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Best Acne Treatments for Clear Skin

By January 27th, 202136 Comments

Best Acne Treatments for Clear Skin

by Allison Cooper of

Acne is an ongoing problem that many teens and adults deal with on a daily basis. In fact, the American Dermatologist Association states, “that 85% of teenagers (between the ages of 12 and 24) suffer from acne and many are bullied because of it.”

It is stressful, embarrassing, and many teens and even adults are being treated differently for it. There is no need to jump to extremes in order to deal with this problem, though, since there are many great non-surgical acne treatments available.

On the quest to find the answers about resolving this skincare issue, I contacted Dr. Glenn Kolansky, a board certified dermatologist currently practicing in New Jersey. He offers his tips for the best acne treatments and products as well as expert advice about teenage acne.

Allison: How would you compare over the counter acne treatments such as Proactive to treatments that can be bought at drugstores?

Dr. Kolansky: Proactive is just OTC strength benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, which are the same products drugstore brands use. These are mild products, but have benefits because they clean the skin and kill bacteria. They are especially beneficial when the patient is not using anything to clean their skin. Just the act of cleaning the skin, decreasing dirt and oil, has shown a benefit in acne treatment.

Medicated acne treatments containing retinoids work in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions because they have anti-inflammatory and comedolytic activity and modulate keratinocyte proliferation. Topical antibiotics can reduce inflammatory responses from acne.

Allison: Which over the counter acne treatments do you recommend?

Dr. Kolansky: I recommend OTC options that include benzoyl peroxide in products or topical creams. Washes such as Neutrogena acne wash contain 2% salicylic acid. Many house brands and OTC products contain both.

Often most products are very similar. Just using these products can provide benefit, but often prescription strength medication, retinoids or antibiotics are necessary.

Allison: How do antibiotic acne treatments work?

Dr. Kolansky: Antibiotics such as the tetracycline (minocycline and doxycycline) decrease acne bacteria, but there is concern of bacterial resistance, so combination therapy may decrease this risk. Tetracyclines have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Allison: What are your best suggestions for non-surgical treatments for teens to help get rid of acne scars?

Dr. Kolansky: Acne scars can be improved with fractional and abalative laser treatments. Fractional lasers may require multiple treatments and the healing time is usually 3 to 5 days.

Abalative laser, including the erbium-yag and the CO2 laser, require fewer treatments, but have more down time. Pulse dye lasers can be used to reduce the erythema, or redness, remaining from acne.

Allison: Can you explain how pixel lasers work to get rid of acne scars?

Dr. Kolansky: The pixel laser can soften acne scarring. It is a fractional laser that creates micro-injury to stimulate collagen. It can provide benefit for mild to moderate acne scarring. Deep scars, or ice-pick scars, may require deeper lasers or other methods for skin improvement. Redness can be decreased or softened with a pulse-dye laser such as the V-Beam by Candela, with resulting improvement in texture.

Allison: How do blue light treatments with or without levulenic acid work?

Dr. Kolansky: Blue light therapy is a new treatment option for acne patients. Propionbacterium acnes produce porphyrins as part of their normal metabolism. It is thought that when blue light hits the acne at a wavelength of 405 to 420 nm, photoexcitation of the porphyrins generates free radicals that are bactericidal against P.Acnes. Blue light may also have anti-inflammatory properties as well. There are home blue light devices that when used along with other treatments can be an effective acne treatment option.

Aminolevulinic acid (ALA) is applied to the skin and accumulates in sebocytes. When the ALA is applied to the skin, it is converted to protoporphyrin IX. It is then activated by blue light. In one study used twice weekly for four consecutive weeks and patients achieved inflammatory lesion reduction of 59 to 67 percent. Many patients tend to keep this response for 6 months or longer. However, many of these studies have been with a small group of patients.

Allison: Are there any mail order acne clearing scams that we should look out for?

Dr. Kolansky: Most all mail order treatments bill your credit card on a monthly basis and send the medication even if you do not need it.

