This post may contain affiliate links. Learn more.
If you’re like the vast majority of men, you had acne as a teenager.
In fact, nearly 85% of men are affected by acne at some point during their teen years. Those pimples were just another obstacle in surviving the “awkward years”, but, fortunately, you survived.
Then again, acne isn’t just for adolescents.
Men of all ages experience acne breakouts, although the chances of getting them tend to decrease with age. But if you’re a man – or male teen – who suffers from acne, we’re here to help.
Whilst no one is a fan of acne, it is more often the results of acne that we are all most eager to avoid, namely a damaged self-image, low mood, social anxiety, and of course, scarring.
All the worry and stress can begin to affect other areas of your life, but the stress itself can exacerbate your acne as well, leading to a vicious downward spiral. Surprisingly the discovery that stress can cause acne, rather than acne just causing stress is a relatively new one.
This finding only serves to highlight the importance of good, regular skincare and stopping the disease process in its tracks before it becomes a more serious issue. By pro-actively tending to acne (without overdoing it, of course), you send signals to your brain that your skin is beginning the process of recovery, rather than assuming a sinking feeling that your acne is here to stay.
In fact, if you have left your teen years well behind you, chances are stress, mood, and your ‘psychopathology’ probably have a lot more to do with your skin health than you think. Some research even indicates that it is your mental reaction to juvenile (pre-adult) acne that determines whether or not you will have persistent acne later in life.
Fortunately, our compiled list of the best skin clearing treatments helps improve your acne from a number of different angles, giving you that holistic approach required to support both your skin and self-esteem. Remember that whilst you may not be able to avoid developing acne in the first place, you have the power to choose the right treatments to move you quickly along your path to recovery.
We’ll discuss various types of acne, their causes, and how to get the most from your treatment.
|Tiege Hanley Daily Moisturizing Acne Cream||Check Best Price|
|ZELEN Life Moisturizer||Check It Out|
|Hims – The Acne Kit||Check Best Price|
|RUGGED & DAPPER Detox and Acne Face Mask for Men||Check on Amazon|
|Kiehl’s Men’s Oil Eliminator Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Face Wash||Check on Amazon|
|Vie Naturelle Acne Treatment Pills Supplement||Check on Amazon|
|Acne Facial Cleanser By Exposed Skin Care||Check on Amazon|
Before you buy: A couple of things you need to consider when purchasing acne treatment
1. Know the main causes of acne
There are a few things to keep in mind while you’re choosing an acne treatment that’s right for you – including the fact that acne is not the same for every man.
There are in total of four recognized root causes of acne. It is these four causes which are the targets of all modern remedies and treatments.
Increased sebum (oil) production
For us men, this can more often than not be the driver of our acne. Both the production and secretion of sebum are increased by androgen hormones – you might recognize the most well-known one – testosterone. Research has shown that having more secreted sebum directly correlates with both the severity and occurrence of acne lesions.
For guys, this means that sebum control should be at the top of your skincare priority list. Of course, if you know that you suffer from overly dry skin, then sebum production isn’t something you need to worry about.
Increased bacterial growth
It may be surprising to know, but there isn’t much of a difference between the bacteria found in healthy skin and the bacteria found within acne. The main type of bacteria that causes problems, P.acnes, is an anaerobe, which means it thrives in conditions without oxygen.
This includes oily skin as well as skin with regularly applied products like skin cream, moisturizer, and makeup. The first step then in preventing and limiting bacterial growth is reducing clogged skin with regular washing and cleansing.
This is brought on by the sudden spike in the growth of bacteria. The bacteria trigger the immune system causing an inflammation that can become pus-filled – leading to cysts and acne pustules.
Excess skin growth and loss
Excess skin growth and loss build up the levels of dead skin in the pores. These blockages can kick start the low oxygen levels which bacteria thrive on. Blocked pores are more likely to develop a build-up of bacteria, damaging surrounding skin and extending the amount of local inflammation.
When trying to treat these four causes, the aim always remained the same: to control and treat existing acne lesions while preventing scarring as much as possible.
The main go-to option for many years was antibiotics. These attacked the common acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, but in recent years the bacteria have developed resistance to many of the popular antibiotics in use today.
This is why many men at home and dermatologists in the clinic are constantly searching for the best non-antibiotic preventative, treatment, and restorative remedies.
2. Treating different types of acne
Acne, or as it is known by its full name, Acne vulgaris, is a condition that moves through various stages of severities. While these are not strictly different acne types, the way they look and the treatments they benefit from differ enough that many people view them somewhat separately.
