If you’ve made a concerted effort with over-the-counter regimens and/or diet and still aren’t seeing results, a dermatologist is absolutely worth it. There are many levels of care: Prescription retinoids (Retin A, Tazorac, Differin et al) and/or topical antibiotics are the mildest, along with blue-light treatments like Isolaze, which kill bacteria and clear pores, with virtually no downtime. Light lasers like Clear and Brilliant can clear pores and treat the red and brown tones left by old acne lesions. “Some patients think they’ve got a severe problem, when they really only have a few pimples, surrounded by red and brown marks from old breakouts,” notes Anolik. Oral antibiotics represent a more aggressive (and unsustainable long-term) solution; birth control pills and hormone-mitigating medications like Spironalactone and Deldactone can get many more-severe patients’ acne under control. Most aggressive is Accutane; while it can be severely drying and can cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy, it represents a cure for truly-severe acne cases, says Anolik. “Used correctly, it is something of a miracle for people who’ve tried everything and failed,” he says.
Acne scar treatments are best handled with special attention and care from your dermatologist since they require more intense procedures than over-the-counter options. The downside: Treatments tend to be expensive. If you aren't quite ready to put a dent in your savings, know that you aren't alone in your struggle with acne scars. Just by reframing your way of thinking, you may even learn to feel much more comfortable with them.
Because I'm constantly testing out new products, I don't often end up with "empties" (as in, products so good you've emptied out the bottle). However, I loved Sunday Riley's Good Genes so much I literally twisted the pump off and stuck my finger in it to try and get every last bit. The magic potion's main ingredient is lactic acid, which exfoliates away dead skin cells — key for clearing pores, fading scars, and revealing fresh skin on the surface.
Cysts, which are also called blind pimples, are the very worst kind of acne. Basically, cysts are made up of sebaceous content (again, a gross combination of oil, dirt, and bacteria) that's trapped beneath the skin and has no way out—so they just live and grow under the skin, causing both a bump and, in some cases, pain. "These take longer to resolve on their own, are less responsive to topical treatments, and over time may lead to scarring," says Dr. Chwalek. Um, no thanks.
Doctors can treat telangiectasias with a small electric needle, a laser, intense pulsed light, or minor surgery to close off the dilated blood vessels. Usually, multiple treatments are required for best results, and only a portion of the blood vessels improve with each treatment. Not everyone responds the same to these types of treatments, and a physician can help someone decide which treatment is best for his or her skin type, condition, and size of blood vessels.
With the proper treatment, patients can control rosacea symptoms and signs. Popular methods of treatment include topical (skin) medications applied by the patient once or twice a day. Topical antibiotic medication such as metronidazole (Metrogel) applied one to two times a day after cleansing may significantly improve rosacea. Azelaic acid (Azelex cream, Finacea gel 15%) is another effective treatment for patients with rosacea. Both metronidazole and azelaic acid work to control the redness and bumps in rosacea.
You can apply all the topicals you want, but unfortunately, most treatments you'll find at the drugstore won't help with acne scars, Hellman says. However, she notes that derma rollers (at-home microneedling devices) may help with acne scarring. If you're on a tight budget, that should be your first stop. You can get one on Amazon for less than $20. (Use yours once a week followed by a Vitamin C serum for best results—here's how to pick the best ones.)
Avoid touching or rubbing your face, since that can make acne worse. Try to keep your cell phone from touching your face, too. Use earbuds instead of having the phone against your skin. Also, don't lean your face on your hands, which may carry oils and germs that can irritate blemishes. Sweat can also make acne worse. Sweaty after exercise? Wash up.
"Acne scars are very challenging to treat and are even more challenging to treat once they've been given time to age," says Joel Schlessinger, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Omaha, Nebraska. Although he says the best option is prevention (but if you just can't resist popping your pimples, do it the doctor-approved way!), there are ways to treat acne scars to drastically reduce their appearance.
Acne occurs when the small pores on the surface of the skin become blocked with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Each individual pore on the skin opens up to a follicle beneath the epidermis. Within these follicles lie a singular hair and a sebaceous gland. The sebaceous gland produces sebum, an oil designed to keep your skin lubricated and soft. However, when hormonal changes and other factors cause the gland to produce an excess of sebum, the oil will be pumped through the follicle, and may pick up dead skin cells and P. acnes bacteria on its way out. Should these substances clump together, a plug will form. As this plug starts to press up against the surface of the skin, the body responds with an accumulation of red and white blood cells to combat any infection, and this results in inflammation and redness. Acne can occur on the face, back, neck, chest, arms, and buttocks, and any other skin area with a saturation of sebaceous pores.
If you use hair sprays or gels, try to keep them away from your face, as they also can clog pores. If you have long hair that touches your face, be sure to wash it often enough to keep oil away. And if you have an after-school job that puts you in contact with oil — like in a fast-food restaurant or gas station, for example — be sure to wash your face well when you get home. It also can help to wash your face after you've been exercising.
14. Beware bangs. All that extra hairspray on your bangs could be the cause of those annoying pimples on your forehead and along your hairline. After applying hair products, swipe a cleansing wipe across your face, and try to keep hair products away from your hairline. In addition to your face, hair products can cause bacne, too. Use a mild body wash after washing and rinsing hair to help keep body acne in check.
"Overwashing your face can make acne worse," Dr. Kazin explains. Cleansing more than twice a day is too much and can just dry out skin, "which can cause [it] to produce more oil to overcompensate." Your Clarisonic addiction may not be helping either. "It helps remove all makeup and helps your cleanser work better, but I worry about the coarse ones. It's almost like giving yourself microdermabrasion twice a day, which can cause a breakout," says Dr. Kazin. Dr. Schultz seconds that: "Anything that rubs skin will, to a small extent, promote acne." That includes a grainy or gritty cleanser, too. Try these two gentle face washes instead: Phace Bioactive Detoxifying Gel Cleanser or Frank Body Creamy Face Cleanser.
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.
Light treatments: Recent years have brought reports of success in treating acne using special lights and similar devices, alone or in conjunction with photosensitizing dyes. It appears that these treatments are safe and can be effective, but it is not clear that their success is lasting. At this point, laser treatment of acne is best thought of as an adjunct to conventional therapy, rather than as a substitute.