How To Treat Acne: Everything You Should Know

How To Treat Acne: Everything You Should Know

Let’s take a minute to talk about the basic principles of acne treatment. In a prior post, I explained the various causes of acne which is helpful to understand the treatment and I would encourage you to read that if you want to know more about the causes.

Before getting started I want to just state that not everyone’s acne is the same. Some can be controlled with very mild regiments and others require the full array of therapy to get under control. There is no single “best treatment” for acne. This post is to educate you, but only a physician providing supervised medical therapy can identify the best course of treatment that will work for your type of acne.

A few other notes. Despite the claims, acne treatment does not work overnight. At-home treatment requires at least 4-8 weeks to see improvement. Once acne clears, you must continue to treat the skin to prevent breakouts. It is important you are judicious in both the treatment of acne and prevention of future outbreaks. It’s much easier to prevent skin pigmentation changes and scarring than it is to try to treat it down the road.

Basic skin care

Wash your face no more than twice daily using a gentle non-soap facial skin cleanser and warm (not hot) water. Examples include Cetaphil, Caress, Lever, Oil of Olay or Dove.Use of a moisturizer minimizes dryness and skin peeling, which are common side effects of some some acne treatments. If use use moisturizers, choose ones that are labeled as "non-comedogenic" are less likely to block skin pores.

Some acne treatments increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. To minimize skin damage from the sun, avoid excessive sun exposure and use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that is broad spectrum (blocks both UVA and UVB light) before sun exposure.


Non-prescription acne treatments may include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, alpha hydroxy acids, or tea tree oil, all of which are available in non-prescription strengths. A combination of these treatments is often more effective than using one single product alone

A typical trial routine would include gentle soap, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid wash in the morning and then wash again at night.

If these fail to work after 3 months of trial-and-error treatment, you should seek physician attention to help you better manage your acne.

Prescription Options

There are essentially 4 categories of treatment options your doctor might try to use to better control your acne.

1. Topical Retinoids. This includes include tretinoin (Retin-A, Avita, Atralin), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac). These require a prescription and are typically applied daily

2. Antibiotics. Bacteria can be a source of acne. There are both topical and oral antibiotic options your doctor can prescribe.

3. Hormone modulation. This is for women only and includes oral contraceptives and spironolactone. Both of these manipulate the relative amount of androgenic steroids in circulation.

4. Acutane or isotretinoin. This is the big gun of acne treatment and can cure most acne that has but refractory to other treatments. It is safe, but has side effects and requires close supervision by a physician.

A dermatologist may also be able to utilize lasters, light therapy, and chemical peels. They can also drain and extract large acne cysts.

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