The good news is that with more research devoted to skin care and acne than ever before, a great variety of acne products have become available. The tough part is figuring out which acne product is best for you. Acne products come with a variety of benefits, some more tailored to your particular needs than others.
The Right Acne Product for You
You want a safe and effective acne product that is easy to apply, has manageable side effects, isn’t messy, won’t stain and won’t make you look worse while you’re trying to look better.
Keep in mind that what might be a right acne product for one person, may not be the right product for everyone. With such a variety of products available you need to consider different forms of products.
Forms of Acne Products
Topical acne medications come in several forms. The active medicinal ingredients can be delivered to the skin in creams, gels, lotions, pads, solutions or washes, and more recently, in foam.
Which Delivery Vehicle is Best for You?
Of course the first consideration for you and your dermatologist is to find a medication that provides you with the maximum therapeutic benefit. The formulation should effectively deliver the active ingredients where needed and at the same time be comfortable for your skin type.
Creams – Cream and lotion formulations provide moisture and may be better for people with sensitive or dry skin.
Gels – Gels are usually alcohol-based which can often be drying and may be better for people with oily skin or for those who live in hot, humid climates.
Water-based gels are not as drying as alcohol-based gels and may be better for those who have dry or sensitive skin.
Solutions – Solutions are usually alcohol-based and can often be drying or irritating.
Foam – Foam is a newer delivery vehicle to the acne market.
Foam, such as the VersaFoam brand vehicle, is easy to apply and leaves virtually no residue.
Foam is also highly spreadable, and easy to apply to harder to reach places such as the back.
Cosmetic Preferences – Everyone has their individual preferences when it comes to cosmetics, but here is a list of some of the most common cosmetic preferences that are shared among patients when it comes to acne treatments and acne products.
*Nonstaining and/or Nonbleaching
Topical antimicrobials and topical retinoids have been popular active ingredients in acne products for decades.
For the treatment of mild to moderate inflammatory acne, topical antimicrobials (substances that eliminate or reduce microorganisms) are prescription medications that inhibit the growth of P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne.
Creams, Lotions, Gels and Foam – Topical antimicrobial acne medicines come as creams, lotions, gels, and foam. Your dermatologist will determine which form would be the most effective and comfortable for you based on your skin type and environment.
For instance, creams and lotions provide moisture and may be better for people with sensitive or dry skin. On the other hand, gels and solutions are mostly alcohol based and because of their drying power and may be better for people with oily skin or for those who live in hot, humid climates. A foam acne product can provide increased spreadability which is convenient for application to larger body areas.
Types of Topical Antimicrobials
Azelaic Acid – This prescription medication is used to treat mild to moderate inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.
Azelaic acid is believed to clear acne by minimizing P. acnes, regulating abnormal skin cell shedding and reducing inflammation.
This acne medication has also been shown effective in treating the dark spots that develop in some acne patients with skin of color.
Easily tolerated by most people, azelaic acid can be safely used. Side effects can include skin dryness and lightening of the skin where applied.
Benzoyl Peroxide – Although benzoyl peroxide (BPO) does not reduce inflammation, it is included in the ingredients of several over-the-counter and prescription acne preparations because of its ability to kill P. acnes.
BPO is available over-the-counter but only in a mild formula. The prescription forms of benzoyl peroxide are available in a wide range of strengths. It is also available in several forms such as gels, lotions, cleansers, creams and washes.
Side effects include skin irritation and the possibility of bleaching your hair or fabrics that may come in contact with it. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to the medicine.
Clindamycin – With a long history of successful acne treatment, this semi-synthetic antibiotic works by reducing P. acnes and decreasing inflammation.
The topical form has proven safe and well tolerated. Possible side effects are skin dryness and irritation.
As with all antibiotics, it is important to use only as directed by your doctor to minimize the risk of developing bacterial resistance.
Erythromycin – In the topical form, erythromycin is both an antimicrobial and an anti-inflammatory. It is effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including P. acnes.
The combination of the two antimicrobial agents, erythromycin and benzoyl peroxide, provides a powerful and proven anti-acne treatment.
Possible side effects are dry and or irritated skin. Remember to use only as directed by your doctor in order to avoid the potential development of bacterial resistance to the antibiotic.
Sodium Sulfacetamide – Effective in treating inflammatory acne, this topical antibiotic inhibits P. acnes and opens clogged pores.
Many of the medications containing sodium sulfacetamide include sulfur in their formulas. The smell and grittiness of the sulfur can be unpleasant. Newer products that contain sulfur have eliminated these drawbacks.
Temporary Side Effects – Sometimes, after the initial application of a topical antimicrobial medication, your skin can look worse before it gets better. It is not uncommon to experience stinging, burning, redness, peeling, scaling or skin discoloration. These side effects usually decrease or go away after the medicine is used for a period of time. Ask your dermatologist what to expect. If you suffer severe side effects you should contact your doctor immediately and together review the course of treatment.
Follow Directions – It is always important to follow your doctor’s advice on how to apply the medicine and how often to use it. Overuse can lead to skin irritation and in some instances other side effects. In the case of antibiotics, improper use could lead to the development of bacterial resistance to the drug
A derivative of vitamin A, topical retinoids are a prescription acne medication used for mild to moderately severe inflammatory acne. They effectively unclog pores, allowing other topical medications such as antibiotics to enter the hair shaft and fight acne. Retinoids also help to reduce acne outbreaks by preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores.
Some topical retinoids offer the added benefit of diminishing the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.
As with other topical acne medications, retinoids are available in creams, gels and liquid form.
Retinoids can, however, cause irritation and increased sun sensitivity. So be sure to use sun protection and follow your doctor’s advice.
