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According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects up to 50 million people in the United States every year. Though it’s the most common skin condition in the United States, determining the best acne treatment for your skin is still a mystery to many.

Acne treatments include prescription medications, such as topical and oral varieties, and over-the-counter (OTC) skin care products.

To narrow the vast list of options, we enlisted the expertise of board certified dermatologists.

While their first recommendation is usually to see a medical professional who specializes in dermatology, some mild acne types can be treated with simple OTC products.

For moderate to severe acne, prescription-strength treatments and the expert advice of a dermatologist may be necessary.

Keep reading to learn what causes acne and the appropriate treatment options for the various types of acne according to the pros.

The cause of acne usually boils down to clogged pores when a mix of sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells are trapped in a hair follicle.

Each pore on the surface of the skin is the opening to a hair follicle, which is made up of a hair and an oil gland. When working properly, the oil gland releases sebum that travels up the hair and out of the pore. The sebum reaches the skin, where its job is to keep the skin lubricated.

If part of this process goes awry, acne may develop.

Excessive sebum produced by the oil gland, a buildup of dead skin cells, or the accumulation of bacteria can all affect this process and lead to clogged pores that contribute to the formulation of acne.

Determining the best acne treatment for you depends on the type of acne and its severity.

“The best way to determine the right acne treatment plan is to see a dermatology provider,” explains Julie C. Harper, MD, a board certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. “There are many different types of acne, and treatment regimens vary from person to person.”

A dermatologist will closely examine your skin to see which of the different types of lesions appear:

  • Mild noninflammatory acne (aka comedonal acne) includes whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Moderate inflammatory acne includes papules and pustules.
  • Severe inflammatory acne includes nodules and cysts.

Noninflammatory acne can usually be cleared up with OTC products containing active ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, or prescription-strength topical retinoids.

Inflammatory acne requires topical or oral prescriptions from a dermatologist.

Though papules and pustules may clear up with OTC products alone, inflammatory acne is more likely to lead to scarring, so seeing a dermatologist is the best way to clear acne and prevent acne scars.

The acne treatments on this list are based on:

  • recommendations from board certified dermatologists
  • ingredients proven to be effective in treating acne
  • customer reviews

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $20
  • $$ = $20–$30
  • $$$ = over $30

Note: Some picks below do not list price since they are prescriptions, and the price will vary substantially based on healthcare access and insurance.

1. Tretinoin

  • Product type: topical cream or gel
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
  • Pros: pro-aging and exfoliating benefits
  • Cons: can lead to slight peeling

Tretinoin is a prescription-strength topical cream or gel. Like retinol, tretinoin is a retinoid derived from vitamin A. It works by speeding up the life cycle of skin cells. It makes them divide and die faster so newer, healthier skin cells can come to the surface.

This is beneficial not only for treating acne but also for improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

“Tretinoin helps soften the clog and push it to the surface while exfoliating,” says Susan Bard, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York. “It also prevents the pore from re-clogging once it’s cleared out. Retinoids like tretinoin are best suited for comedonal (aka clogged pore) acne.”

However, tretinoin can be used to treat all types of acne.

To get a prescription for tretinoin, you’ll need to visit a doctor’s office, like a dermatologist, or communicate with one virtually through online services like Curology or Hers.

2. Tazorac

  • Product type: topical cream or gel
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne and moderate inflammatory acne
  • Pros: safe for certain
  • Cons: may increase skin sensitivity to cold weather

Depending on the severity of the acne, a gel or cream called Tazorac may be prescribed. Tazorac contains the active ingredient tazarotene. It’s a retinoid that’s usually prescribed at 0.1 percent strength for acne.

Tazorac gel is recommended for mild to moderate breakouts on the face. Tazorac cream may be prescribed for some severe cases, such as cystic acne or acne on other areas of the body. It should not be used during pregnancy. And because it can cause some sensitivity to light and sun, be diligent about applying sunscreen when using this product.

“Tazarotene, another type of retinoid like tretinoin, works to treat acne by slowing skin cell overgrowth and preventing a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface,” Bard explains. “It also reduces skin inflammation and has been shown to reduce the number of inflammatory lesions.”

You can purchase Tazorac with a prescription through services like GoodRx, or at locations such as CVS and Walgreens.

3. Altreno

  • Product type: topical lotion
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
  • Pros: lightweight formula
  • Cons: can cause skin irritation

Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, recommends Altreno for adults with comedonal acne.