To give you an idea of what we actually mean when we talk about mild, moderate, or severe acne, we have grouped the stages of acne development.
Bear in mind that not everyone progresses from mild to severe acne – that really depends on a multitude of factors such as genetics, sebum production, and more.
Additionally, there are different ways in which acne manifests on your skin: pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, cystic acne, and acne scars.
The stage or type of acne you have dictates which treatment you should be using. Using the wrong treatment will be ineffective at best or irritating to already damaged skin at worst.
Generally, acne can be grouped as follows:
- Cystic Acne – the most severe type
- Inflammatory Acne – can range from mild to moderate in severity.
- Comedonal Acne – the mildest form of acne
If you’re buying an over-the-counter acne treatment, you’ll notice several common ingredients, including:
Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that cause acne while removing excess oil and dead skin cells, which may clog pores. However, it is important to note that it does not provide you with long-term bacterial resistance. It simply kills the bacteria that are present when applied, i.e., it is ‘bactericidal.’
Whilst in the short term, this may seem like a disadvantage, many dermatologists prefer this as it does not increase your risk of antibacterial resistance over the long term. Benzoyl peroxide is recommended mainly for mild acne when it is used alone.
When combined with retinoids or alongside antibiotic therapy, it is found to be effective in treating moderate to severe acne as well. Once antibiotic therapy has been completed, the continued use of benzoyl peroxide has been useful in maintaining remission after inflammation has been resolved.
This is because, aside from being bactericidal, benzoyl peroxide also has keratolytic properties. In other words, it works to remove dying and dead skin, which, if left alone, can clog pores and increase the chances of further infection.
Benzoyl peroxide ranges in strength from 2.5% to 10% in OTC products. It is important to note that research into different peroxide strengths in people using the product for up to 12 months noted little difference in either reduction of acne or side effects.
What this means in practice is that you should be more concerned with the product as a whole rather than just reaching for the highest concentration that you can find.
Salicylic acid keeps pores unplugged and ranges in strength from 0.5% to 5% in OTC treatments. As it is a ‘peeling agent,’ It may cause mild stinging and skin irritation.
Compared to the above active ingredient of benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is considered a new treatment. This, unfortunately, means that compared to some other ingredients, there is not as much research available, but what has been studied looks very promising.
In terms of effectiveness, 2% of salicylic acid has been directly compared to 5% benzoyl peroxide. Initial studies show that it can reduce the size of pustules at the same rate while maintaining the same level of skin hydration, brightness, and reduction in skin redness.
There are other chemical peeling agents available on the market, such as glycolic acid. Whilst this is also seen as a safe and well-tolerated acne treatment, it simply does not work as quickly or effectively as salicylic acid.
Don’t be put off by the reports of discomfort, burning, or skin irritation. Of course, if they are very uncomfortable, then you should stop the use of salicylic acid. But in the numerous studies carried out with this chemical peel, although these reactions are noted, they appear to be tolerated for weeks and months by the overwhelming majority.
There are reports that combining different peels can lead to better and longer-lasting results. However, we do advise, as with trying anything else new, that you start slowly and work your way up, rather than shocking your skin and face with too much product.
The same effect can be found by regular use, for example, once every 2 weeks for a total of 6 peels before letting your skin rest. One of the best ‘side effects’ of regular peel use is the reduction of any scarring, as well as a reduction in inflammation and acne.
Alpha hydroxy acids
Alpha-hydroxy acids have come from relative obscurity to emerge as a central component of clinical dermatology and at-home skincare regimes. As they have developed and come into the mainstream, dermatologists have found that they expanded the reach of skincare products to bring proper rejuvenation of skin from both scarring, disease, and aging factors like the sun.
When our skin suffers damage from the sun or repeated acne outbreaks, for example, the weakened cell layers become thinner than usual, bringing out the visual signs of scarring and aging we are all familiar with. Alpha-hydroxy acids repair both the epidermis and the skin’s stratum corneum, bringing them back to their original, healthy thickness.
These changes happen within a matter of weeks, with the dermis coming back to full health and thickness after 2 to 3 months. There are clinically visible changes to skin health and fullness, with some suggestion that alpha-hydroxy use may also increase the formation of underlying collagen.
There are two types of alpha-hydroxy acids used in non-prescription acne products: glycolic acid and lactic acid. Both types treat acne by removing dead skin cells and reducing inflammation. They also stimulate skin growth and smoother skin.
Sulfur is another ingredient in OTC acne products that removes dead skin cells and excess oil. It’s often combined with other ingredients, such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.
Sulfur has been used for decades in a variety of skin-related conditions and disorders. Not only does it remove dead and hardened skin, but it also promotes new blood vessels to grow throughout the skin. This allows for greater removal of toxins and infection and more oxygen-rich blood to bring life back to acne damaged skin.
A study found that when combined with benzoyl peroxide, sulfur ‘induced prompt suppression of acne lesions of all types.’ In other words, the treatment was swift and effective, removing the need for extra therapies like UV exposure of antibiotic therapy.
It is good to be aware that some studies have shown a 2% contact allergic sensitivity, so if you notice adverse skin events, stop applying the treatment.
The question is: which ingredients are right for you and your type of acne? Here are some things to consider:
- If you’re still unsure, choose a product with benzoyl peroxide. Most people tolerate benzoyl peroxide (without side effects), and even a lower strength – in the 2.5 range – is effective for many people.
- Start with lower strength products to minimize the redness, dry skin, and clogged pores caused by acne. Slowly increase the strength of your product and how often you use it until the treatment proves effective.
- Combine products and ingredients. You may find it helpful to use products with different ingredients to treat stubborn acne symptoms. You even could use one product in the morning and a different one at night and don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a product (and ingredient) that works for you.
As mentioned, we’ll discuss types of acne and treatments a bit later in this post, but let’s first take a look at our choices for the best men’s acne treatment products.
The 7 best acne treatments for men
- Slow-release salicylic acid
- Dedicated acne treatment cream
Best acne treatment for:
Stubborn, slow healing acne.
If there’s one thing to be said about Tiege Hanley, it’s that it has you covered for all of your facial skin needs, and this treatment is no different: It’s part of the Acne System which you need to buy in full – this includes a wash, scrub and two types of moisturizer.
The first moisturizer is great, but the second moisturizer may surprise you – it’s the one dedicated to acne treatment. We’re used to acne formulations coming as a wash or cleanse, but Tiege has changed the formula around and used their moisturizer to deliver the anti-acne solution.
The genius here is making you apply the moisturizer at night – although it absorbs well into the skin, there is an invisible face mask of salicylic acid that rests on your face. Despite not feeling any different from the usual moisturizer they provide, it does the heavy lifting of managing your acne while you sleep.
Ingredients like Salix Alba bark extract ensure that your skin stays hydrated whilst the gentle salicylic acid gets to work.
Tiege Hanley employs a chemist – known only as “The Chemist” – who formulates all of its products.
According to TH, The Chemist is a firm believer that diet and excessive face-washing don’t clear up acne but that a topical treatment makes all the difference.
Tiege Hanley’s acne cream is infused with salicylic acid, which helps shed the top layer of skin cells.
It also reduces the side effects of acne and blackheads while incorporating a moisturizing formula that helps minimize dryness.
The Tiege Hanley acne cream also works by fighting bacteria that lead to breakouts while also unclogging pores.
It even helps reduce the appearance of acne scars while preventing future breakouts.
Other key ingredients in the Tiege Hanley acne cream are plantain extract and KuKui Nut oil.
Plantain extract helps accelerate wound healing while also helping the skin to regenerate.
It also reduces the chances of scarring. KuKui Nut oil helps to moisturize skin while also protecting it without clogging pores.
You can use the code “BALDINGBEARDS10” at checkout to get a free Tiege Hanley Dopp bag.
- Unique long-acting formula
- Helps unclog pores
- Reduces acne scars
- Limits acne breakouts
- Perhaps not as good for dry, sensitive skin
- Acne cream only accessible when buying a set
Tiege Hanley is a company devoted to men’s skincare – particularly facial skin. Their commitment is evident in their acne cream, a product designed to keep breakouts, scars, and clogged pores to a minimum.
- Double action reduction in bacteria and inflammation
- Light, non-greasy texture, absorbs fast and locks in moisture
- Balances sebum production
Best acne treatment for:
Those who want a straightforward regimen for their oily skin. Unlike Tiege Hanley, which wants you to switch up your moisturizer twice a day, the ZELEN Life Moisturizer carries its anti-acne effect throughout the day.
As many of us know, although we hope a good night’s rest will be good for the skin, sometimes you wake with redness and irritation that seems worse than the day before. Soothing the skin is hard to achieve when you want to return moisture without clogging pores and creating more problems further down the line.
