There’s no single treatment that can be deemed the best remedy for acne, otherwise we’d all already be using it. Everyone’s skin is different, everyone’s acne is different, and we all have different preferences on how we’d like that acne to be treated. Still, some acne treatments are definitely better than others, so how do you sort through them all? With this handy guide, of course. We’ve outlined all kinds of acne treatments, from supplements for acne to over the counter options to acne tools like the acne vacuum. The truth is, all acne can be improved, and most people can get completely clear skin, if they can find the best remedy for acne that works for them.
A Brief Explanation of How to Prevent Acne
Before we dive into some of the best acne remedies out there, we need to do a quick review on how to prevent acne. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The best way to prevent acne is to manage its three basic causes: inflammation, bacteria, and oil production. Acne is an inflammatory condition, meaning that although bacteria and oil production play a vital role in acne formation, it all starts with inflammation. Things like illness or irritation can inflame the skin, which causes the pores to constrict. This traps oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the pore, and that’s where acne really starts forming. However, without that initial inflammation, rates of acne decrease significantly, even with excess oil production or acne-causing bacteria. So preventing inflammation is a great answer for how to prevent acne.
If you have particularly oily skin, exfoliating the skin or reducing oil production are other great ways to help prevent acne. Our skin is always producing oil because we need a fine layer of oil to form what’s called the epidermal barrier. This layer helps protect our skin from irritation that might cause inflammation, so it’s important not to strip your skin of oil entirely. Too much oil can cause a problem too, though. When we produce extra oil, it can get clogged in our pores, causing blackheads and whiteheads, but it can also feed acne-causing bacteria, leading to more pimples as well.
Acne-causing bacteria, also called p. acnes, always live on our skin, and on their own, they don’t cause any problems. However, if we produce too much oil, they have extra food and their numbers can multiply very quickly, increasing the risk of forming a minor infection, which leads to a pimple.
The Best Over the Counter Acne Treatments
It can be hard to find the best over the counter acne treatment because there are so many of them, but there are a lot of great treatment options out there if you know what to look for.
First, it’s important to know what kind of products you actually need. With all the cleansers, scrubs, toners, creams, ointments, and serums out there, it can be difficult to know where to even start. It all depends on your skin type and what kind of skin routine you’re looking for. No matter what, to get clear skin you definitely need something to wash your face and something to treat your acne. Beyond that, it all comes down to your individual needs.
Our other main piece of advice when it comes to finding the best over the counter acne treatments is, instead of looking for a particular brand name, we recommend looking for specific ingredients that are particularly good at treating and preventing acne. There are all kinds of acne brands out there, and once you find one that works for you, it makes sense to continue to seek our their products, but when you’re first looking, the ingredients label can tell you more than the brand label can. Some ingredients are particularly good at treating specific types of acne or preventing specific factors that cause acne, while other ingredients only cause problems, either by clogging the pores or irritating the skin.
Face Wash vs. Face Scrub for Acne
The first step in any good skin care routine is washing your face, but should you use a face wash or a face scrub for acne in particular? Many people are in favor of the face scrub because exfoliation is so important in treating and preventing acne, but we have some pretty ironclad reasons you should try a face wash instead.
The main difference between a face wash and a face scrub is that the scrub contains some kind of rough ingredient that literally scrubs the skin, while a face wash is completely smooth. It’s true that exfoliation is great for acne, but both face washes and face scrubs can exfoliate the skin, and the face washes actually do it better. There are two main ways to exfoliate: physically and chemically. Physical exfoliation means you’re using something rough to literally scrub at the skin. This can easily irritate the skin and lead to inflammation, which we now know can also lead to acne. Face scrubs use physical exfoliation through some kind of rough ingredient. Many use plastic microbeads, which aren’t great for your skin or the environment, but others use natural ingredients like oatmeal, ground up nuts, or plant material. No matter how organic, these rough exfoliators should be used sparingly, if at all.
Chemical exfoliation utilizes certain chemicals, both natural and lab-made, that cling to oil and dead skin cells and help remove them from the skin. If used in the right concentrations, this is typically much gentler than physical exfoliation, which is why we recommend using a face wash instead of a face scrub for acne.
The Best Toner for Acne Might Be No Toner
The second step in most acne skin care routines is toner, but it turns out that the best toner for acne might be no toner at all. Toners are meant to clear everything off the skin to make it easier for treatment creams to do their job, but they are no longer as necessary as they once were.
Toners used to be vital to skin care when people were using something called cold cream. There are still a few cold creams on the market now, but they are far less common than they were in the 1950s and 60s. Cold cream is a very thick moisturizing lotion that is typically applied overnight, and simply washing your face, even with an exfoliating face wash, won’t get rid of it entirely. A toner is needed to clear your skin completely and make way for your acne treatment cream.