Types of Topical Retinoids
Adapalene – Applied as a cream or gel, Adapalene is a synthetic retinoid that unclogs pores. Adapalene also displays a range of moderate to potent anti-inflammatory effects.
It usually takes about 8 to 12 weeks to see improvements in your skin’s condition. Side effects can include minor skin irritation and or dryness.
Tazarotene – Proven effective in treating acne, this synthetic retinoid is available in a gel or cream form and works by keeping your skin pores clear. You may experience some skin irritation.
Women who are pregnant should not take this medication and effective contraception is needed during a course of tazarotene treatment because it has produced birth defects in animals.
Tretinoin – A natural retinoid and the first developed for topical use, tretinoin gradually unplugs pores and then keeps them unplugged. This both prevents new comedones (blocked pores that result in whiteheads and blackheads) from forming and allows a topical antibiotic to enter the follicle and continue the healing process.
Patients in the past have found tretinoin too harsh for their skin. Today, however, newer, less irritating formulas are available. Side effects can include redness, scaling, dryness, itching and burning.
If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your dermatologist. By working with you to adjust the amount of tretinoin you apply and when you apply it, the dermatologist can help you minimize the side effects and speed the healing process.
Temporary Side Effects – Sometimes, after the initial application of a topical retinoid medication, your skin can look worse before it gets better. It is not uncommon to experience stinging, burning, redness, peeling, scaling or skin discoloration. These side effects usually decrease or go away after the medicine is used for a period of time. Ask your dermatologist what to expect. If you suffer severe side effects you should contact your doctor immediately and together review the course of treatment.
Follow Directions – It is always important to follow your doctor’s advice on how to apply the medicine and how often to use it. Overuse can lead to skin irritation and in some instances other side effects.
A mainstay of acne therapy, oral antibiotics are usually prescribed for moderate to severe and persistent acne cases. As with topical antimicrobials, oral antibiotics reduce inflammation by attacking Propionibacterium acnes (aka P. acnes), the bacteria responsible for the redness, heat and pain that can accompany acne.
Only your doctor can determine if an oral antibiotic is right for you. These products can cause serious side effects and are not right for everyone.
The P. acnes bacteria can, over time, become resistant to the antibiotic being used to treat it. In order to regain control over the acne another antibiotic or alternative treatment can be prescribed.
Types of Oral Antibiotics
Erythromycin – Effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including P. acnes, erythromycin can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Tetracycline – Tetracycline is used for the treatment of inflammatory lesions (blemishes) such as papules (inflamed comedones that are firm, pink, and tender to the touch) and pustules (small round lesions with a red base and yellowish or white center).
Tetracycline Derivatives – There are two synthetic derivatives of tetracycline that are used to treat acne, doxycycline and minocycline.
Doxycycline is very effective in treating inflammatory acne. As with several other acne medications, it can cause sun sensitivity in some people.
Minocycline has been used in the fight against acne for quite some time. It often succeeds where other oral antibiotics have failed. Also to its advantage, minocycline seems to produce fewer incidents of antibiotic resistance.
More recently, combination products have become popular.
Combination Acne Products
A Medicine Chest Full of Acne Products – There are a multitude of over-the-counter acne products and prescription medications. They all target different acne causes and often only offer partial solutions. As you try to effectively treat your acne, you could easily find yourself with a medicine cabinet full of acne products all demanding different application regimens and schedules.
Some acne medications, such as topical antibiotics, target the growth of P. acnes, the bacteria that causes redness and inflammation. Other acne medications, such as retinoids, are aimed at preventing pores from clogging. In some cases it may be necessary for a patient to use multiple acne products to target the different causes of acne. It can be quite a hassle to have to remember to use multiple acne medications in a day. Wouldn’t it be great if one acne medication could fight multiple causes of acne?
Convenience and Effectiveness – For simpler and more effective treatments, combination products and medications are quite convenient. A combination product would have two or more active acne-fighting ingredients that complement each other.
Combination Products for Acne
Benzoyl Peroxide(BPO) with an antibiotic – BPO is included in the ingredients of several over-the-counter and prescription acne preparations because of its ability to kill P. acnes.
Research has also shown that benzoyl peroxide enhances the effectiveness of some antibiotics such as clindamycin and erythromycin to penetrate the skin and reduce inflammation.
When used in combination with antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide reduces the risk of a patient developing resistance to the antibiotic.
Benzoyl Peroxide can cause skin irritation and possibly bleach your hair or fabrics that may come in contact with it. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to it.
An alternative to traditional acne products is hormone therapy.
Androgens, male hormones that are produced by both men and women, can cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum (oil). When the sebum mixes with dead skin cells the pores can become clogged. This clog is what allows acne to form.
The purpose of hormonal therapy is to counteract the effect of the androgens with the use of estrogen.
Types of Hormone Therapy
Oral Contraceptives – Oral contraceptives that contain estrogen are an effective acne treatment for many women and can be used as long-term acne therapy. They work by suppressing the overactive sebaceous glands responsible for the oily skin secretions that lead to clogged pores and acne.
There are potential serious health risks when taking oral contraceptives, which can be life threatening, including blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks. These health risks are increased if you smoke cigarettes. You should discuss with your doctor if oral contraceptives are right for you.
Finding the Right Acne Product
It’s a tall order, but together with a dermatologist you can probably find a product that is right for you. Some of the issues the two of you will want to consider when selecting an acne product include:
*Can an over-the-counter (OTC) product do the trick or would a prescription acne medication work better in your case?
*What are some of the more effective medications available?
*Can you treat the multiple causes of acne without multiple acne products?
*Which topical delivery vehicle is best for your skin type? Is it cream, gel, lotion or foam? What are the cosmetic benefits of different delivery vehicles?