The ZELEN Life has several natural ingredients ready to restore your skin as you go through your day. Regardless of your skin type, the Jojoba oil contained within allows for more natural retention of moisture whilst all-importantly remaining non-comedogenic.
This provides a great base for the other active ingredients to work from. Well-hydrated and unclogged skin is then soothed by calendula oil to reduce signs of redness and irritation. The oil even continues it’s work as it is absorbed, mopping up potentially damaging free radicals within the skin.
Supporting the benefits of calendula oil is an extract of clary sage, which provides further support for inflammation reduction and mopping up of free radicals. Importantly for acne sufferers, clary sage is known to suppress bacterial activity, giving the immune system space to begin internal repair of damaged and irritated skin.
ZELEN Life is a brand I am partly involved in, with someone who is no stranger to skincare issues, Jordan Sully. A completely natural and organic, Mediterranean-inspired skincare range.
- Works throughout the day and night
- Multiple mechanisms to soothe and replenish the skin
- Can be used by those with dry or oily skin without worrying about clogged pores
- Suppresses bacterial activity without the use of antibiotics
- Those at the extremes of oily or dry skin may want a specialist product for their specific needs
For those that want a single go-to moisturizer that just works, ZELEN Life is the way to go. No changing creams or worrying about the time of day – simply apply and let it do its work. The use of Jojoba oil is similar to our own sebum – creating a natural environment for the skin to repair itself with the help of the other active extracts. Overall a dependable moisturizer for long-term, daily use.
- Medical-grade Tretinoin (synthetic Vitamin A)
- Stops p.Acnes bacteria
Best acne treatment for:
Discolored skin with blemishes and wrinkles.
Let’s add another critical ingredient to our list of acne-fighters: tretinoin.
Unlike some other acne treatments, tretinoin is a powerful medication that improves your skin’s appearance and health by increasing cell turnover.
We mention tretinoin because it’s a key ingredient in the hims Acne Kit – which is available to hims subscribers at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for a doctor’s prescription.
Tretinoin is, indeed, powerful stuff and comes in several strengths. In the U.S., the most potent tretinoin cream available contains .1% tretinoin, while the weakest is .005%.
As with most medications, the stronger the cream, the more significant the results.
And it does work, both as an acne treatment and, as one study showed, as a treatment for aging’s effects on the skin, such as wrinkles and skin discoloration.
The hims Acne Kit also contains vitamin B3 and clindamycin, an antibiotic that treats many bacterial infections, including acne.
It comes in a cream form that you apply every morning on clean skin and then every other evening (before you use other facial skin products).
The Acne Kit is effective in that it stops propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) from reproducing while decreasing the inflammation associated with acne.
It also increases cellular turnover in the skin to leave it feeling healthy and new while preventing whiteheads, blackheads, and other skin lesions associated with acne.
You’ll need to practice patience with acne treatments that contain tretinoin, but many users say the wait is worth it, considering the results.
Generally, it takes up to six months, but often less, to notice results from tretinoin.
Note: you may experience a slight increase in acne in the first couple of weeks of use, but it’s only temporary as your body adjusts to the medicine.
Tretinoin is a long-term product that is typically safe enough to use for a couple of years, if not more.
- Powerful acne fighter that also helps treat aging skin
- Proven results
- Good for long-term use
- May experience dry, flaky skin at first
The hims Acne Kit packs a powerful punch that stops acne in its tracks and continues to stop it for the long-term. You’ll like its results. The Tretinoin formulation speeds up skin cell turnover – allowing faster resolution of chronic or deep-seated acne concerns like discoloration and scarring.
- Natural ingredients
- Good for all ages and skin types
- Soothes irritated skin
Best acne treatment for:
Irritated skin that needs immediate soothing.
This mask consists primarily of kaolin, a clay mineral widely-used for treating distressed and irritated skin, including skin that’s afflicted with acne.
Kaolin is an all-natural treatment that digs deep to absorb excess grime and oil while also eliminating toxins and bacteria that come from too much oil.
Rugged & Dapper’s Acne Face Mask includes aloe vera, as well, which soothes shaving and acne irritation naturally while helping to fade dark spots and acne scars.
Another benefit is that this mask shrinks and tightens pores to prevent future blockage and breakouts.
Moreover, it’s good for all skin types – sensitive, oily, dry, combination, etc.