However, normal moisturizers are no longer quite so thick, and a normal face wash can easily remove them, rendering the toner step largely unnecessary. That being said, they also won’t hurt you. If you enjoy skin care, feel free to add a toner to your regimen, just make sure it is water-based rather than alcohol-based—excess alcohol can dry out the skin, leading to irritation, inflammation, and acne. Toners can also come in handy in a few different situations. If you have particularly oily skin and you notice that your skin still feels somewhat oily after washing, a toner can help remove that extra oil. Toners can also help in the summer, when you might be applying several layers of sunscreen throughout the day. Sunscreen can be thick and oily, sort of like cold cream, and it may require a toner to completely remove.
Good Acne Treatments: Ointments, Serums, Creams, and More
After the optional toning step, you’ll want to apply some good acne treatments. Acne treatments can come in the form of ointments, serums, creams, essences, and countless others. Some are distinctly different from the others, but some are the exact same thing, just with a different name.
Let’s start with acne creams. They are a fairly neutral acne treatment, not too thin, not too thick, just a basic treatment that typically comes in a squeezable container of some kind. When you apply an acne cream to your skin, it may take a few seconds to absorb completely, but it doesn’t take more than a minute. Ointments are like creams, but slightly thicker. They tend to include more moisturizing ingredients along with the acne treatment ingredients, making them good acne treatments for dry skin especially. They tend to absorb more slowly, so make sure you allow them to dry completely. On the other end of the spectrum are serums and essences. These are essentially the same thing: they are both very thin acne treatment products that are great for oily skin. Serums and essences absorb almost instantly, but they are usually very strong, so they may not be the best option for sensitive skin.
Choosing the best treatment product for you depends on your skin type and the kind of acne you most commonly deal with. If you have dry skin, ointments and creams are usually better than serums because they tend to be less drying. If you have oily skin, serums and essences feel lighter and are usually stronger, so they can cut through the oil, though creams can work too. If you have sensitive skin, creams with as few ingredients as possible are usually the way to go. Avoid anything with dyes or fragrances, as they’re likely to irritate your skin.
Moisturizer: The Last Step in Any Good Acne Regimen
Yes, even if you have the oiliest skin on the planet, you still need to include a moisturizer in your acne regimen. Don’t worry, if you get the right one, it won’t make your skin oily or clog your pores. You just need to know what to look for.
There are two main ingredients you want to make sure are in your moisturizer, and two you want to make sure to avoid. The ingredients you want to include are glycerin and oleic or linoleic acid, depending on your skin type. Glycerin is a chemical that helps our skin absorb and retain moisture, so it’s an essential ingredient in any good moisturizer. The other ingredient you want to make sure is included in your moisturizer is either oleic or linoleic acid, depending on whether you have dry or oily skin. Both of these acids are fatty acids, and they help build up our epidermal barrier to protect our skin. Oleic acid is good for dry skin because it’s thicker and provides more protection, while linoleic acid is better suited for oily skin because it’s lighter.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also ingredients you should always avoid in your moisturizer. The first is denatured alcohol. Various forms of alcohol are common in skin care, and in small amounts, they’re okay because they’re largely used to make products smooth and keep the ingredients evenly spread throughout. However, denatured alcohol is basically rubbing alcohol and it is far too harsh for the skin. The other ingredient sometimes found in moisturizers that you’ll want to avoid is coconut oil. Coconut oil is one of the most popular new ingredients in skin care, but it’s really bad for acne-prone skin because it almost always clogs pores.
Over the Counter Acne Kits
The best part about over the counter products is that they often come in pre-made acne kits. If you have sensitive or combination skin (both oily and dry) you may want to put together your own skin care regimen made of products from all kinds of brands, but most people can get by just fine with an acne kit.
Most acne kits come with three steps: washing, toning, and treating, but as we just talked about, it’s vital to include a fourth step: moisturizing. Once you find a good acne kit that includes a moisturizer, it’s important to look at the ingredient list for each product. One product may contain all the right ingredients, but another product in the same kit could contain all kinds of harsh ingredients that can cause irritation and inflammation.
Once you’ve chosen an acne kit, or put together your own, it’s important to use it as directed every single day. This really is the hardest part of acne skin care. Most acne products take several weeks to take full effect, so it’s easy to use them for two weeks, decide they aren’t working, and move on to something else. This results in frustration and feeling like nothing works for your skin, when really, you’re just not giving your skin enough time to really improve.
