Although it’s very common, acne is a lot more complicated than most of us realize. For instance, there are different types of pimples (whiteheads, blackheads, et cetera), which may be inflamed (red, swollen, painful) or not. Acne can also be influenced by many factors in your life, such as your hormones. So if your acne is severe or if your over-the-counter treatment options aren’t helping, it’s important to see a dermatologist who may be able to prescribe you something more effective.
A note on fungal acne: Fungal acne is a colloquial term for a type of yeast infection that inflames the hair follicles on your skin. The actual name for this condition is either pityrosporum folliculitis or malassezia folliculitis, depending on whom you’re talking to. It causes red bumps and pustules that might look like acne, but don’t usually affect the face. Unlike actual acne, so-called fungal acne is treated with antifungal medications. So if you’re not sure what type of bumps you’re dealing with or your usual acne treatments don’t seem to be helping, talk to a dermatologist to see if you might be dealing with a fungal issue instead.
Retinoids (see above)
Chemical exfoliants: You may already be familiar with physical exfoliants such as scrubs and brushes. And while those are perfectly effective at removing dead skin that can clog pores, they’re not exactly gentle. That’s why many dermatologists recommend their patients stick with chemical exfoliants, which include both alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs (such as lactic acid and glycolic acid), and beta hydroxy acids, or BHAs (essentially just salicylic acid). Rather than physically scrubbing the dead skin cells off your face, these break down the bonds between those cells so that you can easily wipe them away. They’re present in all kinds of products, including cleansers, toners, masks, and serums.
Benzoyl peroxide: Unlike salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide can kill the type of bacteria that’s often responsible for inflamed acne. That’s why it’s often recommended to use both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to help manage mild to moderate acne. For more severe acne, a retinoid or other prescription treatment may be necessary. Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can also irritate or dry out skin, so it’s important to also use a moisturizer when you’re using these ingredients.
Niacinamide (see above)
Azelaic acid: A type of acid synthesized by yeast, barley, and wheat that’s believed to have a gentle exfoliating effect. Research has shown that it’s effective at managing both acne and acne-like bumps that are a common symptom of rosacea. It comes in prescription and over-the-counter forms.