Rugged & Dapper suggest using their acne face mask once a week to heal skin and prevent future breakouts.
- Great for instant relief from irritated and inflamed skin
- Draws heat away from sore skin
- Mops up excess oil and bacteria
- It may take a little longer to dry than other masks
Rugged & Dapper’s Detox and Acne Face Mask helps soothe skin no matter its type and your age. Using it once a week will help heal and rejuvenate irritated skin. Think of it as a mini-spa trip for your face. Just don’t rely on this alone to keep acne at bay. We strongly recommend using one of the moisturizers at the top of the list.
- Removes surface oils and dead skin
- Active ingredients
Best acne treatment for:
Shiny, oily skin.
Fact: some men have oilier skin than others.
For that matter, so do some teenagers and women, but the point is that men with oily skin causing their acne should seek treatments specific to their skin.
That’s where a product such as Kiehl’s Men’s Oil Eliminator Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Wash comes into play.
Kiehl’s number one option for men’s acne treatment has men with oily skin in mind.
When used daily, the Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Face Wash removes excess oil, sweat, and other grime to A) clean pores and B) reduce the shine that comes with oily skin.
As its name suggests, the Deep Cleansing Face Wash also removes dead skin cells to leave your skin smooth and refreshed.
The key ingredients in Kiehl’s face wash are salicylic acid, argan shells, and apricot seeds.
Salicylic acid works to unplug clogged pores, while apricot seeds and argan shells handle the exfoliating process.
It’s a formula that packs a punch but is still suitable for sensitive skin, plus its paraben and sulfate-free.
Dealing with oily skin is often a challenge, but their Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Wash provides maximum oil control that few other if any, products can match.
- Ideal for oily skin
- Exfoliates and protects
- Leaves skin feeling smooth without irritation
- May overly dry skin
- Exfoliating action could irritate already damaged skin
If oily skin is your issue, Kiehl’s has the solution with its Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Face Wash. It tames excess oil and other skin problems that may lead to acne. Just beware of overuse as it can have the tendency to dry out the skin. If this happens, consider a balanced moisturizer like the ZELEN Life Moisturizer, which can help keep sebum levels down and retain natural hydration.
- Powerful anti-acne supplement
- Tackles acne from the inside
Best acne treatment for:
Those looking to supplement their current regimen.
Treating acne is often complicated, but Via Naturelle believes it has simplified the process with its Acne Treatment Pills Supplement.
How? By including 29 acne-fighting ingredients that work together to take on all the problems caused by mild to moderate acne.
Even better, the ingredients are natural, and you don’t need to worry about harsh chemicals interacting with your skin.
That’s a problem with some acne treatments: treatments that may have unpleasant side effects or even cause your acne to worsen.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the ingredients found in Vie Naturelle’s Acne Treatment Pills:
- Vitamins A, C, D, and E
- Vitamin B12
All of the above help keep skin healthy while fighting acne from the inside out of your skin’s pores. They also help heal the skin by replenishing important nutrients that make your skin look and feel healthy.
Vie Naturelle’s supplement also heals blemishes while preventing future breakouts, restores and soothes dry skin, and restores the skin’s natural balance while fighting acne.
Again, its unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and herbs fights acne without damaging the skin.
It also produces results quickly, as many users report healthier skin after only two weeks of taking Vie Naturelle’s Acne Treatment Pills.
- Several powerful acne-fighting ingredients in one supplement
- Helps heal and soothe skin
- The pills are large and hard to swallow for some
- Won’t lift existing bacteria, oils from the surface of the skin, requiring another skincare product regardless of effectiveness
Vie Naturalle’s packs several acne-fighting and skin-replenishing ingredients into one powerful supplement. It not only stops acne from forming but also repairs the damage caused by it. Probably best combined with a top-quality moisturizer to get the best of both worlds.
- Gentle cleanser
- Utilizes the salicylic acid in a short term formulation.
Best acne treatment for:
Teenage acne or those with more sensitive skin.
Because acne is more common in adolescent males than adults, we’d be remiss in not mentioning the best acne treatment for teenage guys.
And while there are a lot of contenders out there, we think the Acne Facial Cleanser by Exposed Skin Care is at the top of the list.
It’s not just a product for teenagers, however, as many men – and women – have used it with good results.
The theory behind Exposed Skin Care’s acne treatment is that clean skin means clear skin.
Their acne facial cleanser provides a deep but gentle cleansing of facial skin that’s soap-free, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic.