Because you need to use your skin care products every single day, they can’t be too harsh or they’ll cause constant irritation, which will lead to acne. Instead, try a gentle acne kit that you can use every day without harming your skin. We recommend our own Expanded Kit. It comes with a Facial Cleanser, Clearing Tonic, Moisture Complex, and an Acne Treatment Serum for the morning and a Clear Pore Serum for the evening.
Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
Salicylic acid acne treatment is one of the most common forms of over the counter acne remedies. Like we said before, it’s better to look for ingredients than for brand names, and this ingredient should be at the top of your must-have list.
Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) which helps with skin care because of its unique exfoliating properties. Unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid or citric acid, salicylic acid doesn’t just clear the oil and dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Its unique chemical makeup allows it to travel into the pores and dissolve oil clogs to help remove them. This can help remove blackheads, but it can also help prevent them by breaking down oil buildup before it even turns into a blackhead or whitehead.
Still, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing, so even if you see a product that says “salicylic acid” on the front, it’s vital to turn it around and check the ingredient label for the concentration. Most acne products contain an active ingredient, which is listed at the top of the label and comes with a percentage across from the name of the active ingredient. This percentage is the concentration, and for salicylic acid, it’s important that it’s no higher than 2%. If you have sensitive skin, we recommend going lower, around 0.5%. It might not seem like a lot, but salicylic acid is a powerful exfoliator and you don’t want to overdo it and strip your skin of the oil it needs for the epidermal barrier. Different ingredients require different concentrations to be most effective, but for salicylic acid, the concentration should stay relatively low.
Ways to Use Salicylic Acid for Acne
“Salicylic acid acne treatment” makes it sound like there’s just one way to use salicylic acid for acne, but salicylic acid is just an ingredient, and it can be found in all kinds of acne products, from face washes to toners, or even moisturizers.
Because salicylic acid goes into the pores to break up clogs, it’s often best used in a face wash or a face mask—something that you’re going to wash off. While it’s okay to use salicylic acid in a treatment cream, it’s not the best way to use it because then all the oil and dead skin cells that the salicylic acid breaks up will just remain on the skin until they’re washed away at the end of the day. By that time, they may have found their way back to the pores.
Salicylic acid face washes are pretty self-explanatory, so we want to explore the use of salicylic acid for acne masks. Acne masks are applied and left to set on the skin for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the mask. This is ideal for salicylic acid because it gives it time to fully penetrate the pores to break up any oil or dead skin cells that might be clogging them. After the mask has set for the right amount of time (always follow the instructions on the product), you just gently wash it away using warm water. Be careful not to scrub vigorously, or you may inadvertently push the oil and dead skin cells right back into the pores rather than wiping them away.
Why Differin Acne Gel Is So Popular
Differin acne gel has made a name for itself in the skin care world as one of the most effective over the counter (OTC) products on the market. But like we said at the beginning, it’s more important to look at the ingredients than the brand name, so let’s take a look at how Differin acne treatment works.
Differin acne gel contains an ingredient called adapalene, which is a retinoid-like ingredient. Retinoids are concentrated derivatives of vitamin A that are commonly used in acne treatment because they help regulate the life cycle of our skin cells. This is a great thing for acne because it keeps skin cells moving through our pores, which helps prevent them from clogging pores, and it also keeps oil moving through our pores as well. Retinoids make sure skin cells are being produced quickly enough to push the dead skin cells out of the pore, but they also make sure skin cells are dying quickly enough. When skin cells are produced quickly but live too long, they cling to the sides of the pore which can cause a blockage. Retinoids keep the skin cells on track, and this helps prevent acne from forming.
Adapalene isn’t a full retinoid, but it is a retinoid-like product. It is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, and it’s not quite as strong as some of the full retinoids, but this is actually a good thing. Many retinoids are so powerful that they dry out the skin and lead to all kinds of irritation and inflammation, so a gentle retinoid is exactly what many people need. Differin acne treatment was one of the first of its kind, offering prescription-level treatment without all the irritation. Adapalene can now be found in a few different OTC products, but Differin acne gel was the first OTC retinoid product.
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne Is a Great Solution for Pimples
So far, most of the products we’ve explored have focused on exfoliating the skin or unclogging pores, which are most effective in getting rid of blackheads or whiteheads, but benzoyl peroxide for acne is a great option for those of us with pimples.
Pimples start a lot like blackheads or whiteheads, with an inflamed pore filled with oil and dead skin cells, but a pimple forms when that pore also contains a decent amount of p. acnes bacteria. Trapped, the bacteria continue to reproduce and have nowhere to go, so a minor infection forms and our body sends immune system cells to kill the bacteria. Once the majority of the bacteria have been killed, the pimple comes to a head and starts to heal.
