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.
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.
In this Article
- What is acne?
- What causes acne?
- What other skin conditions can mimic acne?
- When should you start acne treatment?
- What can you do about acne on your own?
- What are other things you can do for acne? Are there any home remedies for acne?
- What is a good basic skin regimen for people with acne?
- What can the doctor do for acne?
- How would you sum up current-day acne treatment?
- Acne (Pimples) FAQs
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What can you do about acne on your own?
Think back to the three basic causes of acne and you can understand why the focus of both home treatment and prescription therapy is to (1) unclog pores, (2) reduce bacteria, and (3) minimize oil. But first a word about...
Lifestyle: Moderation and regularity are good things, but not everyone can sleep eight hours, eat three good meals, and drink eight glasses of water a day. You can, however, still control your acne even if your routine is frantic and unpredictable. Probably the most useful lifestyle changes you can make are to never to pick or squeeze pimples. Playing with or popping pimples, no matter how careful and clean you are, nearly always makes bumps stay redder and bumpier longer. People often refer to redness as "scarring," but fortunately it usually isn't in the permanent sense. It's just a mark that takes months to fade if left entirely alone.
Open the pores
Cleansing and skin care: Despite what you 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.
Kill the bacteria
- Antibacterial cleansers: The most popular ingredient in over-the-counter antibacterial cleansers is benzoyl peroxide.
- Topical (external) applications: These products come in the form of gels, creams, and lotions, which 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 you 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 you stop 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
You cannot stop your oil glands from producing oil (unless you mess with your hormones or metabolism in ways you shouldn't). Even isotretinoin (Accutane, see below) only slows down oil glands for a while; they come back to life later. What you can do is to get rid of oil on the surface of the skin and reduce the embarrassing shine.
Learn more about: Accutane
- 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 mildly 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 you wipe away oil.
What are other things you can do for acne? Are there any home remedies for acne?
- Cosmetics: Don't be afraid to hide blemishes with flesh-tinted cover-ups or even foundation, as long at it is water-based (which makes it noncomedogenic). There are many quality products available.
- Facials: While not absolutely essential, steaming and "deep-cleaning" pores is useful, both alone and in addition to medical treatment, especially for people with "whiteheads" or "blackheads." Having these pores unclogged by a professional also reduces the temptation to do it yourself.
- Pore strips: Pharmacies now carry, under a variety of brand names, strips which you put on your nose, forehead, chin, etc., to "pull out" oil from your pores. These are, in effect, a do-it-yourself facial. They are inexpensive, safe, and work reasonably well if used properly.
- Toothpaste? One popular home remedy is to put toothpaste on zits. There is no medical basis for this. Ditto for vinegar.
Viewers share their comments
Find out what women really need.