Altreno contains tretinoin, a retinoid that’s commonly prescribed to treat acne. Unlike other tretinoin prescription medications, which usually take the form of a topical cream or gel, Altreno is a lightweight lotion that targets breakouts while moisturizing skin.

“Topical retinoids are a foundational treatment for acne,” says Zeichner of the significance of tretinoin in Altreno. “They work like pipe cleaners to keep your pores open. Retinoids prevent cells from sticking together and blocking the pores, trapping oil within them. They also help enhance cell turnover to even skin tone and texture.”

4. Oral contraceptives

  • Product type: oral pills
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: hormonal acne
  • Pros: regulates skin oils to combat acne
  • Cons: only available to people assigned female at birth

Though not its main function, combination birth control pills can be prescribed as part of an acne treatment in people assigned female at birth.

Oral contraceptives contain hormones that decrease the circulation of androgens, thereby decreasing the production of sebum. This helps regulate oily skin and make acne-prone skin more manageable.

According to Zeichner, “Oral contraceptive pills cannot only be used to prevent pregnancy, but there are four pills that are FDA approved to treat acne. They work by regulating hormones that stimulate oil glands.”

The oral contraceptive pills that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the treatment of acne include:

  • Beyaz
  • Estrostep Fe
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Yaz

Dermatologists may prescribe one of these birth control pills to manage hormonal acne that occurs due to hormone fluctuations.

You may purchase birth control pills online through services like Nurx and The Pill Club.

5. INNBeauty Project Pimple Paste

  • Price: $
  • Product type: spot treatment
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: made with clean and gentle ingredients
  • Cons: contains a small amount of product

This acne spot treatment comes recommended by Zeichner, who emphasizes the effectiveness of sulfur in acne products.

“Sulfur-based products are available both over the counter and by prescription. They have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help lower inflammation in the skin,” he says.

Instead of drying out acne with toothpaste, which can contain ingredients that are too harsh for skin, this paste contains active ingredients proven to combat breakouts, including sulfur, azelaic acid, and tea tree oil.

It also contains witch hazel, which is commonly used in home remedies for acne.

Apply overnight as a spot treatment and rinse away in the morning. This paste should not be used as an allover treatment, but it can be applied in a thin layer to larger clusters of lesions.

6. Hers Prescription Acne Cream

  • Product type: topical cream
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory to moderate inflammatory acne
  • Pros: prescription is easy to access
  • Cons: contains potentially irritating ingredients

This prescription acne cream for adults is powered by a customized blend of five active ingredients that target acne:

  • tretinoin
  • clindamycin
  • azelaic acid
  • zinc pyrithione
  • niacinamide

“Tretinoin is a topical retinoid and is an important component of an acne regimen because it increases cell turnover, makes dead skin cells less likely to stick together and clog up pores, and decreases discoloration,” says Hadley King, MD.

Though Hers Acne Cream requires a prescription, you never have to step foot in a dermatologist’s office to get evaluated and begin treatment.

People with acne can seek treatment from home by answering some questions about their skin, consulting with a licensed healthcare professional, and receiving a personalized acne cream tailored to their needs.

7. Hers Custom Acne Treatment for Teens

  • Product type: topical cream
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory to moderate inflammatory acne
  • Pros: likely to be less irritating than other formulations
  • Cons: requires guardian consent

Acne is extremely common in teens, but a prescription acne treatment may help. Like the Hers Acne Cream for adults, the Hers Acne Treatment for Teens is formulated with a custom combination of:

  • tretinoin
  • clindamycin
  • azelaic acid
  • zinc pyrithione
  • niacinamide

King explains that “topical clindamycin is an antibiotic and can help decrease bacteria that contribute to acne, while niacinamide is helpful for tone and texture. [It is] less likely to be irritating to the skin compared to some other formulations.”

With a guardian’s consent, teens under 18 are given an opportunity to talk with a skin expert online about their specific type of acne and concerns. If prescribed, teens’ custom acne formula is shipped right to their door.

Learn more about Hers here.

8. Differin Gel

  • Price: $
  • Product type: topical gel
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: all
  • Pros: suitable for all types of acne
  • Cons: may cause redness

The main acne-fighting ingredient in Differin is 0.1 percent adapalene, which was formerly only available with a prescription. Now this prescription-strength retinoid is available OTC.

