You can use over-the-counter (OTC) medicated creams, cleansers, and spot treatments to help address pimples as they pop up.
Common ingredients you’ll find in acne creams and gels include:
- Benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient helps dry out existing pimples, prevents new ones from forming, and kills acne-causing bacteria.
- Salicylic acid. This ingredient helps exfoliate your skin to prevent pores from getting clogged with acne-causing bacteria.
If you continue to experience symptoms after using OTC acne treatments for several weeks, you may want to consider reaching out for professional treatment.
A dermatologist or other healthcare professional can prescribe medications that may help reduce your symptoms and prevent scarring.
If you have moderate acne, a dermatologist may recommend:
- prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide
- antibiotics, like erythromycin or clindamycin
- retinoids, such as retinol
In some cases, they may suggest an oral antibiotic or hormonal birth control to help manage acne.
Typically, you’ll only use antibiotics for a short time, so your body doesn’t build up resistance and leave you prone to infections.
For severe acne, a dermatologist may recommend treatment that combines one or more of the following:
- oral antibiotics
- benzoyl peroxide
- topical antibiotics
- topical retinoids
They may also suggest hormonal birth control or oral isotretinoin, also known by the brand name Accutane.
Accutane is a vitamin-A medication used to treat certain cases of severe nodular acne. It can cause serious side effects, and doctors usually only prescribe it when other treatments don’t work.
Your dermatologist may also recommend medical procedures to treat severe forms of acne and prevent scarring. These procedures work by removing damaged skin and reducing oil production. They include:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT uses medication and a special light or laser to reduce oil production and bacteria. Other laser treatments can also help improve acne and scarring.
- Dermabrasion. This type of exfoliation removes the top layers of your skin with a rotating brush. The procedure works best for treating acne scarring, not acne itself. Microdermabrasion is a milder treatment that helps remove dead skin cells.
- Chemical peel. This treatment removes the top layers of your skin to reveal less damaged skin underneath. Chemical peels can improve mild acne scarring.
- Cortisone injections. These injections can help reduce inflammation and speed healing. Cortisone is usually used along with other acne treatments, particularly for acne that involves large cysts.
Acne home remedies
You’ve probably come across any number of acne home remedies. But, as you might have already realized, these remedies don’t always work — some might even make acne worse.
Instead of putting toothpaste on your face, try these at-home tips to help clear up acne and help prevent future breakouts:
- Apply tea tree oil.
- Apply aloe vera.
- Use a honey mask.
- Refresh your face with green tea.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Never squeeze or pick pimples. It makes scarring more likely, and it can also spread bacteria and excess oil.
What’s the outlook for someone with acne?
No one should judge or stigmatize you for having acne, but having acne can feel distressing and isolating, all the same.
No matter how uncomfortable it is to have this skin condition, it could help to remember that you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone will get a pimple at some point in life, and many people deal with different forms of acne well into adulthood.
The good news: Plenty of effective treatment options exist. With treatment, your acne may begin clearing up within a matter of weeks.
Getting acne treatment sooner rather than later can also help prevent scarring. If you’ve already noticed some acne scars, a dermatologist can offer more guidance on treatments to help minimize the appearance of scarring.
Even with treatment, flare-ups can still happen. Persistent acne may require additional or long-term treatment. It’s always best to work with a dermatologist to find the most effective treatment for regular or severe acne breakouts.
It’s not always possible to completely prevent acne, but you can take certain steps at home to help lower your chances of getting pimples or acne breakouts.
Try these tips:
- Wash your face daily with an oil-free cleanser.
- Try an OTC acne cleanser to help remove excess oil.
- Use water-based makeup or products labeled “noncomedogenic” — this means they’re less likely to clog your pores.
- Avoid skincare and makeup products that contain oil.
- Always remove makeup and cleanse your skin thoroughly before bed.
- Shower or wash your face after exercising.
- Tie back your long hair to keep it out of your face.
- Avoid tight-fitting hats, headbands, and clothing that covers breakout-prone areas.
- Eat a balanced diet, and stay hydrated.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
A dermatologist can offer more tips and guidance on managing and preventing acne.
The bottom line
Acne can be tough, but plenty of effective treatments can help ease breakouts and heal your skin.
If you continue to experience painful or persistent breakouts, a dermatologist can offer support with creating a treatment plan that works for your skin and reduces scarring.