It removes oil and dirt from your face and penetrates your pores while eliminating acne-causing bacteria. Furthermore, it maintains your skin’s lipid layer while helping to keep skin smooth.
The folks at Exposed Skin Care recommend using their acne facial cleanser in conjunction with their Acne Treatment Serum.
The two products work best when used twice a day to provide an extra kick in clearing and preventing acne blemishes.
While many deep cleansing products contain harsh, irritating ingredients, the Acne Facial Cleanser by Exposed Skin Care is sulfate and paraben-free.
If you buy their 60-day basic kit, you’ll get the facial cleanser and Acne Treatment Serum, as well as their Clearing Tonic that helps rejuvenate troubled skin.
But the Acne Facial Cleanser works well on its own and should replace harsher soaps if you suffer from acne.
If you’re looking for a product that provides the kind of deep cleaning that keeps acne-causing bacteria away, then Exposed Skin Care’s product is for you.
Many reviewers have tried other products without seeing the kind of results that they got with the Acne Facial Cleanser.
- Deep cleans your face
- Gentle yet strong enough to get rid of oil and dirt
- Great for teenagers
- May cause excessive drying of the skin
- Possibly not effective enough for those with deep-seated acne
Clean skin promotes clear skin, and Exposed Skin Care’s Acne Facial Cleanser provides the deep cleansing that you need if you struggle with acne. As it is used when washing and cleansing the face, it should be more suitable for those who find that letting salicylic sit on their skin is too drying.
Getting the most out of your acne treatments (A simple, illustrated guide)
It’s important to understand a few rules of the road before beginning any acne treatment. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Be consistent
Clearing acne means being consistent in your treatments. Make it a point not to skip days or doses, and, if possible, apply your treatment at the same time each day to help you remember.
Also, leave your acne treatment container where you can see it. You don’t want it to become “out of sight, out of mind.”
2. Popping pimples
There has been a rise in recent years of the public thinking they need to pop spots and pimples in order to ‘get the infection out.’ This is misguided as the pus you are extracting is actually the body’s immune response to the bacteria. Dermatologists now offer ‘acne removal’ services, but this job should be left to them if you choose it, rather than attempting anything at home.
In general, trying to pop spots will create superficial pressure. Some pus may come out, but an unseen amount will be forced into already inflamed skin. This, in turn, could increase the body’s immune response, swelling the area more, and creating more irritation. In a worst-case scenario, you may create a cyst under the skin, which could require medical attention to remove.
In any case, irritating the skin further is an obviously poor choice, creating painful acne that is more likely to scar. Leave it to the professionals.
3. Don’t use too much medication
Slathering on excess amounts of your treatment product won’t heal your acne any faster. Instead, too much product can cause drying, irritation, peeling, and redness. Remember that your skin is delicate, and any good product knows this.
Trying to use ‘shock and awe’ tactics to blast away annoying acne will only further weaken your skin and leave it vulnerable to even more acne.
4. Don’t look for a quick fix
Who doesn’t want their acne to clear up overnight? The problem is, there is no quick-fix for getting rid of acne – no matter what the late-night TV hucksters tell you.
Trying to correct acne too quickly is essentially the same as overusing products. You will inevitably overshoot, either drying the skin, making it too oily, or flooding it with active ingredients.
5. Stick with it
This point is related to #4 above; i.e., skin often reacts slowly to treatment. Acne may come on fast – seemingly overnight, in some cases – but it won’t heal that quickly. Don’t give up on your treatment if you don’t get immediate results.
Remember that your skin is in a constant cycle as well, constantly making new cells and getting rid of old ones. Rather than seeing yourself as combating acne, think of it as supporting your body’s natural repair mechanism.
You may see waves of acne come and go, but by sticking to a solid regimen, you should see the severity and frequency drop off over time.
6. Beware of scrubbing and cleansing too vigorously
Washing your facial skin is recommended, of course, but over-scrubbing and cleansing it may worsen the problem. Gently wash your face with a pH-balanced cleanser that lessens inflammation while adding moisture to the skin.
Using exfoliator whilst you have pre-existing acne should be done sparingly, taking care not to irritate or damage tender parts of your face. It hurts; you’re likely doing it wrong.
7. Stopping treatment when acne is gone
Keep in mind that OTC acne treatments don’t “cure” acne. They do a good job of controlling symptoms, including breakouts, but your pimples will return if you quit using your treatment once your skin is clear.