Although the previously mentioned ingredients can help get rid of the oil that p. acnes bacteria feed on, they can’t get rid of the bacteria themselves, especially once a pimple has formed, but benzoyl peroxide can. Benzoyl peroxide for acne works by bringing oxygen below the surface of the skin to oxygenate the pore where the bacteria are. This is a great treatment for p. acnes bacteria because they are anaerobic, meaning they can’t survive for long in an oxygenated environment.
With assistance from benzoyl peroxide, the immune system can fight off the p. acnes much more quickly, which means pimples heal a lot faster. The only downside is that the process of bringing oxygen below the surface of the skin can be harsh, and some people notice serious irritation when using benzoyl peroxide for acne. Luckily, there’s an easy solution: try a different concentration. Many people who have a bad reaction to benzoyl peroxide are using a very high concentration. Most people see great results from using benzoyl peroxide in concentrations between 2% and 5%.
The Best OTC Acne Treatment Depends on Your Skin Needs
So which one is the best OTC acne treatment? As is usually the case in skin care, it depends.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, the most important thing to look for is low concentrations of active ingredients. If you have dry skin, you don’t need those high concentrations meant to cut through a bunch of oil. If you have sensitive skin, even if you have extra oil, high concentrations of active ingredients are sure to irritate your skin. It’s better to take it slow and start with the lowest concentration possible and work your way up slowly to determine what your skin can handle without getting too irritated.
If you have oily skin, the answer isn’t necessarily high concentrations. It’s more important to use the right ingredients. If you produce a lot of oil, exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid can remove some extra oil to prevent increased numbers of p. acnes, and retinoid products can make sure your skin cells and oil keep moving and don’t clog your pores.
If you typically have blackheads and whiteheads and very few pimples, then exfoliating and moisturizing products are the best OTC acne treatments for you. Your skin may be consistently irritated, causing consistent inflammation that easily traps oil and dead skin cells to form blackheads and whiteheads, so moisturizing your skin to keep it well-protected can be an important step toward clear skin.
Finally, if you have pimples retinoids and benzoyl peroxide are usually the best products for you. Benzoyl peroxide helps very directly by killing p. acnes, but retinoids have been shown to be effective as well. Although retinoids don’t kill p. acnes, they do keep the pores clear, and it’s difficult for p. acnes to set up an infection if they keep getting kicked out of the pores.
The Best Prescription Acne Medicines
Many people with acne find that over the counter products can successfully treat their acne, but for many others, prescription acne medicine is the best way to go.
Over the counter acne products can be very strong, but prescription-strength options are usually even stronger. Many people see this as a good thing, thinking that they need the strongest product available because their acne is so bad. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Because inflammation is such a major factor in acne formation, you can’t automatically get rid of acne if you just use the strongest available products. You especially don’t want to start off with the super-intense products because they will take your skin completely by surprise and cause even more inflammation. It’s better to start with low concentration OTC products, then work your way up to the higher concentrations, and if that still isn’t working, then talk to your doctor about starting a gentle prescription acne medicine. From there, your doctor will help determine how intensive the prescription needs to be.
The second thing you need to consider before trying a prescription acne medicine is the cost. Most over the counter acne products are available for anywhere in the ballpark of $5 to $50, but that is not the case for acne prescriptions. First you need to make an appointment with a doctor, preferably a dermatologist. These visits can be expensive, though that really depends on your health insurance. Then you have to pay for the actual prescriptions, the price of which also depends on your health insurance. Without insurance, many prescription acne medicines cost upwards of $200.
All that being said, prescriptions really are the right choice for some people. It’s just a matter of finding the right one.
Antibiotics for Acne: The Worst Acne Prescription
One of the most popular acne prescriptions is antibiotics for acne, but luckily this trend is starting to decline. Antibiotics are one of the worst ideas for acne because they aren’t very effective, they aren’t a permanent solution, and they contribute to a worldwide crisis known as antibiotic resistance.
When antibiotics were first introduced as a treatment for acne, studies found that they cleared approximately 60% of acne. This isn’t bad, but it also isn’t the highest percentage out there. Still, antibiotics can help improve severe acne, so 60% could make a world of difference for some people. Unfortunately, most antibiotics are even less effective now due to antibiotic resistance.
When you take antibiotics, they kill off many of the bacteria they come into contact with, but some bacteria have a random mutation that allows them to survive the antibiotic. These mutated bacteria reproduce and their offspring are also mutated to resist the antibiotic, and the number of bacteria that are resistant continue to rise until it is largely ineffective. This phenomenon is known as antibiotic resistance, and it makes antibiotics less effective, which makes many ailments harder to treat. This isn’t a huge deal for young, healthy people, but for babies, the elderly, or the immune-compromised, this can cause serious problems. It also leads to the third problem with using antibiotics for acne: it’s not a permanent solution.