Allison: Are there any other suggestions that you can give to teens that are having acne issues?

Dr. Kolansky: Teenagers should not squeeze or pick at their pimples as this may result in scarring. Treatment by a professional, sooner rather than later, often results in clearing of the skin with less scarring. Different acne treatments may work better for different patients.

The thought that acne is part of being a teenager is simply not true, and early treatment is the best option. It is also important to remember that treatment even when little acne remains can keep your skin clear. A good skin care routine, including washing after sports or athletic activities as soon as possible, may result in fewer breakouts. When you seek acne treatments, check that a dermatologist is actually treating you.

Have you dealt with acne? Which methods, natural or otherwise, work for you?


  • Boogie says:

    I've found that the beauty line, Clinique, works well with my skin. As a brown woman that has had acne most of my life, I was searching long and hard for something that would work. I've finally found it and its amazing. Their whole product line is great. I've been using it for about 6 months now and am very happy!!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    hey, i've found that using the simpler products like equate blackhead scrub with beads really helps i also use the equate acne pads

  • FattieSoSlim says:

    I know a lot of people say that if you use Proactiv, then you have to use it religiously in order for it to work. Isn't that what you have to do with any acne product? My skin loves Proactiv, and the acne clears up. And yes I have to use it twice a day, everyday, but when I was using Duac and Differin, I also had to use them everyday. It made my skin clear up, but it made it really sensitive.

    And in regards to the doctor saying that Proactiv has the same active ingredients as regular drugstore products, this may be true, but for my skin, it works much better. I've tried Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Clearasil… Toners, scrubs, medicated lotions, you name it. And it doesn't work the same as Proactiv… I don't know what it is. I'm not trying to knock the natural face care products, but Proactiv works really well for me.

  • Carla says:

    I am 32 years old and have suffered with acne since I was about 9. I've tried everything under the sun (topical, internal, over the counter, prescription – except Accutane, diet, drinking lots of water, avoiding a lot in my diet, etc) and nothing has helped me long-term. I look forward to reading over the comments to see if anything has worked for anyone long term.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi BlondeByDesire, Use a shower gel with a real citrus extract. Do not exfoliate it, it'll only spread the bacteria. And when you can find a detox mud mask with mostly natural ingredients. And moisturize with something like Shea butter or something with an almond extract that will not cause your pores to clog. Moisture sounds crazy but it is exactly what you need.

  • BlondeByDesire says:

    Any advice to offer for for back acne … what can be used … I'm suffering terribly with it

  • Anonymous says:

    I understand concerns of oily, dry, and sensitive skin and acne prone skin. The difference is huge between each variation. For any skin type it is important to take care of your skin daily, and without over doing it. Acne prone skin have a ton of options however everyones skin is different. Treatment of all kinds can become really expensive. What I suggest for oily skin, which is my skin type and I hope to stay my skin type… Keep your skin balanced with cleansing, toning, moisturizing, and exfoliating twice a week. The products that I believe in 100% are natural products, however not organic but that's ok. Organic isn't always the best option. The brand that I use and highly recommend is L'Occitane, pronounced LOX-EE-TON. This brand is amazing and has done wonders for my skin and for others as well. Within L'Occitane's skincare line I use: Immortelle Brightening cleansing foam, Shea Fabulous Serum (and yes, I am oily however this moisturizer helps with keeping my skin from being overly active with the oils that it brings to the surface and it primes your makeup;)) immortelle brightening water (this is your healthy water toner!! Simply amazing!) and finally the Immortelle instant brightening exfoliator (yes it instantly brings the life back into your skin tone) I hyperpigmentate like crazy and I will say the healthiest way of correcting this is to use a moisturizer because moisture helps renew the skin and filters as it should. Sooo back to acne prone skin… Lemon helps with issues of ance prone skin which is bacteria. Try this brand called Fresh, the have a lemon facial wash that works incredibly well for skin with bacteria/acne. Don't use abrasive forms of treatment unless you have acne that just will not give up! Then in that case I suggest Murad, much better than proactive (which studies have shown that it is not designed for the beta content of African American skin types. It actually can do more harm down the road than it will ever do any good) but please still be careful with the continued use of salicylic acid. I hope this helped 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    CeRave, Differin, Duac, and doxcyclin. Oh yeah sunscreen!!!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    For me, its cetaphil, cleocin-t pads, differin and chemical peels. Oh and please invest in a comedone extractor. Its the best!