The trick is finding your skin’s balance. Too much product, as we have said, will overshoot you back into skin problems. Quitting product use will eventually see you move back to where you were.
Choose a high-quality product, use it appropriately, and you will reap the rewards again and again.
Accutane, a type of treatment we’ll look at a bit later, is something of an exception, but not everyone can use it.
Acne: Types & treatments
We’ve touched briefly on the types of acne, but it’s time for a more in-depth look, as well as a rundown of various treatment options.
The root cause of acne
Acne forms from the joined roots of our hair and sebaceous glands. The condition is, therefore, most prevalent in the areas of the body with the most sebaceous glands, namely the face, chest, upper back, and upper arms.
There really are various stages of acne, but grouping these into types allows you to make an educated choice on which treatments are most suitable for you.
Let’s look at the evolution of acne, from mildest beginnings to more severe forms.
Types of acne
Comedonal is the mildest type of acne and doesn’t cause painful swelling or inflammation in most cases.
It usually manifests as blackheads or whiteheads on the skin. Blackheads occur when dirt and germs under the skin’s pores cause the skin to appear dark.
Males going through puberty, as well as young adults, will experience some form of comedonal acne in their lives.
It also may occur because of allergic reactions to skin or hair products, but most acne lesions, such as whiteheads and blackheads, occur because of a hard blockage of excess sebum and dead skin in your pores.
Inflammatory acne is evident by swelling and redness under the blocked pore (i.e., the comedones present in comedonal acne). It often forms nodules (swollen, painful, and sizable bumps), pustules (common pimples with pus visible), and papules (small reddish blemishes).
Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne and consists of painful, inflamed breakouts that leave scars.
It’s usually the result of infections in the skin, and many OTC products and home remedies will exacerbate symptoms. Visit a dermatologist if you have cystic acne.
It’s safe to say there are more types of treatment for acne than there are types of acne.
From OTC medicines to home remedies to dermatologist-prescribed products, there are many ways to combat acne breakouts.
We’ve talked primarily about over-the-counter products, but here are just a few other treatment options (as well as a look at acne’s causes – and myths).
Below we list all currently available and upcoming ingredients. There are quite a few listed here, so don’t get overwhelmed. That’s why we’ve already done the hard work for you and picked our favorites [internal link]. The ingredients listed below have either strong evidence behind them or are currently awaiting better research and trials.
These are the most commonly encountered treatments for acne as they are simply applied to the skin directly. The inherent advantage of topical treatments is that they do not have a systemic (throughout the body) effect and increase the direct exposure of sebaceous glands to the treatment.
Unfortunately, one of the major side effects is skin irritation, which is why you should always aim for the best quality products you can find.
As you will read below, the use of different topical solutions for acne depends on the severity being treated. Mild acne can be treated with retinoids, acids, or benzoyl peroxide. More moderate acne does well from the addition of anti-inflammatory agents. More severe acne tends to require a combination of treatments, which could include antibiotics if appropriate.
- Retinoids – These can be used well for mild acne or in combination to help tackle more severe forms. Retinoids work by inhibiting the formation of comedones, reducing the size of existing comedones, and have anti-inflammatory properties as well. They are of interest to those who have struggled with acne for a few years as they help repair damaged skin, which has begun to scar or hyper pigment (darken). There are a few different types of retinoids, but as they are prescription, only a doctor will help decide which is the right one for you.
- Accutane – Accutane works to reduce the size of the skin’s oil glands and, therefore, the amount of oil that they produce. It also slows down the rate at which the skin produces cells within the pore. Your acne may get worse during the early stages of Accutane treatment, but results are promising over the long haul. Accutane – also known as isotretinoin – was discovered in 1979 and is a vitamin A derivative. It’s administered in pill form and prescribed for up to 4 ½ months or more, depending on the strength of the dosage.
- Photodynamic therapy – Photodynamic therapy is a relative newcomer to the world of acne treatment. Often reserved for moderate to severe acne because of the seriousness of the procedure and the downtime required following each treatment, photodynamic therapy reduces the size of sebaceous glands that produce oil. However, permanently reducing your skin’s sebum output may have long-term consequences because of sebum’s positive qualities, such as helping the skin to retain moisture and fighting bacteria.
- Chemical peels – Professionally-administered (don’t try it at home) chemical peels involve the use of acids to remove superficial areas of the skin. The strength of chemical peels varies from treatment to treatment but works best on people with lighter skin because the acids used in the peel may cause darkening of the skin. It’s imperative that you talk with a dermatologist before using chemical peels for acne treatment if you have darker skin. The good news, however, is that people with darker skin can use OTC products that contain the same chemicals used in chemical peels (but at a lower percentage).
