If you suffer from acne, you know there are few things that can wreck a good day like a pimple can. Whether it's a Rudolph-style cyst on your nose, or a fresh breakout across your forehead, it's a true bummer. So, how do you get rid of stubborn acne? Well, it depends on a lot of factors, from age (adolescent acne is a whole different animal from adult acne) and the type of acne you're dealing with — but luckily there are a lot of dermatologist-approved tips out there for achieving that elusive holy grail that is clear skin. So, whether you're trying to clear things up in time for prom, or in time for that scary new job interview on Thursday — have no fear, there's a treatment out there somewhere that's got your back.
Sometimes it feels like nothing works, but in most cases it's simply a matter of finding the right treatment — or, as the case may be, the right treatments plural — for your particular situation. Prescription medication Spironolactone, for example, works great for specific cases of adult cystic acne, according to XOVain, while over-the-counter treatments like hydrocortisone cream can shrink just about any zit in a pinch. All treatments have their pluses and minuses (some bigger than others), so let's take a look at some of the best ways to get rid of stubborn acne — courtesy of three well-respected practicing dermatologists.
"Make sure the products you use — like makeup, moisturizers, etc — are non-comedogenic, meaning that they don’t cause acne," Dr. Gary Goldenberg, who is medical director of the Dermatology Faculty Practice at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, and an assistant professor of Dermatology and Pathology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City tells Bustle over email. In general, be careful with what you put on your skin, and be sure it won't compound your issues.
If you're struggling with acne, washing your face should definitely be a priority. Dr. Goldenberg lists twice-daily washing as number one of his top five acne tips, while Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, a Manhattan-based dermatologist and CEO at Health Digital, explains to Bustle that failure to remove makeup at the end of the day is "one of the most common reasons women break out." He recommends placing makeup wipes near your bed, so you really don't have an excuse, no matter how tired and/or lazy you are.
Dr. Goldenberg explains that using a gentle cleanser is very important, and Dr. Bhanusali agrees. " I have my patients use a soothing, gentle cleanser as the powerhouse of the daily routine," Dr. Bhanusali said, "this still cleans pores and primes the skin to absorb any nutrients or actives from anti-aging or acne medications."
You might think that the fact that these sometimes end up on the buy one, get one 50 percent off shelf means these don't actually work, but you would be wrong. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are easy to get ahold of at any drugstore, and can actually work wonders if used correctly. Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, diplomat of the American Board of Dermatology recommends, "acne cleansing pads containing salicylic acid" for teens, due to their "ease of use" (it's worth pointing out that in addition to being a dermatologist, Dr. Tonkovic-Capin has two teenagers with acne himself, so he's something of a double expert). He also recommends "creams with benzoyl peroxide, with a concentration not higher than 2.5 percent."
Likewise, adding in an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like hydrocortisone to your routine can also help eradicate a stubborn zit. You've probably noticed that hydrocortisone cream works wonders on bug bites and rashes, and it has a similar magic over acne. Dr. Bhanusali explains, "Combine that with a little benzoyl peroxide and apply on the pimple at night with a bandaid covering. Usually by morning, the little bump is already looking much better!"
Exfoliation is another important step when it comes to acne eradication — after all, you want to keep your pores clear of irritants, dead skin, and bacteria. This is especially important for teens, since they are often dealing with clogged pores, due to hormone-fueled oil overproduction. Dr. Bhanusali says, "I recommend cleansing often with mild exfoliating washes, ones that have glycolic or salicylic acids. This keeps the oil from clogging up the pores and leading to painful breakouts."
7. ... But Not Too Much
Dr. Bhanusali explains that over-exfoliation "leads to removal of the good oils on the skin and then the body does something called 'compensatory hypersecretion' which means it secretes more oil because it thinks there isn't enough." To combat this, he recommends his patients only exfoliate "two to three times a week, MAX."
8. Don't Rule Out Lifestyle Changes
Look, as annoying as acne can be, it's tough to imagine cutting back on treats like ice cream, alcohol, or three a.m. TV marathons — but in some cases, steps like that can be key in eradicating acne. Never underestimate the potential benefits of eating well and getting a good night's sleep. Dr. Tonkovic-Capin recommends "real food ... food that comes from farms and not from factories, food that your great grandmother would recognize as food." He also explained that mood is very important when it comes to treating acne, and that a good night's sleep is a great way to reduce stress — it's also important to remember that teens need more sleep — he recommends "8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep." Actually sounds pretty nice when you think about it, right?
9. Get Thee To A Dermatologist
If all the over-the-counter products and home remedies aren't working for you, it might be time to seek the help of a dermatologist. "I would say the most important thing would be to see a dermatologist, because there are different patients with different skin types, and your dermatologist should be able to find a regimen for you," says Dr. Goldenberg. He elaborates that acne treatment can take a lot of trial and error, and that the process can often involve a lot of adjustments, give and take, and patience — so don't give up if your treatments don't work right away!
10. Antibiotics Can Make a Major Difference
For milder cases of acne, topical antibiotics like Aczone Gel 7.5% and Clindamycin can be instrumental. Dr. Goldenberg explains that they work by targeting P. acnes (a.k.a. the bacteria that causes acne). By killing this bacteria, you can reduce inflammation, which greatly improves the situation. If you have a more moderate case, Dr. Goldenberg recommends an oral antibiotic regimen using something like Tetracycline or Doxycycline, combined with a topical therapy.
11. Accutane Could Work, But Use with Caution
Accutane, or Isotretinoin, is something of a magic bullet, working from within your body to clear pores and zits like a landmine. Unfortunately, this fast-acting treatment can also have some major side effects, so it's generally only recommended for patients with severe cystic acne. Dr. Goldenberg explained that one of the biggest issues with the treatment, is that it could potentially cause a higher incidence of birth defects. Because of this, the FDA has created the iPLEDGE program to help decrease the risk of pregnancy while taking Accutane.
12. Tretinoin Differin Might Clear Your Skin
Like Accutane, Differin (or Retin-A) is a vitamin A derivative, and Dr. Goldenberg often prescribes it for his patients with milder cases acne. It also works by decreasing oil production and clearing pores — except it's topical as opposed to oral, and much more gentle. It can also cause dryness and peeling, but it's still a very effective treatment well-liked by many (and it was recently FDA approved to be sold over-the-counter).
13. Spironolactone Can Work Wonders For Adult Acne
Spironolactone was originally formulated as a high-blood pressure medication, but wouldn't you know it, it works on adult hormonal cystic acne as well? It works by blocking the effects of certain hormones on your skin, which can prevent those painful cystic jawline breakouts some women experience during that time of the month. "The way it works is, it basically balances hormones in these patients, because we basically know these patients have hormonal abnormalities that may be related to their acne," says Dr. Goldenberg, "So, by balancing those hormones, you could potentially make the acne better." He explained that this is why birth control pills can clear up breakouts as well.
14. Check Out High-Tech Options
Dr. Goldenberg mentioned that higher-tech options like laser therapies and thermodynamic therapies can have great results for those suffering from mild or moderate acne. Oh, and if you read Mindy Kaling's latest book, you'll know that she swears by the Tria Acne Clearing Blue Light.
Suffice it to say, there are a lot of solutions out there. Acne can certainly feel like a never-ending nightmare (who else out there thought they'd stop breaking out after finishing puberty?) but with diligence and the right approach (and maybe even the right dermatologist) clear skin is more than just a fairy tale.