  • CrystG82 says:

    I have had horrible facial and back acne for probably 12 years. I feel like Ive tried everything short of antibiotics. For the past 6 month, I have washed my face with Dr. Wood's Liquid black soap and moisturize with aloe vera gel mixed with jojoba and emu oil. My skin has never been this clear. Now i am just in search of something for my backacne scars. I may have to try the evening primrose orally to see if it helps because my acne is definitely hormonal.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have struggled with acne for most of my life and have learned that I need three things: 1) to drink LOTS and LOTS of water every day [at least 8 cups]; 2) to exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate [I've been using the Clarisonic Mia for the last 6 weeks with pretty good results; and 3) a dermatologist for prescription grade meds and regular peels. I just don't trust myself to administer at-home peels and nothing as worked as well as Azelex to give me smooth, gorgeous skin.

  • Anonymous says:

    Accutane is not the answer!!!! Acne is no joke…but there is hope! I've suffered from acne for most of my teenage and adult life, and have finally found a product and regimen I am happy with, and I have used "everything" from Accutane to many natural home remedies. Of all the pharmaceutical solutions, accutane did clear my skin up quickly, but I had to ask myself "at what cost"? Was I willing to risk my overall health an wellness for a quick fix? Accutane alters your body's natural chemistry and is known for its risks associated with depression and suicide in teens among other seriously harmful side effects, I don't care closely it's monitored or small the dosage. And any medication that poses a risks to an unborn fetus, should leave us questioning whether it's good for our bodies at all, especially since it requires ongoing long-term use to retain the results. This means it's not the "solution" it's just a "band aid" with harmful repercussions. A natural product I highly recommend is BURT'S BEES natural Acne Solutions line. It's active ingredient is salicylic acid from willow bark, and is not synthetically made. Any natural skin care regimen will take time to show results (some less time than others), but if you're consistent with it I think you will be pleased. I think the most important time to cleanse your skin is at night before going to bed to remove all of the day's built up sweat, oil, toxins and impurities. Let the cleanser sit on you face for 5-10 minutes so that your skin can absorb and utilize the active ingredients ( You can get away with a quick wash or even simple water rinse in the morning). Rinse and pat your skin dry and follow up with the daily moisturizing lotion, and then spot treat after a few minutes if necessary. Weekly or periodic exfoliating (with a glycolic acid product) and deep pore steam treatments and gentle scrubs are also beneficial as well. I also believe that acne is totally related to our individual genetics and diet. And while I believe that there is no one answer for everyone, if we take the time to pay attention to what we are eating and monitor our body's/skin's reaction, we can determine what is affecting us. Be it dairy, sugar, soy, wheat, etc….be mindful that what affects one person may not affect another. If we limit our intake and portions of the affecting foods we can minimize our body's/skin's reaction as well. My point to all of this is that it can be done naturally! And I'm hoping that more of my sisters allow the natural hair revolution to manifest into a natural mind, "whole body" and spirit transformation as well.

  • Anonymous says:

    Please be careful with Accutane because this drug has been associated with having really bad side effects for some people including. Accutane has a long history of controversy over birth defects, depression and suicide, and other serious medical problems.