Antibiotics have to be taken for a limited amount of time to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria. Once you stop taking them, the number of p. acnes will likely increase again, and much of the skin’s improvement will be lost. Of all the prescription acne medicines, antibiotics are definitely the worst.
Beyond Differin Acne Treatment: Exploring Other Retinoids
Differin acne treatment is a popular OTC retinoid option, but if you want to go the prescription acne medicine route, there are more powerful retinoids available.
Some of the most popular retinoid prescriptions include Retin-A, Tazorac, and products that offer higher concentrations of adapalene than Differin acne treatment. Each is a topical cream applied once or twice a day and they all work in the same basic way: making sure the skin cells are on the best life cycle for preventing skin problems, including acne. There is one retinoid, though, that operates differently. It’s called isotretinoin, but it’s more commonly known as Accutane.
Accutane is a retinoid that is taken orally for several months to help permanently reduce cystic acne. Cysts form the same way as pimples, but instead of coming to a head, the bacteria continue to spread beneath the surface of the skin, forming large, painful bumps that take a long time to heal. Accutane is one of the only treatments that has proven effective in treating cysts, and in most people, the improvement is permanent. Accutane isn’t an acne cure, but unlike other acne treatments, it permanently alters the way the skin produces oil, which can lead to lasting improvement. However, as you might already suspect, this can cause some problems.
Reducing oil production in such a severe way causes severe skin peeling and irritation in many people taking Accutane, but it’s also known for its more extreme possible side effects. It causes severe birth defects, so any person capable of getting pregnant is required to use two forms of birth control while using Accutane. It has also been known to cause psychological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, or even suicidal ideation. Even though Accutane can have powerful results, it should not be taken lightly.
Prescription Acne Medicines That Combine Ingredients
Most over the counter products include one main active ingredient to fight acne, but there are some prescription acne medicines that combine active ingredients, and studies show they can have a huge impact on acne.
One of the most popular combinations is retinoids and benzoyl peroxide. Studies show this specific combination is great for cystic acne in particular. Retinoids typically treat cystic acne by forcing quick skin cell turnover, but since cysts also involve a stubborn infection, it helps to include some benzoyl peroxide too. The other added benefit to using both these ingredients at once is that they can each be used in relatively mild concentrations. These prescriptions can still dry out and irritate the skin, but a low concentration of two powerful ingredients is usually better for the skin than a high concentration of one powerful ingredient.
Another common combination prescription for acne is clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide. Clindamycin is an antibiotic that can be applied topically, but should never be used alone. On its own, clindamycin is very likely to spark antibiotic resistance, and studies show that most people have bacteria that are already resistant to clindamycin. However, when combined with benzoyl peroxide, it is safer to use for a short amount of time and it may make benzoyl peroxide more effective.
The Best Natural and DIY Acne Treatments
There are just as many natural and DIY acne treatments as there are prescription and OTC acne treatments, and some have just as much research supporting them. The trick is sifting through the myths to find the real natural and DIY gems.
When trying to reduce your acne naturally, it’s important to do your research and triple check anything you read, and it’s a good idea to run what you find by your doctor as well. They may be skeptical, but they can at least confirm whether or not the treatment can harm you or interfere with any medications or other conditions that you have. Despite their reputation for being ineffective, many natural remedies can have a serious impact on the body—it’s just not always a good one. Finding the best natural and DIY acne treatments might involve more trial and error than finding a good OTC treatment would, and you may have to tinker with ingredients and concentrations. But at the end of the day, there are natural and DIY solutions that have been carefully studied and can help reduce acne.
Avoid Anything Advertised as an “Acne Diet”
Let’s get right to it: there is no such thing as an acne diet. The relationship between diet and acne is muddy and we definitely don’t understand it well enough to create a list of foods that are definitively good or bad for acne. That being said, some people may find that altering their diet helps reduce their acne. We’re just saying it isn’t a foolproof method.
Some supposed acne diets focus on foods that help acne, like those rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Of all the acne diet suggestions, increasing antioxidant intake is the most reliable. Antioxidants fight molecules called free radicals throughout the body. Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron, and they bounce around causing cell damage in their pursuit of another electron. This cell damage leads to inflammation, which can cause issues with all kinds of conditions, including acne. Increasing your antioxidant intake is one of the ways you could modify your diet to potentially decrease acne.
