with acne treatments.
Cleansing your skin more than twice a day will not improve blackhead inflammation since dirt is not a factor. The oils that do contribute to the problem can actually increase production if you cleanse your face more frequently or use abrasive methods to scrub “dirt” off your face. It is important to cleanse the affected area once or twice a day even when you are not having a breakout to reduce oil levels.
What Do Experts Say About Over-the-Counter Medications?
As far as experts are concerned, the best acne treatments should include natural derivatives such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. In fact, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, frequently recommends Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, because it contains benzoyl peroxide which can kill inflammation-causing bacteria and can open blocked pores. He also likes Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control 3-in-1 Foaming Wash because the salicylic acid in it exfoliates dead skin cells and removes excess oil. The best acne medications sold over-the-counter help you get rid of pimples and help prevent new pimples from forming, says Zeichner.
While Zeichner is a top dermatologist in his field, he is not the only one recommending over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide as the best acne treatments. Others include Tracee Blackburn, a licensed physician assistant at Lakeview Dermatology in Chicago, Natasha Sandy, M. D., of New York and author of “Dermatological Emergencies.” In fact, as more medications are prescribed for blemishes, they become safer and effective over-the-counter treatments. Still, dermatologists consider salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide containing products to be the best treatment options available over-the-counter.
Even the American Academy of Dermatologists advises people that products found on the shelves of drugstores can effectively control pimples in this article. Over-the-counter products are both convenient and inexpensive. The only downside from a dermatologist’s point of view is the number of products that do not contain well-researched and effective ingredients. They also warn that no acne patient should expect overnight transformation. Acne products, even those sold in drugstores and online, need to be continuously used. In many cases, it takes four to eight weeks to see results, and once those are achieved, the regimen must continue.
Are All Over -the-Counter Acne Treatments Safe?
The FDA regulates any over-the-counter topical product that contains a drug such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, and resorcinol. The FDA does not regulate oral products that are herbal supplements. For this reason, surface treatments are better than oral herbal ones.
Any medication or herbal supplement can cause an allergic reaction in some people. With topical acne medicine, signs of a severe allergy include a tight throat, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, serious swelling and fainting. If you begin using a new product and experience an allergic reaction, you need to contact a doctor immediately. It is normal for acne products to cause dry, itchy, red, burning, peeling, skin especially in the first week of use. These are not signs of an allergy.
There are two other problems associated with acne skin care treatments. First, it is important to follow the directions with any medication you use. Read the label, and do what it says. Second, many YouTubers and other self-proclaimed beauty experts can be seen mixing together pimple products before applying them to their faces. This is not advised and goes against label instructions.
The best acne treatments, whether over-the-counter or not, are medications. Medications, when used correctly, help people while medications that are used wrong hurt people. There is no safety difference between the FDA regulated over-the-counter acne solutions and prescribed ones.
As a final note, herbal medications that are topical can cause the same allergic reactions as any other food or drug, and similar precautions should be taken with them. The FDA does not regulate topical herbal acne solutions unless they contain one of the drugs mentioned above. At this time, tea tree oil is the only herb that has shown potential for treating pimples. All other herbal preparations are still in preliminary testing rounds.
Can’t I Just Change My Diet to Get Rid of My Acne?
It would be nice never to drink milk or eat chocolate again and see your acne disappear, but the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has concluded there is just not enough evidence to recommend any dietary changes to cure or prevent acne as of 2018.
There are a few dietary things that we do know. For example, we know that vitamin A and Vitamin E are important supplements for overall healthy skin. Retin-A, a commonly prescribed acne treatment, is a form of vitamin A. There have been no conclusive studies about the specific connection between pimples and vitamin intake, but there are numerous, well-conducted studies showing a correlation between skin health and these two vitamins.
There have been a few studies showing that diets with low glycemic loads (LGL) help with fighting blemishes. These are based on Eastern diets, which are high in fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and lean protein sources. It is thought diet might be one reason why Western societies have more incidents of acne than Eastern societies. However, the actual scientific studies on these diets have been poorly designed, shown results that could attribute the reduced number of pimples to other factors, and/or used a small number of people (less than 50). This is why the AAD has not made diet recommendations.
The other significant diet change that is floating around the Internet concerns dairy. Again, studies are small and/or poorly designed, but in this case, none of the studies show that consumed cheese or yogurt affects pimples and blemishes. In fact, the only dairy product that may have some effect on acne is skim milk. In most of the studies, skim milk aggravates acne.
What Makes an Acne Treatment Effective?
The best acne treatment is not necessarily one that gives you results immediately. In fact, dermatologists say that you may experience worse acne in the first few weeks as your skin adjusts to the new product. The best acne treatments will clear the acne up within eight weeks and continue to maintain your skin health.
The best acne treatments should contain the ingredients dermatologists recommend most for treating acne: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Out of the four products we reviewed, the following chart shows where each stands.
|Contains salicylic acid||Contains benzoyl peroxide|
|ProactivMD 3-Piece System||No||No|
|Exposed Skin Care||Yes||Yes|
Compare this chart to the one at the beginning of the article, and you will see how it explains the ratings. ProactivMD is a retinoid-based product that dermatologists prescribe in higher concentrations for some severe acne cases. The problem is that it is not universally effective, especially in non-prescription strengths, and can lead to many side effects. While ProactivMD was one of the first over-the-counter retinoid products for acne, its side effects and incompatibility with many skin types, especially those of diverse ethnicities, caused Proactiv to begin pushing other products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide when consumer ratings began to decline.
