Acne (Pimples)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View Adult Acne Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideAcne Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Dictionary

Acne Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Dictionary

What can people do to get rid of their acne?

Lifestyle

Moderation and regularity are good things, but not everyone can sleep eight hours, eat three good meals, and drink plenty of water a day. One can, however, still control acne despite one's frantic and unpredictable routine. Probably the most useful lifestyle changes one can make is to never to pick or squeeze pimples. Playing with or popping pimples, no matter how careful and clean one is, nearly always makes bumps stay redder and bumpier longer. People often refer to redness as "scarring," but fortunately, it usually isn't permanent. It's just a mark that takes months to fade if left entirely alone.

Open the pores

Occasional visits to an esthetician who is an expert at safely removing blackheads during a facial can be beneficial.

Cleansing and skin care

Despite what one might read in popular style and fashion magazines, there is no magic product or regimen that is right for every person and situation.

  • Mild cleansers: Washing once or twice a day with a mild cleansing bar or liquid (for example, Dove, Neutrogena, Basis, Purpose, and Cetaphil are all inexpensive and popular) will keep the skin clean and minimize sensitivity and irritation.
  • Exfoliating cleansers and masks: A variety of mild scrubs, exfoliants, and masks can be used. These products may contain salicylic acid in a concentration that makes it a very mild peeling agent. These products remove the outer layer of the skin and thus open pores. Products containing glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids are also gentle skin exfoliants.
  • Retinol: Not to be confused with the prescription medication Retin-A, this derivative of vitamin A can help promote skin peeling.

Reducing bacteria

  • Antibacterial cleansers: The most popular ingredient in over-the-counter antibacterial cleansers is benzoyl peroxide.
  • Topical (external) applications: Antibacterial cleansers come in the form of gels, creams, and lotions that are applied to the affected area. The active ingredients that kill surface bacteria include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and resorcinol. Some brands promoted on the Internet and cable TV (such as ProActiv) are much more costly than identical and sometimes more potent products one can buy in the drugstore.

Benzoyl peroxide causes red and scaly skin irritation in a small number of people, which goes away as soon as one stops using the product. Keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide is a bleach, so do not let products containing benzoyl peroxide come into contact with fabrics, leaving unsightly white spots on colored clothes, shirts, towels, and carpets.

Reduce the oil

One cannot stop oil glands from producing oil. Even isotretinoin (Accutane, see below) only slows down oil glands for a while; they resume normal activity later. It is possible to get rid of oil on the surface of the skin and reduce the appearance of shine.

  • Use a gentle astringent/toner to wipe away oil. (There are many brands available in pharmacies, as well as from manufacturers of cosmetic lines.)
  • Products containing glycolic acid or one of the other alpha hydroxy acids are also helpful in clearing the skin by causing the superficial layer of the skin to peel (exfoliate).
  • Masks containing sulfur and other ingredients draw out facial oil.
  • Antibacterial pads containing benzoyl peroxide have the additional benefit of helping to wipe away oil.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/13/2015
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