Since it’s widely available, affordable, and suitable for all types of acne, Differin Gel may be beneficial for many people with acne.

Differin Gel comes recommended by Dina Strachan, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York and assistant clinical professor at New York University.

“Retinoids treat acne by helping to unplug the hair follicle where acne starts. They also help with exfoliation that can help with the blemishes or hyperpigmentation left by acne lesions,” Strachan says.

“Some retinoids even directly reduce inflammation. Retinoids are a cornerstone treatment for all acne patients, especially patients with dark skin with hyperpigmentation,” she adds.

9. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Product type: cleanser
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
  • Pros: helps prevent future breakouts
  • Cons: may be too drying for dry skin

A list of the best acne treatments wouldn’t be complete without a salicylic acid face wash for acne.

Strachan recommends this Neutrogena cleanser for acne since it contains salicylic acid.

“Salicylic acid is lipophilic, meaning it loves fat, which attracts it to the oily hair follicle where acne begins,” Strachan says. “Like retinoids, it unplugs the hair follicle, exfoliates, and reduces inflammation. Salicylic acid can be helpful for all types of acne.”

Salicylic acid is a go-to OTC ingredient for acne since it dissolves the dead skin cells in clogged pores, helping treat existing acne and prevent future breakouts.

Some customers note that this cleanser results in dry skin after use, so following up with a moisturizer suitable for acne-prone skin is recommended.

10. AKLIEF (trifarotene) Cream

  • Product type: topical cream
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne on the face and body
  • Pros: can be used over the whole body
  • Cons: may increase skin sensitivity to sunlight

If you experience inflammatory acne, especially on the chest, back, and shoulders, your dermatologist may prescribe AKLIEF Cream.

The active ingredient in AKLIEF is 0.005 percent trifarotene, a retinoid that removes dead skin cells from the surface, prevents new acne from forming, and reduces skin inflammation.

According to board certified dermatologist Christine Choi Kim, MD, FAAD, who recommends AKLIEF for face and body acne, trifarotene “is a unique topical retinoid that selectively targets the retinoic acid receptor (RAR) gamma, the most common RAR found in the skin. It has been proven effective on facial acne as well as chest, shoulders, and back acne.”

11. Yes To Tomatoes Charcoal Facial Cleanser

  • Price: $
  • Product type: cleanser
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
  • Pros: contains alcohol and fragrance, which may cause sensitivity
  • Cons: may not be effective for moderate to severe acne types

People who experience blackheads and whiteheads may be able to clear them with just OTC skin care products like this Yes To Tomatoes cleanser.

Aware that there’s a sea of cleansers for acne-prone skin, Kim recommends this cleanser because it “combines three beneficial ingredients: charcoal to naturally detoxify impurities and deep clean your skin, tomato extract to deliver antioxidants, and salicylic acid to help decongest whiteheads and blackheads.”

Kim also recommends leaving this cleanser in the shower for use all over the body for people prone to breakouts on the chest, shoulders, and back.

Though it’s designed for facial use, the ingredients may also be beneficial for clearing up body acne. Some users report sensitivity, however, since this cleanser contains alcohol and fragrance.

12. Oral antibiotics

  • Product type: oral pills
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: less harsh on the gut than other oral antibiotics
  • Cons: prescription required

Harper recommends prescription oral antibiotics, such as sarecycline or minocycline, for widespread or more severe cases of acne.

“Sarecycline is a prescription oral antibiotic indicated for the treatment of inflammatory lesions of non-nodular moderate to severe acne vulgaris,” Harper says. “It is effective against Cutibacterium acnes, the bacteria involved in the pathogenesis of acne, and it is anti-inflammatory.”

She also notes that sarecycline has less effect on the gut than other oral antibiotics.

Harper also recommends minocycline, a prescription oral antibiotic, for inflammatory acne. It’s also available as a topical prescription, which may have fewer potential systemic side effects.

You may purchase these types of oral antibiotics with a prescription at pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, and through services like GoodRx and Nurx.

13. Spironolactone

  • Product type: oral pills
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: decreases sebum production
  • Cons: may not be safe for use during pregnancy or by people assigned male at birth

In addition to oral medications like birth control and antibiotics, other oral medications may improve acne. Spironolactone is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, but it can also treat acne.

According to Brooke Grant Jeffy, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in Arizona, “Spironolactone is an oral medication that can improve all forms of acne but is primarily used for more inflammatory acne, or acne that is hormonal in nature in women.”

