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Have you tried treating your acne with no luck? You might simply be using the wrong product for the type of acne you have. We asked Dr. Neal Schultz, an NYC dermatologist, to share the best treatments for every type of acne. Read on for his expert product recommendations, along with some editor favorites, that'll give you clear skin in no time.
Best for Acne Papules
"Papules are solid, skin-colored or red bumps," Schultz says. "They're less than 5 millimeters in size, and they may or may not be painful."
Avoid picking at this type of breakout, as it won't do any good. Instead, Schultz recommends a nightly exfoliation with 5-8% glycolic acid to remove the dead skin cells that clog pores and cause breakouts. Next, you'll want to spot-treat (both day and night) with a salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur-based product.
Schultz is a fan of Neutrogena's over-the-counter acne remedy, which helps kill bacteria and dry up breakouts with benzoyl peroxide
Best for Acne Pustules
"Pustules are small bumps (less than 5 millimeters) that contain pus," Schultz says. These are the types of breakouts people are tempted to squeeze, which you can do at your own risk.
Schultz recommends treating them with the same type of spot treatments you'd use on papules, such as this 2% salicylic acid gel. Bonus: It also contains horse chestnut and oat extracts to help reduce redness.
Best for Blackheads
"Open comedones, or blackheads, are simply flat, dark-colored pore clogs," Schultz says. "Comedones are best treated at home with exfoliants (i.e. glycolic acid, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide) to help dissolve the clogs in the pores. Glycolic peels, both professional and at-home, are also very helpful."
We recommend using these exfoliating pads from Dr. Schultz's own line, BeautyRx, to battle those pesky blackheads.
Best for Cystic Acne
"Cysts are larger than papules and pustules, so they're more than 5 millimeters," Schultz says. These large, hard breakouts are often painful, and, he says, "They can be superficial or deeper in the skin."
While you can certainly benefit from a great skin-care regimen, "in cystic acne, usually you need internal treatment," he says. "Topical medications usually don't work. Accutane is a great miracle cure for really bad cystic acne, but most people with cystic acne will improve with oral antibiotics — sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for three weeks."
Some women with persistent cystic acne also find that birth control pills help keep it at bay as well. "They work by interfering with the hormonal (androgen) stimulation of oil glands," Schultz says.
If you aren't able to get a prescription for your acne troubles, taking a supplement like Nature's Bounty Hair, Skin & Nails can also help to support skin health internally.
This super popular acne treatment contains pore-clearing salicylic acid, redness-calming calamine, and impurity-drawing sulfur, making it a triple-threat against breakouts. Don't shake it; simply dip a cotton swab into the pink goop, and dot onto breakouts before bedtime.
If you need to knock out acne on a budget, this spot treatment from Clean & Clear will do the trick. It contains 2% salicylic acid acne medication to help reduce the size, swelling, and redness of pimples. The oil-free formula won’t over-dry skin and can be used up to three times a day to battle acne.
If you're willing to invest in some serious skincare to soothe your acne-prone skin woes, Lancer's blemish-control polish is a great addition to your skincare routine. This treatment can be used as an exfoliant in conjunction with the best spot treatment for your acne type to further treat severe acne and improve the overall appearance of blemishes.
If acne scars are what's really bothering you, this roll-on pen couldn't be easier to use. This peptide-rich serum applies directly to your scars, speeding up cell turnover to rid the skin of damaged cells and bring fresh ones to the surface.
Need an acne-fighting face wash to pair with your acne treatments? Eradicate impurities with this miracle cleanser from Dermalogica. It's formulated with salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid built for battling breakouts and sloughing off dead skin cells.
The foaming wash also contains a blend of naturally antiseptic extracts of eucalyptus and tea tree to help eliminate bacteria, leaving your skin smooth and blemish-free. As a bonus, Dermalogica's Clearing Skin Wash is cruelty-free, paraben-free, and formulated with no artificial fragrances.
It's a common misconception that those with oily skin shouldn't moisturize! Be sure you're treating your entire face to a full routine and not solely relying on spot treatments to battle your breakouts. If your acne comes with a side of oil, this is your best bet for a daily moisturizer. It contains panadoxine, a vitamin B6 derivative that improves skin’s overall healthy balance by visually minimizing pore size and shine.