    Here's a link

  • luvmylocs says:

    in addition to some of the suggestions that have been mentioned i would encourage anyone who is battling acne to also check their makeup. it's a bad cycle, you get acne, you use more makeup to cover it up, you get more acne. as much as i love mac, their foundation was terrible for my skin. when i figured it out and talked to the mac girl she said that it can be too much. there are some ingredients that are just bad for acne prone skin. i still wear their shadows and lip products but for my face (i.e. foundation, blush, bronzers) i use meow mineral foundation. it was a LIFESAVER!! i don't feel the need to look any more. they have great colors, the coverage is excellent and most importantly my skin stopped freaking out so bad.

    other things that seem to help me, limit sugar and diary products, wipe makeup then use a cleanser with the clarisonic, occasional lactic acid peels, occasional facials, lots of water, proper supplements (for me omega 3 among others help), changing pillow cases and sheets regular, keeping my hands out of my face, salicylic acid to keep pores clear, aveeno spf 30 sunscreen, deep breathing, meditation and adequate sleep.

  • Anonymous says:


    thanks. I'm actually going to be ordering the peels from them! I watched a bunch of video reviews on youtube and I can't wait to try it for myself!

  • charlotte says:


    i use peels from

    they sell all types of different peels on there (their own brand) and theyve really helped my skin a lot. theyre not cheap, but youll be a saving a lot more than you would visiting a dermatologist!

  • Anonymous says:

    I've suffered from acne for 16 years. It took me a LONG time to figure out that the ingredients in many products were clogging my pores, and making my acne worse. Additionally, I have allergies to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), soy, and dairy.

    I also agree with the doctor interviewed in this post, in that oftentimes, thorough cleaning makes a BIG difference. We know that acne isn't caused by dirt, but failing to clean dirt and oil from the pores compounds the problem. I tried using only warm water and a washcloth and my skin was like, "ummm…no ma'am."

    Washing my face twice a day with Clinique's Oily Skin Bar Soap, using their Acne Solutions toner once a day, and Retin-A has cleared by face almost completely! Just in time for homecoming. LOL!

  • jessica says:

    I second the anaonymous at 8:22 AM.

    Accutane is the best. My skin is completely clear and soft and smooth. This will work you just have to put away the fears, I'm telling you. I dealt with acne that was mild for the most part but it was very very recalcitrant, to the point that I tried not only OTC products but also Rx topicals and antibiotics. Benzaclin works pretty good but you have to keep on using it and so the bacteria will get acclimated to the clindamycin and it will be pointless.

    Nothing works like Accutane. Please, if you have acne, try it. It's expensive, if I didn't have insurance, I would have paid $600 a month for 5 months, but I only had to pay $20 for the whole course of treatment. You do have to have blood work done every month to make sure your trigs, cholesterol, and liver enzymes are normal plus they want to make sure you aren't pregnant. But you will feel better that you did.

    do not be afraid!! 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    evening primrose oil orally for hormonal acne. it takes about a month to start working but now idont develop new acne breakouts. still struggling with past scars though.

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with Becky. Once I removed dairy from my diet my adult acne disappeared. Eliminate cows milk and cows cheese and you'll have clear skin. I used to use Benzaclin, a topical prescription, which completely cleared up my acne too.

  • Anonymous says:

    I've struggled with acne since I was in middle school. My skin is extremely oily and I would get blackheads like you wouldn't believe. Proactiv helped for a few weeks but then my skin reverted back to its acne prone self. Now I use Clean & Clear Cleanser (the purple bottle), followed by benzaclin (AM) and retin-A (PM). I also drink lots of water and always put on sunscreen every morning. My skin is now super clear.
    I have tried and tried to stop taking prescription drugs and go back to the regular stuff, but it just doesn't work for my skin. I'll probably try it again in a few years, but hey, if it's not broke…

  • My3BoyZ says:

    Once I went natural (almost 2 years ago) I decided to finally see a dermatologist since my face was fully exposed after my big chop. My face is now the clearest that it has ever been thanks to washing daily with Cetaphil Daily wash and applying Epiduo cream several times weekly. I especially know to be very diligent with both of these before that time of the month when I usually break out the most. Damn hormones!