The other type of acne diet is about avoiding foods that “cause” acne. Unless you have a food allergy or sensitivity, there’s no reason to cut any food out of your diet completely, especially because there is no one particular type of food that is solely responsible for acne. Hyper-restrictive diets have all kinds of negative health effects. Placing such strict restrictions on a need as constant and basic as hunger results in increased stress, and consistent chronic stress can lead to issues with blood pressure, memory, mental health, and yes, acne. If you want to make adjustments to your diet, it’s far better to develop a plan to reduce or increase certain foods while leaving plenty of wiggle room to eat all kinds of foods.
Finding the Right Supplements for Acne
Similar to finding the right acne diet, finding the right supplements for acne isn’t a perfect science. There are some supplements that may be able to help with acne, but they definitely won’t work as your only acne treatment.
Some of the best supplements for acne include probiotics and l lysine. So far we’ve been talking a lot about antibiotics or ingredients that can help kill bacteria, so you may be wondering, how in the world can a probiotic help my acne? That’s a fair question, but it has a fairly simple answer. The reason probiotics have become so popular in recent years is because we’re starting to learn more about how our gut affects the rest of our body. It turns out that we have a lot of good bacteria in our guts, and when those good bacteria flourish, they reduce inflammation throughout the body. This can help with all kinds of conditions, including acne.
L lysine is an essential amino acid that could help also help reduce inflammation by reducing stress hormone production. Our bodies don’t naturally produce l lysine, so we need to get it from other sources, typically our food. It’s commonly found in meat, cheese, fish, eggs, and some seeds, but if you aren’t getting enough l lysine, acne could be a possible side effect, and a supplement could help. Without enough l lysine, our stress hormones tend to rise, which can cause increased inflammation and increased acne. However, if you already get enough l lysine from your diet, then a supplement is unlikely to offer much assistance.
A Quick Warning About Supplements
Supplements fall under some odd regulations, and you need to be careful about where you buy them. In the US, supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but not in the same way as food and regular medicines. Instead of being rigorously tested before they’re allowed to be sold, supplements are put on the market first, and tested after. If something bad comes up, the FDA will take it off the market, but by the time they find something, thousands or millions of people could have bought it already.
This becomes an even bigger problem when you consider how many vitamin and supplement companies there are out there. Each one has to make their supplement formula slightly different from the others, which means a lot of filler ingredients get added to supplements, and not all fillers are harmless. Before buying supplements, make sure you check the ingredient label, do some online research, and bring it up with your doctor.
The Best Essential Oil for Acne
The best essential oil for acne really depends on the person, but there are all kinds of essential oils out there that can definitely help with acne. Tea tree oil is one of the most popular, but eucalyptus oil and lavender oil are great options as well.
Tea tree oil for acne is one of the most popular essential oil skin care solutions because it has been tested rigorously and research has found that it addresses all three basic causes of acne. It kills just as much p. acnes bacteria as benzoyl peroxide, it breaks up oil and dead skin cells in the pores, and it reduces inflammation—as long as you don’t use too much. It’s important to use tea tree oil sparingly because even though it’s all-natural, it’s still very strong and should never be applied directly to the skin. Simply add a few drops of tea tree oil to a carrier oil, like jojoba oil.
Eucalyptus oil gets less attention than tea tree oil, but it has many of the same properties. It is less effective in breaking up blockages in the pores, but it has one feature that tea tree oil doesn’t: it helps relieve pain. If you’ve ever had large pimples or cysts, you know how important and underrated pain-relief is when it comes to acne care.
Finally, lavender oil is a great essential oil for acne, but in a completely different way. Many essential oils claim to help reduce stress, but many studies have proven that lavender aromatherapy really can make a significant impact on stress. Chronic stress can cause chronic inflammation, leading to chronic acne, so if you think your heightened stress levels could be a factor in your acne, lavender aromatherapy could be the best essential oil for acne for you.
Homemade Face Masks: Our Favorite DIY Acne Treatment
The most popular DIY acne treatment is the homemade face mask because it’s so easy to make and fun to use. You can be creative with the ingredients, using everything from essential oils to clays to various items from your pantry. Our favorite ingredients are honey, bentonite clay, and green tea.
Honey is a great face mask ingredient because it has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and studies show it can speed the wound healing process. It might sound extreme, but acne is technically a type of wound, and the longer it takes to heal, the more likely it is that it will leave a scar, so honey can both treat acne and prevent acne scars. The best part? It’s safe and effective for all skin types.
Bentonite clay is another great ingredient, but this one should only be used for people with oily skin because bentonite clay is great at absorbing oil. You can buy pre-made bentonite clay face masks, but if you want to mix your own, all you have to do is get bentonite clay powder and add water. If you want to get creative, you can add other ingredients as well, like honey or our next ingredient: green tea.
