Posted by: Skin and Cancer Institute in Medical Dermatology

So you have acne, and you want it gone. But how? Is it even possible to clear acne on your own? Some people say it is; others say you need to see a dermatologist. What’s the truth? The Skin and Cancer institute put together this guide to answer all these questions and more.  

Acne, by Any Other Name

Zit…acne…pimple–whatever you call it, it’s no fun when it’s on your face, staring back at you in the mirror. And you’ve probably dealt with it at least one point in your life. Eighty-five percent of teens get acne, and it doesn’t always go away in adulthood. In fact, 30% of adults get acne (sometimes as late as age 60). 

What is Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that develops when a hair follicle gets blocked. Your body naturally produces oil, which travels through the hair follicle to the surface of the skin. But when the pore gets blocked (by dead skin cells, makeup, etc.), bacteria starts to grow inside. 

What Type of Acne Can You Clear On Your Own?

There are several types of acne that you might have success clearing up on your own with over-the-counter products. These acne types include:

  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Papules – little red bumps.
  • Pimples – pus-filled bumps.

How To Treat Acne On Your Own

Now that you know it’s likely you can clear four types of acne yourself let’s talk about how to do it. Small pimples, papules, blackheads, and whiteheads all respond to over-the-counter products like:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide – kill bacteria
  • Salicylic Acid – unclog pores, reduce inflammation
  • Retinoids – unclog pores and reduce oil 

All three of these are great options for clearing your own acne when it’s whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pimples. Use them daily in your skincare regime for continuous acne control. 

Remember, Clear Pores = Clear Skin

It’s essential to keep your pores clear to prevent acne because prevention is, as they say, key. So use skincare products and makeup that are non-comedogenic, which means they won’t clog your pores and cause acne flare-ups. A comedo, by the way, is a basic acne lesion (which you don’t want). 

Other Ways to Keep Your Pores Clear

In addition to using skincare products and makeup that’s non-pore clogging, it’s also a good idea to wash your face, morning and night. Exfoliants, whether they’re chemical or physical, can also help keep your pores clean by sloughing off dead skin cells. 

When to See A Dermatologist 

You can usually see some success treating the simple types of acne on your own. However, two types (nodules and cysts) require medical attention–usually an oral antibiotic for acne. Sometimes this is combined with a topical treatment. You need to see a dermatologist if you have acne that is deep and painful. The following types of acne (which leave scars) usually don’t clear on their own or with over-the-counter products:

  • Nodules–painful bumps under the skin that are large and solid. 
  • Cysts–painful bumps under the skin that are large and pus-filled. 

Antibiotics For Acne

Deep bacterial acne like nodules and cysts require a prescription for oral antibiotics. Your dermatologist is an acne expert and will most likely prescribe one of the following antibiotics: 

  • Doxycycline
  • Erythromycin
  • Tetracycline
  • Minocycline
  • Trimethoprim
  • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim
  • Dapsone

What’s The Bottom Line?

It’s possible to clear acne on your own with over-the-counter products like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids. But this is generally only true when the acne is minor. Black and whiteheads and small red and pus-filled bumps are usually fine to treat on your own. But, deep, painful bumps require medical attention and probably won’t go away with over-the-counter products. For these, your dermatologist will prescribe an oral antibiotic. Sometimes this is also combined with a topical treatment. 

The Skin and Cancer Institute doctors are standing by to diagnose your acne. They’ll give you all the best recommendations for treating it, including a prescription if you need oral antibiotics. Ready to begin your journey to clear, pain-free skin. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment.