Best Acne Treatments
Acne is a very common issue that we all face, but sudden breakouts can be embarrassing and painful to deal with. With so many acne treatment products on the market today, what’s the difference between them and which ingredients are most likely to work on your spots?
Contains lactic acid
Is effective at targeting spots
4 products included
No benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
May not be suitable for sensitive skin
Premium price tag
- Value for Money3.1 (13)
- Causes Irritation Yes (4) · No (8)
- Ease of Application4.3 (12)
- Smell4.2 (10)
- Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Normal Skin (2), Oily Skin (1), Sensitive Skin (2) and Combination Skin (7)
- Acne SeverityMild (5) and Moderate (5)
- Personal PreferencesCruelty Free
Suitable for sensitive skin
- Value for Money4.1 (17)
- Causes Irritation Yes (0) · No (16)
- Ease of Application4.8 (12)
- Smell5.0 (5)
- Skin TypeOily Skin (4), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (10)
- Acne SeverityMild (2), Moderate (11) and Severe (4)
- Personal PreferencesNo Artificial Fragrances, Paraben Free and Sulphate Free
Available in 3 strengths
Good value for money
May dry skin
May not be suitable for sensitive skin
- Value for Money3.6 (17)
- Causes Irritation Yes (10) · No (7)
- Ease of Application4.1 (18)
- Smell3.3 (10)
- Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Oily Skin (7), Sensitive Skin (2) and Combination Skin (9)
- Acne SeverityMild (6), Moderate (10) and Severe (3)
Uses natural ingredients
Tea tree oil is naturally antibacterial
- Value for Money4.8 (5)
- Causes Irritation Yes (0) · No (4)
- Ease of Application5.0 (5)
- Smell4.4 (5)
- Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (2)
- Acne SeverityModerate (5)
Tackles moderate to severe acne
Combats acne-causing bacteria
May irritate sensitive skin
- Value for Money4.5 (6)
- Causes Irritation Yes (2) · No (4)
- Ease of Application4.8 (4)
- Smell4.5 (2)
- Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Normal Skin (1), Oily Skin (1), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (2)
- Acne SeverityModerate (5) and Severe (1)
What causes acne
Acne is caused by blocked follicles. This can happen through everyday wear and tear as dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells or oil (sebum) can enter your pores and block them.
While it’s easy to blame acne on skin-surface blockages, many triggers happen below the skin such as shifting hormones which can lead to excess sebum production and follicle blockage. In fact, acne can be caused by a multitude of issues that aren’t related to bad washing habits including:
- Hormonal shifts during puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause and in other instances
- Certain medications
- Carbohydrate-rich diets
- Genetics, as if one or both of your parents dealt with severe acne, you're more likely to develop it
If you are concerned about your acne, it’s recommended that you speak to your dermatologist who can direct you on the best next steps.
Types of acne
(Image showing the types of acne ranging from least to most severe)
Identifying which type of acne you are facing and how it is caused can help you know how best to tackle it.
These non-inflammatory spots include blackheads and whiteheads which are usually caused by pore blockage via dirt, oil and dead skin cells. They are very common and we are all likely to get them at some point.
Whiteheads and blackheads are very similar, the only difference being that whiteheads have skin covering them while blackheads don’t and are referred to as ‘open comedones’. The white part is hardened sebum and blackheads are created from the blocked oil oxidising with the air and turning black.
They are different from pustules as they don’t contain pus and cannot spread to other parts of the face. They can be treated with salicylic acids, scrubs and general facial hygiene upkeep.
Papules are small red bumps that often appear in clusters on the skin. They are caused by blocked pores mixing with bacteria on the skin to create inflamed lesions in the surrounding skin tissue. For papules and other inflammatory acne, benzoyl peroxide is an effective ingredient to help kill bacteria.
Otherwise known as the typical ‘pimple’ or ‘zit’, this type of acne looks large and red with a white or yellow core. This core contains pus from bacteria which can spread if you pick at them, leading to further breakout. They can be quite tender to touch and can go away on their own, but the process can be sped up with the help of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to kill bacteria and draw out the excess oils.
One of the most severe forms of acne is cystic acne. Cysts are large and painful pimples with no heads. They are caused by oil and bacteria being trapped beneath the surface of the skin and often appear on the chin and jawline. You should never pop or pick these pimples as doing so can lead to further breakout as well as scarring.
Nodules are painful and hard lumps deep within the body which have no heads or visible centre. They are caused by clogged pores which then cause damage to tissues and cells deep beneath the skin’s surface.
It is possible to have more than one type of acne at the same time and you can discuss with your doctor if you need help diagnosing them.
Acne treating ingredients and what they do
More severe forms of acne such as cystic acne and nodules may require treatment from a dermatologist who can prescribe you antibiotics, oral contraceptives, steroid injections, chemical peels or corticosteroids to lessen your symptoms.
For milder forms of acne or acute breakouts, many over-the-counter (OTC) topical treatments can effectively ease breakouts. Topical means that it can be applied to your skin, and they can come in the form of cleansers, moisturisers, gels, toners and creams which can treat inflammatory and non-inflammatory pimples. These products often contain a mix of active ingredients:
Benzoyl peroxide: This treatment kills bacteria and removes excess oil from the skin while exfoliating dead skin cells. Benzoyl peroxide is often the main ingredient in many acne treatments and can treat existing acne and help prevent future breakouts. OTC products containing this ingredient come in strengths ranging from 2-10%. Despite the vast range, 2% works just as effectively for facial acne and can be less harsh on delicate skin.
This ingredient can cause dry skin, stinging and redness and may not be suitable for those with sensitive skin.
Salicylic acid: This popular ingredient unblocks pores and is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) which is a powerful exfoliant. It’s recommended to go for a 2% strength as that is an effective, yet gentle percentage.
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): Under this group falls lactic and glycolic acid which can help slough off dead skin cells. They increase skin sensitivity to the sun and therefore care must be taken when using them.
Sulphur: Sulphur removes dead skin cells and excess oils by unclogging pores - however, this ingredient may cause dry skin and have an unpleasant odour.
Retinoid: Retinoid is the umbrella term for a group of ingredients that derive from vitamin A, including retinol, adapalene, tretinoin and others. Many retinoids are prescription only, however low doses can now be found in OTC medication. They have an exfoliating effect on the skin and can help reduce acne. They increase skin sensitivity to the sun and therefore are recommended to use at night or with sunscreen.
Clay: This ingredient is present in many acne-masks and contains anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce oil production.
Tea-tree oil: A natural remedy that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be harsh on the skin.
Vitamin C: One of the most powerful antioxidants, Vitamin C reduces inflammation, hyperpigmentation and helps promote collagen production.
Several home remedies and lifestyle changes can help to reduce most minor-to-mild forms of noninflammatory acne. It may help to try:
- Washing the face with lukewarm water and soap twice daily - taking care to avoid over-washing or irritating the skin
- Shampooing your hair regularly and keeping it out of your face
- Using makeup that’s water-based or labelled as “noncomedogenic” (not pore-clogging)
- Avoiding squeezing spots, which spreads bacteria and excess oil
- Avoid touching your face
- Practising stress-relief activities
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Staying hydrated
- Limiting exposure to the sun or wearing sunscreen
Types of acne products
There are many products on the market that help unclog pores and destroy bacteria. Some contain a variety of different treatments that can be used in conjunction to provide the best results. They usually contain a combination of the following treatments:
- Scrubs & scrub pads: Gently exfoliating, acne-geared scrubs and scrub pads contain an acne-treatment formula to help unclog pores. Scrubs can either be physical or chemical and these products may contain clay and salicylic acid. They should be used intermittently and not every day.
- Creams, gels & serums: A lot of serums, gels and creams contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. They can be applied directly to your pimples and work by drawing out toxins and unclogging pores. Their formula tends to be more concentrated than face washes and are good at tackling flare-ups.
- Face wash: Many face washes and cleansers contain small amounts of active acne-fighting ingredients which are great at prevention as well as reducing breakouts. They can be more suitable for those with sensitive skin and can be used daily.
- Pills: Tackling the issue from the inside, there are many OTC pills with vitamins and minerals to boost healthy skin and help ease acne flare-ups. This form of treatment may not be as fast-acting as topical ones.
Many OTC treatments may take a few weeks - months before results can be seen, so it’s worth sticking with one treatment for a while. If nothing improves after 2-3 months, then consider switching to something else.
Other things to consider
Parabens are artificial preservatives and there has been debate as to the safety of them. They can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and disrupt hormone function. It may be safer to invest in a paraben-free product.
Sulphur tends to have an unpleasant smell in high concentrations. Similarly, it can be particularly drying for the skin. People who are sensitive to this may wish to choose a product that does not contain sulphate.
Acne severity: Is your acne mild, moderate or severe? This will affect which treatment may be the best choice for you. Rare and singular flare-ups can be dealt with effectively with a concentrated serum whereas more outbreaks that are more spread out over the face could benefit from regular use of facial cleaners and OTC pills.
Skin type: People have either dry, normal, oily, sensitive or combination skin - knowing which skin type you have will allow you to choose a treatment that suits you. Those with oily skin should avoid using oil-based cleansers and moisturisers and those with sensitive skin could benefit from choosing products that do not contain abrasive or harsh chemicals.
Price: Drugstore acne treatment products can work just as effectively as high-end products. Instead of looking at the designer brand, look out for the ingredients that help clean pores and tackle bacteria and read reviews to see how it worked on others.
Consult a doctor if your acne is painful and cannot be treated by over-the-counter creams as many prescriptions can help ease your symptoms.
You can read reviews for the best OTC acne treatments products on the market on our website today!