As you go about treating acne, it's important to remember that all acne isn't the same. What works really well for one kind of pimple might not work at all for another. You want to use the type of acne treatment that targets your particular kind of acne. If you use the wrong treatment you might even make your breakouts worse. The first step in how to get rid of acne is understanding what kind of acne you have—read on to learn about blackheads, white heads, small red bumps, hormonal acne and cystic acne, and how to best treat each.
Chemical peels. Chemical peels can reduce the appearance of shallow acne scars and post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation around a healed acne lesion. A chemical peel may be administered by a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or spa aesthetician and involves applying a chemical to your skin to remove its outer layer, giving it a smoother, more even appearance. Depending on the strength of the acid used, you may experience redness and peeling for a few days afterward.
If you have body acne, taking a shower as soon as possible after working out is also key. It turns out that standing around in tight, sweaty workout clothes puts you at the greatest risk for body acne and rashes. “The whole idea is that the bacteria that live on the skin can get trapped in the hair follicles and cause inflammation,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hale. “The more you work out in the heat the more likely this is.” Dr. Levin agrees that showering right after a workout is your best defense against body acne. But in a pinch, body wipes like the Yuni Shower Sheets will do the trick.
There are a number of mild chemical peels available over the counter, but acne scar removal requires a stronger peel typically administered by a doctor or dermatologist. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are slightly stronger than alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels and may be used for acne scar treatment. The strongest type, phenol peels, may cause significant swelling and require up to two weeks of recovery time at home. Neither are recommended for people with active severe acne.
It's best to consult a primary care physician or dermatologist if an individual is unable to adequately control his or her acne. The goal of treatment should be the prevention of scarring (not a flawless complexion) so that after the condition spontaneously resolves there is no lasting sign of the affliction. Here are some of the options available:
According to dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, some scars are thick, raised hypertrophic scars that stick out above the skin; others are keloid, which are scars that have over-healed, and manifest as dense, rubbery skin tissue. Then, there are atrophic scars that appear as depressions in the skin — they're the most challenging to treat. The three main categories of atrophic scars are:
You've probably seen the Proactiv clear skin system advertised on television at some point over the last several years, but does it work? Proactiv is one of the better acne remedies out there for mild cases of inflammatory and noninflammatory acne, hormonal acne, and adult acne. The basic kit comes with a gentle glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide exfoliator, a benzoyl peroxide pore cleanser, and an oil-free moisturizer that contains both glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Prices and shipping rates vary by location but Proactiv typically starts at $30.
You've probably seen those tiny glass jars filled with liquid and some solid sediment at the bottom—sometimes it's pink, sometimes it's white, and (in the case of my favorite product) sometimes it's flesh-tone. The solid in the jar is usually a mix of drying ingredient like camphor, sulfur, and zinc oxide, but many brands throw in a few little extras. Cult-favorite Mario Badescu Drying Lotion adds calming calamine and exfoliating salacylic acid to their formula, while my favorite, End-Zit Acne Control Drying Lotion, keeps it simple, but comes in several shades so that it conceals your breakout while it treats it.
Many people also report a direct relation towards dairy consumption and acne, with many reporting a complete clear up after cutting dairy out of their diet. While it is an effective way to deal with the problem, your body does still require the nutrients from dairy to remain healthy, so if you do cut it out, make sure you find other sources for the nutrients, including a supplement.
Another source of hormonal changes: stress. Whether you work full time, are a full-time mom, or juggle both, chances are, your stress levels are high. "When you're stressed, you have an organ called the adrenal gland that makes the stress hormone cortisol, and puts it out into the body to help the body deal with stress," Dr. Schultz explains. Unfortunately, a tiny bit of testosterone leaks out with it. For a woman, this male hormone can drive the oil glands to produce more oil—the root cause of breakouts. (Thanks a lot, hormones!)
Avoid creams with vitamin E. Creams with vitamin E may actually do more harm than good. Because it's a vitamin, we're tempted to think that it will be either beneficial or harmless. In fact, one University of Miami study reported that vitamin E treatment had no effect or worsened the appearance of scars in 90% of subjects, with improvement in only 10% of cases.
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.