“Androgen type hormones, such as testosterone, contribute to acne formation by increasing sebum production by oil glands in the skin,” Jeffy says.

“Spironolactone interferes with the ability of androgen hormones to cause excessive sebum production by decreasing production of these hormones and preventing them from working on their target receptors,” she adds.

Spironolactone may be purchased with a prescription at pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens, and through services such as GoodRx.

14. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

  • Price: $
  • Product type: topical cream-gel
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne to moderate inflammatory acne
  • Pros: can target hyperpigmentation and acne scars
  • Cons: can cause stinging or peeling

Azelaic acid is available in some OTC skin care products in smaller amounts. It works by clearing the pores of bacteria, which is usually the cause of acne, and reducing skin inflammation associated with acne.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is a lightweight cream-gel that targets acne and uneven skin tone and texture. It can reduce the number of blemishes and minimize the appearance of acne scars.

Some users report that the formula is effective on active breakouts but can result in pilling. That’s when a product sits on top of the skin’s surface and collects in flakes or balls of product.

Robin Evans, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Connecticut, recommends this product since the key ingredient, azelaic acid, is “helpful for the pimple aspect of acne and for hyperpigmentation that can be the result of blemishes. It is available at higher strength as a prescription, which would be even more effective.”

15. Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

  • Price: $$
  • Product type: exfoliant
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
  • Pros: absorbs quickly, can be used on the body
  • Cons: may increase photosensitivty

Evans generally recommends some form of topical medication or skin care for all people with acne, including skin care products that contain salicylic acid, which targets the inflammatory component of acne.

She approves this award-winning BHA exfoliant by Paula’s Choice for comedonal acne, like whiteheads and blackheads. It’s alcohol-free, fragrance-free, and free of essential oils.

While salicylic acid is usually formulated in cleansers, this exfoliant is a leave-on product that sheds built-up layers of skin. It has a lightweight texture that’s designed to absorb quickly and can be applied with a cotton pad or fingers.

Since this formula is gentle, it may be ideal for people with acne who are new to exfoliating with BHAs. It can also be used up to twice a day in your morning and evening skin care routine.

However, starting slowly is recommended. Salicylic acid may increase sensitivity to the sun, so daytime applications should be followed up with SPF.

16. Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

  • Price: $
  • Product type: spot treatment
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory acne and inflammatory acne
  • Pros: fast acting, according to some user reviews
  • Cons: may not be suitable for dry skin

A spot treatment can be an effective part of improving acne. Drying formulas dry active breakouts and draw out impurities from the skin, which are more beneficial for treating current acne than preventing future breakouts.

Evans notes that OTC skin care products containing active ingredients like sulfur and salicylic acid can be helpful in treating acne. This award-winning spot treatment by Mario Badescu contains both.

To apply, avoid shaking the bottle. Separation in the formula is expected. Dip a clean cotton swab into the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Dab directly on the blemish, don’t rub. Let dry overnight and rinse in the morning.

17. Clindamycin phosphate

  • Product type: topical gel or lotion
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: reduces the number of acne lesions and cysts
  • Cons: can upset the stomach

Both oral and topical antibiotics may be prescribed for more severe types of acne.

According to Zain Husain, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in New Jersey, clindamycin phosphate is a “topical antibiotic that is highly effective in killing bacteria and reducing inflammation. It is suitable for inflammatory and cystic acne.”

Clindamycin phosphate works by stopping the growth of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. This results in fewer acne lesions over time. In more severe cases of acne, your dermatologist may prescribe 1 percent clindamycin phosphate gel or lotion.

You may purchase clindamycin phosphate with a prescription at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and through services like GoodRx.

18. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Product type: spot treatment
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: kills acne-causing bacteria
  • Cons: can cause dark spots in some cases

Cystic acne is an especially uncomfortable form of inflammatory acne. It’s characterized by deep, pus-filled pimples that may be red and painful.

Husain approves this La Roche-Posay spot treatment since the key ingredient, benzoyl peroxide, “helps to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, which is well suited for inflammatory and cystic acne.”

While benzoyl peroxide has been a proven contender against inflammatory acne, OTC spot treatments alone may not clear up cystic acne entirely. With dermatologist visits, products containing benzoyl peroxide can be an effective part in treating acne.

19. SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser Gel

  • Price: $$$
  • Product type: cleanser
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory and inflammatory acne
  • Pros: gentle on the skin
  • Cons: may not be compatible with other acids like salicylic acid and vitamin C

Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that weakens the bonds that hold together dead skin cells, which can clog pores. This may result in fewer skin cells since there are fewer skin cells on the surface that can end up in hair follicles.

“Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid used for chemical exfoliation, reducing sebum, and brightening hyperpigmentation from prior acne. It is also effective for comedonal acne as well as inflammatory and cystic acne,” says Husain of this SkinCeuticals cleanser.

Glycolic acid is available in a variety of OTC product types, including cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and more.

Since cleansing is an important part of managing skin that’s prone to acne, glycolic acid cleansers can serve multiple purposes: cleansing away impurities and exfoliating away dead skin cells.

20. Isotretinoin

  • Product type: oral pills
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: highly effective acne treatment
  • Cons: can cause chapped lips

“Those with moderate to severe cystic acne or acne that hasn’t responded to other treatments may benefit from isotretinoin, also known as Accutane, a derivative of vitamin A,” Husain says. “It is a very potent medication that is highly effective in treating nearly all types of breakouts. It works by decreasing oil production that can lead to the formation of acne.”

While isotretinoin isn’t usually the first course of action when it comes to treating acne, it may be necessary for severe cases where other treatments haven’t been effective. Isotretinoin is an oral prescription that’s usually taken twice daily.

Since isotretinoin is associated with serious side effects, it should only be used as advised by a medical professional.

You may purchase isotretinoin with a prescription at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and through services like GoodRx.

21. Mighty Patch

  • Price: $
  • Product type: pimple patches
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: helps prevent picking
  • Cons: must be worn for 6–8 hours

Pimple patches are a different type of spot treatment. Apply them to blemishes overnight or for 6 to 8 hours and wake up to clearer-looking skin. They blend into your skin, so you can wear them during the day.

Each box of Mighty Patch pimple patches includes 36 dot-shaped patches that measure 12 millimeters in diameter. They’re made of medical-grade hydrocolloid, a type of wound dressing that absorbs excess moisture and promotes healing. Where acne is concerned, the patches soak up pus or oil.

These are best for inflammatory acne like cystic acne, raised lesions, and red, inflamed pimples.

22. Hims Customized Acne Cream for Men

  • Product type: topical cream
  • Prescription: yes
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory to moderate inflammatory acne
  • Pros: formula is customized to your needs
  • Cons: prescription required, may cause dryness in the beginning

Getting prescription-strength acne products can be difficult. They usually require a visit to a dermatologist, and they can be pricey too. Hims makes it easy to access prescription skin care products to treat acne without stuffy waiting rooms and high copays.

Though Hims requires a prescription, everything can be done online. You’ll answer some questions about your skin, and a healthcare professional will determine the appropriate blend of ingredients, such as:

  • tretinoin
  • clindamycin
  • azelaic acid
  • zinc pyrithione
  • niacinamide

You may experience dryness in the beginning as your skin adjusts to the formula, but once your skin adjusts, the ingredients in this cream can improve a range of acne types, from clogged pores to cystic acne.

23. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum

  • Price: $
  • Product type: topical serum
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: budget-friendly, helps refine pores
  • Cons: niacinamide can cause stinging and irritation

Niacinamide is an effective OTC treatment for inflammatory acne. It’s especially good for lesions like papules and pustules. If you have oily skin and large pores, niacinamide can help regulate your sebum levels and reduce the appearance of your pores. Plus, it can soothe the swelling and redness that often accompanies acne.

A niacinamide serum fits seamlessly into skin care regimens targeting acne, but not without some mild concerns. Niacinamide can be difficult to layer with other cosmetics. Applying other products, such as makeup and skin care, on top of niacinamide can cause pilling and separation.

Some people are also sensitive to niacinamide. This serum has a higher concentration of 10 percent, but some niacinamide formulas have just 2 percent concentration.

24. The INKEY List C-50 Blemish Night Treatment

  • Price: $
  • Product type: topical treatment
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: inflammatory acne
  • Pros: contains antioxidants
  • Cons: can feel drying on the skin

Overnight acne treatments allow you to fight breakouts in your sleep. This one by The INKEY List is powered by vitamins C and E and a low concentration salicylic acid.

Antioxidants like vitamin C aren’t just for brightening skin and fending off free radicals. Vitamin C is also great for acne-prone skin, especially inflammatory acne types. It can help reduce inflammation, redness, swelling, and scarring. Many people experience acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and vitamin C can help fade these dark spots.

The salicylic acid can have a drying effect since it’s left on the skin overnight. Be sure to moisturize when using this product or others containing salicylic acid.

25. Sunday Riley U.F.O. Acne Treatment Face Oil

  • Price: $$$
  • Product type: topical oil
  • Prescription: no
  • Type of acne: noninflammatory and inflammatory acne
  • Pros: clean ingredients, reduces bacteria
  • Cons: not oil-free

People with acne and oily skin often seek oil-free products. However, oil isn’t always the enemy. Using noncomedogenic facial oils with certain ingredients can have a positive effect on acne.

Sunday Riley makes a facial oil that is specifically designed to treat acne. It contains 1.5 percent salicylic acid to clear blackheads and whiteheads, and tea tree oil to target inflammation. Tea tree oil can even be used to treat cystic acne at home.

It also contains cumin seed oil to support clarity, and licorice root to brighten dark spots that may develop from acne scars.

Choosing the right acne treatment depends on the following factors:

  • Type of acne. Consider whether you have inflammatory acne (papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts) or noninflammatory acne (whiteheads and blackheads). OTC products can typically treat noninflammatory acne. Inflammatory acne may require prescription treatment.
  • Acne severity. Mild to moderate acne may be treatable at home, but moderate to severe acne likely requires a visit to a dermatologist for professional advice on the appropriate treatment.
  • Skin type. Some acne treatments may be too harsh for sensitive skin. Ingredients like salicylic acid may be too drying for dry skin.
  • Underlying health conditions. Check with a doctor before starting a new acne treatment if you have an underlying health condition. Certain ingredients may not be suitable for use during pregnancy, too.

Some people try at-home, OTC solutions for their acne before seeing a doctor. This may be enough for mild to moderate cases but usually isn’t the best option for severe and cystic acne.

Seeing a dermatologist right away is helpful for treating any type of acne the most effectively. This can cut down on irritation from using too many active ingredients and reduce the risk of scarring.

If you haven’t seen improvements within 1 to 2 months of using OTC products, it may be time to see a doctor.

While you may not need to see a doctor at the first sight of a whitehead, you can consider seeing a doctor shortly after noticing signs of inflammatory and cystic acne.

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Acne treatments can go a long way, but how you care for your skin outside of these treatments is also important. Here are some ways you can help prevent acne in your regular routine.

Cleansing

The importance of routine facial cleansing for acne can’t be overstated. Acne is caused, in part, by clogged hair follicles. Washing your face regularly helps unclog them.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your face twice daily with a gentle, nonabrasive cleanser. Use your fingertips and avoid using a washcloth, sponge, or anything that can irritate the skin. It may be tempting to scrub your skin, but the irritation can exacerbate the problem.

Washing too little or too often can be problematic for acne-prone skin. Washing twice a day has been shown to significantly improve open comedones and total noninflammatory lesions, according to a 2006 study.

Washing your hair can also help prevent acne, especially if you have an oily scalp. These oils can also contribute to clogged pores. Just like washing your face, shampooing your hair should be part of your acne-fighting regimen.

Regular facials

Depending on the severity of your acne, regular facials can work wonders. In people with mild acne, getting a facial may be an effective method of clearing up your skin when done alongside a proper skin care routine. Aestheticians use tools and products that cleanse deeply and remove whiteheads and blackheads.

Moderate to severe cases of acne may require prescription-strength treatments to show signs of improvement. However, facials can still be helpful.

An experienced aesthetician can help treat acne, acne scars, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation with treatments like chemical peels, microneedling, and microdermabrasion in addition to standard facials.

One 2018 review of multiple studies concluded that chemical peels can treat acne and improve the effectiveness of topical treatments. However, they should be individualized based on a skin assessment with a professional aesthetician, and deeper peels should be avoided for certain skin types.

A 2015 study specifically found microneedling to be effective in helping repair skin and reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Moisturizing

Face washes are associated with acne-prone skin, and moisturizers are associated with dry skin. However, both are important for all skin types.

A moisturizer provides moisture and hydration for skin, and acne-prone skin can benefit from staying hydrated. Moisturizing also helps reduce inflammation and protect skin from environmental stressors.