  • Candace4life says:

    You ladies should try the Murad products for skin problems. His products are amazing and it's done wonders for my skin when I was using it. You can check it out at Also dudu osan bar soap is good as well, and I follow that up with shea butter on my face. Doing a egg facial with just the egg whites and using paper towels or toilet paper and letting it set on face for 15 minutes is good for tightening up your skin. Also try mixing a little bit of lemon juice and sugar together and ucan use this on blemishes to lighten up old scars on the face or elbows.

  • Anonymous says:

    Changed my life.If anyone has any questions please please,ask them here and ill hair actually grew faster while on accutane,was expecting it to fall out,but my acne was so bad i didnt care,you can hide a bald head how am i gonna hide my acne?wear a burka!.im currently on my third month and its like night and day.Again,please ask me any questions you may have if you are contemplating using accutane.i was scared before i used it,so i understand.

  • Anonymous says:

    I've SUFFERED from acne like you wouldn't BELIEVE! It really started getting out of control when I was 17. My mom had bought some proactive when and it didn't work, it sorta made my acne worse and didn't get better. SO I finally went to the derm and he gave me tetracycline, a clindimycin lotion and–DUN DUN DUNNN– bleaching cream to fade the MANY blemishes. I can't believe I used that tetra. for about a year and a half. I had no idea how harmful it could possibly be–though I don't have any neg. side effects thus far (i'm 24 now). I stopped those acne meds because I started feeling medicated. My body didn't feel healthy because of the tetra. so yeah I just stopped despite my clear skin.

    Since I had mostly blackheads (bh) I started using LUSH's Mask of Magnaminty. I swear it got rid of those BHs!! My acne is still w me till this day but I feel like I have it under control (and minue bh!).

    I steam my face regularly w a bowl if hot water with honey on my skin. and once I wash that off I put lemon juice on there for the blemishes. I may steam again with the lemon juice (then wash it off) or just leave it on for a min or 2 w/out steaming and wash it off. I still use the mask of magnaminty and I moisturize with grape seed oil. I also use the OCM at times! AWESOME. I have a few blemishes and minor breakouts here any there but, its no where near what it used to look like and I am GRATEFUL!


  • Anonymous says:

    African Black soap to wash, shea butter to moisturize. Love it!!! Now I just need something to clear up my bacne. 🙁

  • Anonymous says:

    I don't recommend ProActiv as it is a bleach and will cause future damage to your skin, especially if you go out in the sun. What you eat does influence you acne. Diary and wheat are huge culprits. I had great skin has a teenager, but develop adult acne. Once I got tested for food allergies for a different reason, I discovered that I had a wheat and diary allery. Now I limit my intake and have clear skin. When I eat those foods, my boyfriend can tell instantly even if he didn't see me eat. He notices a rash and pimples on my forehead.

  • Anonymous says:

    I've struggled with my skin for 10yrs+ and recently (6mths ago) I purchased the Clarisonic Face Brush (Mia), it's truly the best thing I've ever tried. It's pricey but totally worth it, a cleaner face has been the key to eliminating breakouts and decreasing the size of my pores, and yes I said eliminating. Like many have said before diet also has a direct impact on my skin, less fat and sugar and more water are essential in clearer skin for me.

  • Anonymous says:

    I tried products that contained these ingredients but my skin always felt stripped after using them and produced more oil. So I started researching natural ingredients like aloe vera gel and tea tree oil. Now I only wash my face with a very mild soap and moisturize with aloe vera gel, grapeseed oil and tea tree essential oil. And let me tell you I don't have zits anymore. Tea tree oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. But yeah, having a healthy lifestyle is important too.

  • persimmon says:

    I agree that just like hair, it takes time and patience to find out what's best for your skin. I tried proactive and it worked well but I did not appreciate how dependent my skin became on the chemicals. I looked good as long as I used the products religiously but it didn't feel healthy.