Green tea is our favorite facemask ingredient for those with sensitive skin because it reduces inflammation and redness. If you have sensitive skin, it is probably often red and blotchy from the frequent irritation and inflammation, and the only thing that can make it return to normal is time. Green tea can help speed up that process. Simply brew a strong cup of green tea and add a teaspoon or two to your face mask mixture. If you want to decrease your overall inflammation, you can drink the rest of the cup as well.
The Oil Pulling Acne Technique
The oil pulling acne technique is relatively new, and although some natural health gurus swear by it, we haven’t found research to support it yet, so we can’t fully endorse it. However, it doesn’t seem harmful, so if you want to give it a try, here’s what you do.
The oil pulling acne technique involves taking a spoonful of oil (usually olive or sesame oil) and swishing it in your mouth for 20 minutes. Supposedly, this can have all kinds of positive effects on your oral health, but it’s also supposed to be good for your digestive system and skin. The theory behind this relies on the assumption that oil can “pull” (hence the name “oil pulling”) toxins out of cracks and crevices in the mouth. We aren’t sure about “toxins,” but this really could help remove some bacteria from the mouth. Bacteria often have a fatty, lipid membrane which is similar in composition to an oil, and when they come into contact with each other, the bacteria can stick to the oil, thus allowing the oil to pull them out of the cracks and crevices to remove them. In theory, this can help remove bacteria that could contribute to tooth decay and gingivitis, but how can it help acne?
Removing bacteria from the mouth is unlikely to help reduce acne, but oils often contain vitamins that our bodies need, and that’s the part that might help acne. Vitamins can be easily absorbed through our gums, so swishing vitamin-rich oil around your mouth for 20 minutes could allow for quite a lot of vitamin absorption. However, vitamins typically only help reduce acne if you aren’t already getting enough of that vitamin.
Although we love the ingenuity of the oil pulling acne technique, it is very unlikely to work unless you have a vitamin deficiency.
Debunking a Skin Care Wives’ Tale: Does Sun Help Acne?
Does sun help acne? According to an old wives’ tale, laying out or going tanning can help reduce acne, but the truth isn’t that simple. Even though sunshine might be able to help acne in some ways, it can also make acne worse.
The rumor that sun helps acne likely came from two factors: vitamin D and red light. Many people with normal office jobs have a slight vitamin D deficiency from a lack of time outside, and it’s worse for people who live in largely cloudy, rainy climates. This is bad for acne because vitamin D is an important vitamin for regulating our immune system and preventing inflammation. Some studies show that those with cystic acne were more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than those without it. This doesn’t mean vitamin D deficiency causes acne, but it might be a contributing factor. Because we can get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, it might be able to help acne in that way.
The other reason sun could potentially help acne is due to red light. Sunshine contains the full spectrum of visible light, including red light, which studies have found to be beneficial for acne. Red light helps reduce oil production temporarily and the heat that comes with red light can melt the oil in our pores in a way, which could help remove blackheads.
Although this evidence is compelling and might make you want to grab a beach towel and leave the sunscreen behind, all of these benefits are outweighed by the negative effects of direct exposure to the sun. Sunshine also contains harmful UV rays that cause skin cell damage and inflammation, and could lead to skin cancer. Due to these effects, tanning or laying out without sunscreen causes more harm than good.
The Best Acne Tools and Procedures
Acne tools and procedures are a whole different kind of acne treatment, and they span from items you can get over the counter to procedures that need to be performed by a professional. Some of the most popular include acne light therapy, acupuncture, and acne vacuums.
If you choose to use an acne tool, make sure to read the instructions thoroughly and follow them exactly, at least at first while you’re figuring out how your skin responds to it. If you decide to schedule an acne procedure, do your research and find a qualified professional to perform it. This is especially important if you have dark skin. The skin care industry was built largely by and for people with fair skin, and there are still many doctors, nurses, and aestheticians who don’t know how to properly treat dark skin to avoid dark spots or bleaching.
Instead of Sunshine, Try Acne Light Therapy
Acne light therapy can be both a tool and a procedure, depending on how you want it done, but if you like laying out in the sun and you feel that it helps your acne, light therapy could provide some of the same benefits, without the risk of skin cancer.
There are two main types of acne light therapy: red light and blue light. Red light therapy functions a lot like laying out in the sun, except without all the harmful UV rays. The red light reduces the amount of oil our oil production glands produce, and it gently melts the oil in our pores, which can break up clogs that might cause acne. Generally, red light gets the best results for blackheads and minor inflammation. Blue light, on the other hand, is best suited for pimples because it works by breaking down the cell walls of p. acnes bacteria.