In addition to actually working on your acne after a proper course of treatment, the best acne treatments shouldn’t cause an allergic reaction. Although any acne treatment may cause additional breakouts when first started, no acne treatment should make your acne worse in the long run.
Finally, the best acne treatment will not be expensive. If you want an expensive acne treatment, you can always see a dermatologist. Out of all the acne treatments we examined, ClearPores was the most costly.
What Is the Best Acne Treatment?
ProactivMD is probably the best known, but its reviews are less than stellar especially when it comes to billing problems. Initially, it has the lowest price, but that reportedly increases. Its many complaints include getting billed for products not received, getting billed after canceling membership, sun sensitivity, and withdrawal symptoms when stopping the product. Since Proactive MD contains a retinoid, it should not be used during pregnancy. Proactive has a 60-day guarantee.
Neutrogena was founded in 1930. The SkinID system uses a questionnaire to assign a skin score that determines which products to buy. Many people are happy with Neutrogena’s acne care products. The main complaints are redness, dry skin, itchiness, and feeling as if their face is on fire while using the products. The company only has a 30-day guarantee.
ClearPores is the most expensive product reviewed, but it comes with a 90-day guarantee. This product has mostly positive reviews, but the negative reviews complain that the company says it takes four months to get results with only a 90-day guarantee on them. If it does take four months, this is double the time the AAD says it should take. Also, this system comes with a supplement that sends off a few warning bells. It is only an herbal supplement with none of the recommended skin vitamins. Since it is only herbal, the FDA does not regulate that portion of the treatment.
Finally, we have Exposed Skin Care. In our opinion, this is the best acne treatment available. The price is low-to-average. It comes with a fantastic 1-year guarantee. It contains both of the AAD recommended over-the-counter acne treatments, and it gets high reviews from customers. It has a high-rating on Amazon and is the only BBB accredited company reviewed. Based on our research, it is the best acne treatment available.
What if You Can’t Afford an Expensive Treatment System?
The treatments reviewed here cost less than visiting a dermatologist. They also cost less than other treatment systems but effectively reduce pimples and keep future breakouts from happening. These are designed to work as a whole, but if you genuinely cannot afford to buy the best acne treatment, you can still decrease pimples by following some simple steps.
First, you should make sure you change your sheets and pillowcases one to two times each week. Dead skin cells and bacteria that clog pores will build up on sheets and pillowcases. Frequently changing your bedding helps prevent them from causing breakouts.
Using a simple mild facial cleanser, such as Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar or Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Cleanser twice a day and after physical activity that caused you to sweat should help. Although sweat glands do not become pimples, sweat can increase factors that lead to clogged pores. You could also consider buying just the cleanser from a system, such as Exposed Skin Care’s Facial Cleanser.
If you use a washcloth on your acne, use only a soft, clean one. It is better to use just your fingertips to clean your face than to use a dirty washcloth or loofah sponge.
If you can’t buy the best acne treatment, it is still important to treat your acne as much as you can. Untreated acne gets worse. Ignoring mild to moderate acne can quickly lead to severe acne that must be treated by a dermatologist. Beginning to treat your pimples at the first breakout can also prevent permanent scars.
Whether you purchase a system or not, it is important to continue using skin care preventatively after your breakout is finished. Most people can maintain their clear skin with basic over-the-counter treatments even if they initially needed a prescription.
Be Careful of Common Internet Myths About Acne
The Internet is the prime source of information today, but it’s difficult to weed out facts from myths. In addition to “acne causing foods” many home-remedies that increase pimples instead of fighting them. One example is the toothpaste myth that board-certified dermatologist, Joshua Zeichner debunked. “While you may have heard the skin-care myth that toothpaste will clear up your breakouts, it’s more likely to cause irritation than anything else. If you find yourself with a red, angry pimple, apply over-the-counter 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide formula, like Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment, to kill blemish-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation,” says Zeichner.
Another Internet myth says crushing aspirin into a paste and applying it to your face is a quick acne fix. Although salicylic acid is in both aspirin and approved acne therapies, don’t do this. Pills are designed for your stomach while the acne therapies are designed for your face. If you place crushed aspirin directly on your skin, you can irritate it and worsen breakouts.
Another myth is that popping pimples, blackheads and whiteheads can make them disappear quickly. Pimples, whiteheads and blackheads generally disappear in about three days. When you squeeze a pimple, you cause trauma to the skin, which in turn causes infection or inflammation. This trauma takes months to heal. When you have a tempting pimple or whitehead, use a spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide to get rid of it quickly.
Another Internet myth involves facials. The myth says that a facial with hydroxy acid makes acne disappear immediately. Products containing hydroxy acid and its derivatives, such as glycolic acid, improve acne over time, but the initial result of facial peels is redness. Nothing can cure acne overnight.
Here is an interesting YouTube video about some of the other common acne care myths.