    I have developed a new routine that involves mostly natural ingredients. I wash morning and night with alaffia soap bar (shea butter and rooibos tea in citrus blossom) that only costs like 4 bucks at Whole Foods. For exfoliation I use dessert essences tea tree scrub which is also very affordable. I follow up with a witch hazel/rose water toner and a bit of aloe vera or jojoba oil for moisture. If you don't mind spending a bit more the MyChelle line (also at Whole Foods) is wonderful. I have the pumpkin peel which truly works wonders and the oily skin serum which is also really effective at preventing breakouts.

    My number one way to pamper my skin is a simple mask of european style yogurt (trader joes). Add a few drops of lemon or lime to the yogurt if you have oily skin. Make yourself some mint tea and sit back and relax to let it dry. Oh yeah, excellent acne treatment too is a crushed up aspirin mixed with a drop of aloe vera. Instantly calms inflammation.

    Remember that zits come and go even on perfectly healthy skin. try not to pick unnecessarily. Be good to your skin and yourself!

  • Anonymous says:

    My advice: Please research the oil cleanse method…using castor oil and another carrier oil to wash your face and moisturize with. I know it may sound crazy to the oily skinned individuals but it works. I trashed my Tazorac, and other medications from the dermo and live by this now. I have combination skin if you are wondering. Try it…it will only cost $15 dollars to buy the oils if you dont already have it in your cabinet already. Its a little time consuming than washing your face and wiping with a towel because you have to steam your face with a hot wash cloth or use a steamer.

  • Becky says:

    i know they say that what you eat doesn't cause breakouts but I have had acne since i was 12yrs old and i've noticed a relation, especially with cheese (dairy). if i stay away from it my face will start to clear up.

    whether or not you believe certain foods cause acne, eating healthy does prompt healthy(clear) skin. So load up on veggies and tons of water!

    when choosing acne products, or anything that will be put on your face, don't follow the hype. Just like you come to this site to learn about hair, take the time to learn about your skin. You may not understand all the medical jargon but it will help you make better choices and better understand what works for you.

    pay attention to where you get acne as well. I used to get horrible breakouts down the right side of my face and it took me a while to realize that it was because i always put my cellphone to that side. so i started cleaning it with alcohol pads regularly (and txt more often ;D).

    make-up is something you need to pay attention to as well. they say mineral make-up is best but it still depends what is put in there.again, do your research. and don't forget to clean your brushes regularly!

  • Anonymous says:

    @charlotte , what brand and where do you get the peels from?


  • charlyn says:

    I tried proactiv, otc and prescription treatments. meh. what's finally worked for my sensitive, oily acne-prone skin is:
    1. using black soap.
    2. taking biotin daily (a supplement that supports healthy hair, skin and nails. i bought it at GNC but it's way cheaper at costco)
    3. the proactive face lotion.
    4. for makeup, I use neutrogena's skin-clearing line–it actually improved my skin!

    These are more affordable than other products, and the inside-out approach seems to work the best. also, birth-control did wonders for my skin, but i blew up like a blimp, soooo that wasn't for me lol

  • Andrea says:

    I got second degree burns from a photofacial (laser treatment) 6 years ago and I still have damage from it.

  • charlotte says:

    salicylic acid can cause your skin to become more greasy and benzoyl peroxide is basically a bleach thats really damaging to your skin :/

    if anyone with acne is considering using fractal lazers id think again and research it thoroughly, they can cause pituitary damage, and having clear skin is not worth damaging a vital part of your brain for 🙁

    to keep my skin clear i drink a ton of water, avoid coca cola, dairy and refined grains and sugar. i wash my face with a wash cloth and warm water, use rose water to tone and moisturise with 2 drops of jojoba oil mixed with 1 drop of neem oil. i apply retin-a gel a couple of times a week too. i also use a 40% lactic acid peel once a week and every 6 months or so i do an 8% tca peel and my skin looks great. i think sunscreen is important to help with fading scarring from acne lesions too.

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