What can you do about acne on your own?
Think back to the three basic causes of acne and you can understand why the focus of both home treatment and prescription therapy is to (1) unclog pores, (2) kill bacteria, and (3) minimize oil. But first a word about…
Lifestyle: Moderation and regularity are good things, but not everyone can sleep eight hours, eat three good meals, and drink eight glasses of water a day. You can, however, still control your acne even if your routine is frantic and unpredictable. Probably the most useful lifestyle changes you can make are to never to pick or squeeze pimples. Playing with or popping pimples, no matter how careful and clean you are, nearly always makes bumps stay redder and bumpier longer. People often refer to redness as “scarring,” but fortunately it usually isn’t in the permanent sense. It’s just a mark that takes months to fade if left entirely alone.
Open the pores
Cleansing and skin care: Despite what you read in popular style and fashion magazines, there is no magic product or regimen that is right for every person and situation.
Mild cleansers: Washing once or twice a day with a mild cleansing bar or liquid (for example, Dove, Neutrogena, Basis, Purpose, and Cetaphil are all inexpensive and popular) will keep the skin clean and minimize sensitivity and irritation.
Exfoliating cleansers and masques: A variety of mild scrubs, exfoliants, and masks can be used. These products contain either fine granules or salicylic acid in a concentration that makes it a very mild peeling agent. These products remove the outer layer of the skin and thus open pores. Products containing glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids are also gentle skin exfoliants.
Retinol: Not to be confused with the prescription medication Retin-A, this derivative of vitamin A can help promote skin peeling.
Kill the bacteria
Antibacterial cleansers: The most popular ingredient in over-the-counter antibacterial cleansers is benzoyl peroxide.
Topical (external) applications: These products come in the form of gels, creams, and lotions, which are applied to the affected area. The active ingredients that kill surface bacteria include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and resorcinol. Some brands promoted on the Internet and cable TV (such as ProActiv) are much more costly than identical products you can buy in the drugstore.
Benzoyl peroxide causes red and scaly skin irritation in a small number of people, which goes away as soon as you stop using the product. Keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide is a bleach, so do not let products containing benzoyl peroxide leave unsightly blotching on colored clothes, shirts, towels, and carpets.
Reduce the oil
You cannot stop your oil glands from producing oil (unless you mess with your hormones or metabolism in ways you shouldn’t). Even isotretinoin (Accutane, see below) only slows down oil glands for a while; they come back to life later. What you can do is to get rid of oil on the surface of the skin and reduce the embarrassing shine.