If you’ve heard of the opera singer who breaks a glass just by singing the right note, then you’ll understand how blue light therapy works. The blue light is the perfect note, and the p. acnes cells are the glass. Light, like sound, has frequency, and although light waves move much too quickly to shatter glass, blue light in particular can shatter bacterial cell walls. Once the cell wall has collapsed, the cell quickly dies, so blue light therapy is a great way to reduce the number of p. acnes on your skin.
Both red and blue acne light therapy are available as procedures you can receive at a dermatologist’s office, or as at-home devices. Light therapy needs to be done on a semi-regular basis to provide consistent results, so it’s more convenient (and less expensive) to use the at-home option, however, at-home light therapy devices are often far less effective than in-office procedures.
Acne Vacuum: A Less Effective Acne Tool
There is significant research supporting light therapy as an acne tool, but when it comes to the acne vacuum, scientists aren’t convinced yet. Right now, they seem both too strong and too weak to work as intended.
The acne vacuum is supposed to work by literally sucking the oil and dead skin cells out of the pores, but in reality, it simply irritates the skin and removes very little, if anything at all. This is because they’re both too weak and too strong. The oil and dead skin cells clogging our pores aren’t loosely resting in our pores—they’re well and truly stuck in there, which is why blackheads are often so hard to remove. The suction provided by the acne vacuum simply isn’t strong enough to extract them. But that’s not for a lack of trying. Many acne vacuums are very powerful, which makes them highly irritating to the skin. They tug and pull on the skin, which then tries to protect itself through inflammation, effectively making the oil and dead skin cells even more trapped than before.
Essentially, the idea of an acne vacuum is flawed. With the technology we have now, there is no vacuum that is simultaneously strong enough to remove blackheads and gentle enough not to irritate the skin. The best acne vacuums might be able to do one or the other, but they can’t do both, which means they definitely aren’t the best remedy for acne.
Acne Popping: Pimples, Blackheads, and More
When it comes to acne, popping pimples is well known as the worst possible solution—right? Generally, yes, acne popping of any kind—pimples, blackheads, or otherwise—is a bad idea, but in specific situations and with careful technique, it could help.
Popping acne often results in scarring, and it usually doesn’t even get rid of the acne, but if you pop the right kind of acne in the right way, it could lead to faster healing. Although all acne can be popped, popping pimples is the only kind we can recommend. When you pop blackheads and whiteheads, you leave the pore gaping open, just waiting for excess oil and bacteria to fill the hole. Both of these things can also happen with pimples, but with pimples, the body is already pushing the infection out toward the surface. If you pop it gently at the right time, you can pop a pimple without leaving a scar or allowing more oil and bacteria to fill the newly emptied pore.
First, only pop a pimple that has a clearly defined head. It can be tempting to pop pimples as they’re forming to prevent them from forming a full head, but that will likely only make the pimples bigger and could push the bacteria deeper under the skin. Second, be sure to wash your face and hands before popping. You want to add as few new bacteria to the pimple during the popping process as possible. Finally, you can pop the pimple. Use the pads of your fingertips (no nails!) and push gently down and inward. If any blood or clear fluid emerges, stop popping immediately, even the pimple clearly isn’t completely popped. Once you’ve popped the pimple, be sure to wash your hands and face again, and apply a gentle antibacterial, like honey, to the pimple.
Acupuncture for Acne
Acupuncture is a practice from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that’s used to treat all kinds of health problems, but can you use acupuncture for acne? Many say it’s possible, but the evidence is still limited.
Acupuncture adheres to the same core principle of all TCM: the body requires consistent, even energy flow throughout in order to function properly. All illness is a result of energy that is stagnating somewhere in the body, and acupuncture uses needles to stimulate that energy. If you’re a big believer in Western medicine, this might sound a little too out there for you, but it turns out that Western medicine is only recently starting to catch up to many ideas that have been well-known in Eastern medicine for centuries. For instance, the areas that most often accrue stagnant energy? They are often in exactly the same spot as our sinuses and nerve endings, which Western medicine is still trying to figure out. So before you blow off TCM as New Age hippie stuff, remember that there’s nothing “new” about TCM and after 5,000 years of medicine, they probably got quite a few things right.
So how does stimulating stagnant energy help acne? As we said at the very beginning, acne is an inflammatory condition, and one of acupuncture’s main functions is to reduce inflammation. When an area of the body is inflamed, it could be considered stagnant because it’s dedicating a significant amount of energy and resources to one particular area rather than moving and flowing through the body normally. Acupuncture may be able to stimulate your energy to reduce the kind of inflammation that leads to acne. There isn’t enough research yet to confidently say acupuncture is an effective acne treatment, but the preliminary research is promising.