Acne is usually accompanied by inflammation, and moisturizing can be soothing. Harsh environment conditions, such as wind, cold temperatures, and humidity levels, can also make matters worse. This can be helped by creating a barrier around the skin with a layer of moisturizer.

When skin is dehydrated, it can overcompensate by producing too much oil. This oil can then clog pores, contributing to breakouts. Moisturizing regularly helps balance out the levels of moisture (oil) and hydration (water) in the skin.

If you’re using an acne treatment with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, tretinoin, or adapalene, your skin may become dry or irritated. A moisturizer helps make these medications more tolerable.

Those with acne-prone skin should choose their moisturizer carefully. Always choose a moisturizer with noncomedogenic ingredients so it doesn’t clog your pores.

People with moderate to severe cases of acne should seek professional help to find relief. Prescription-strength acne treatments are available.

It may be time to seek professional help from a dermatologist if:

  • you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to help
  • you have recurring breakouts that clear up and return
  • you get acne in places like your thighs or upper arms
  • your acne is painful and deep under the skin
  • your breakouts have been going on for years
  • acne affects your confidence, self-esteem, and social life
  • your acne may be linked to a new medication you’re on
  • acne leaves dark spots

You don’t have to have severe acne to see a doctor or dermatologist. If you have stubborn acne that won’t away with OTC products, it may be time to schedule an appointment to discuss prescription-strength acne treatments.

Even if you have a mild case of acne, it may be helpful to visit a doctor regularly to see how your skin progresses with treatment.

Are home remedies for acne effective?

Home remedy acne treatments made with ingredients around the house may be questionable, but OTC remedies may help.

There are many ingredients in OTC skin care products that are proven to treat acne. OTC products containing active ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur can be effective at treating noninflammatory, mild acne at home.

Topical benzoyl peroxide may be just as effective for acne as adapalene or clindamycin (prescription acne treatments).

More severe cases of acne may require prescription-strength products. Some people may need to seek professional help from a dermatologist or acne-experienced aesthetician.

How fast do home treatments for acne work?

Treating acne takes time. Acne treatments can take 4 to 6 weeks or 2 months or longer to show improvements. If you don’t see improvements in that time frame, try a new treatment or consult a dermatologist.

What can you do about a sudden acne breakout?

There may be days when you wake up with a new breakout and have no idea why or what to do. On those days, there are some things you can do to clear up a sudden flux of acne:

  • Change your pillowcase to stop the spread of bacteria.
  • Use a spot treatment on the affected area.
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling and redness.
  • Use a face mask targeted for acne.
  • Avoid picking at your face.
  • Moisturize with pure aloe vera to promote wound healing.

What acne treatment is best for sensitive skin?

Mild acne treatments for sensitive skin can include a low concentration salicylic acid. Some formulas contain just 0.5 percent salicylic acid, which is enough to be effective without causing irritation.

What acne treatment is best for dry skin?

Acne treatments can be drying, but that doesn’t mean they’re not suitable for dry skin. Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and tretinoin are known for leaving skin feeling dry and tight. However, using a moisturizer with these products can help.

What acne treatment is best for oily skin?

If you have oily skin, you’ll have no trouble finding acne treatments that work with your skin type. Ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil are all suitable for oily skin. Niacinamide is also beneficial for regulating sebum production.

What acne treatments are covered by insurance?

Insurance may cover topical and oral medications, such as tretinoin cream or oral contraceptives, that are prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist. This varies depending on your insurance plan.

Are acne treatments safe during pregnancy?

Antibiotics often used to treat acne, such as azithromycin and clarithromycin, are usually deemed safe for pregnancy.

OTC ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and vitamin C are likely safe too.

Questionable ingredients include retinol, tazorac, spironolactone, and others. It’s best to check with your doctor before using any new acne treatments during pregnancy.

Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States, yet finding an effective treatment can be a mystery.

Experts agree that OTC skin care products containing ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, azelaic acid, and more may serve as a steppingstone to improve mild to moderate acne.

For moderate to severe acne, a visit to a dermatologist’s office is usually warranted.

Lacey Bourassa is a health, wellness, and beauty writer based in Southern California. She holds a BA in English. Her work has appeared in digital publications like Livestrong, Verywell, Business Insider, Eat This Not That, and others. When she’s not writing, Lacey is likely pursuing her other interests: skin care, plant-based cooking, pilates, and traveling. You can keep up with her by visiting herwebsite or herblog.