- Laser treatments – Laser treatment is often effective for treating light-to-moderate acne while showing potential for treating more severe breakouts. The light used in laser therapy works to kill bacteria that may cause acne. Laser therapy also may lower sebum levels and even may reduce inflammation.
- Light therapy – Light therapy uses non-laser sources of light that help prevent everyday pimples and pustules. More severe acne lesions don’t respond as well to light therapy, however. Light therapy has lower potential side effects than some treatments and also is relatively affordable. While it produces results, light therapy will not clear acne completely.
- Cortisone shots – One of the cortisone’s functions is to fight inflammation, and cortisone often is injected directly into inflamed areas to provide relief. Many patients have experienced immediate benefits after cortisone is injected into an acne lesion. Dermatologists regularly use cortisone shots to treat skin inflammation.
- Azelaic Acid – This is a naturally occurring acid that stops the bacteria which causes acne from being able to produce proteins. It is relatively effective as it has several mechanisms of improving acne, namely killing bacteria, reducing inflammation, and stopping the buildup of excess skin. Studies suggest that combining it with benzoyl peroxide or alpha-hydroxy acids improves effectiveness.
- Niacinamide – The active formulation of vitamin B3, also known as nicotinamide, has been shown to inhibit sebum secretion, which in turn reduces the amount of natural oils of the skin. Together with its anti-inflammatory properties, it has been shown to be effective in acne with numerous pustules present. 4% topical solutions appear to show significant improvements in patients.
- Triclosan – The main function of Triclosan is as an antiseptic, which has shown promise in treating acne. The main benefit of this is that acne cursing bacteria cannot develop resistance to the medication.
- Topical Corticosteroids – This medication should be reserved only for very inflammatory acne. Do not apply corticosteroids for more than 4 weeks daily. If you overuse the drug, you may develop Topical Steroid Withdrawal Syndrome – another skin condition on top of your acne! The syndrome results in burning, stinging, and redness over the affected skin. Not only will this likely complicate your acne, but you will also need separate treatment for the syndrome.
- Sodium Sulfacetamide – If you find you have very sensitive skin and cannot tolerate our recommended products (which is very rare), then your dermatologist may recommend sodium sulfacetamide. Reserved for when regular treatments produce their own skin issues, this light treatment has been shown to have antibacterial properties that may help stem building acne infections.
- Dapsone – Whilst dapsone is quite a common ingredient of acne formulations – it only holds this honor due to its low manufacturing cost. Therefore, it is more commonly found in developing countries and is not recommended as a first-line treatment.
- Home remedies – Let’s not forget home remedy treatments for acne – of which there are plenty. For instance, many people have tried lemon juice, an excellent antioxidant, thanks to its vitamin C. Some use baking soda paste, which kills bacteria and absorbs oil, while others use an oatmeal face mask because oatmeal also absorbs excess oils from your skin. Other DIY treatments include a honey and cinnamon facial mask, green tea, and steam therapy.
There are many articles on the internet extolling the virtues of various botanical and herbal remedies that can be used instead of professional products.
Some of these plant-based homemade solutions do indeed have anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and calming effects on the skin. This has led to them being promoted as ‘anti-acne.’ Whilst this may be true in part, when compared to the other ingredients in this list, they simply are not effective in combating even the mildest forms of acne.
Much more rigorous testing is needed before we can suggest using things like oatmeal facemasks or lemon juice cleansers – there is little data showing how safe or effective these treatments actually are.
For completeness, we have included natural ingredients that are at least as good as the other compounds we recommend.
- Seaweed – This has been shown to improve mild acne significantly. Kelp extract has been demonstrated to reduce both blackheads and whiteheads whilst reducing sebum production and inflammation.
- Basil Oil – Studies show that topical application of a preparation containing O. gratissimum oil (Western basil) in a blend was more efficient, and reduced lesion counts faster than a 10% benzoyl peroxide lotion. Thai basil or sweet basil as it is sometimes known (O. basilicum and O. sanctum) showed promise to be used for acne treatment as they exhibited antimicrobial activity against P. acnes. The formulations containing O. basilicum showed a higher anti-P. acnes activity than the O. sanctum containing formulation.
Causes of acne
Some of us grew up with parents telling us to quit eating potato chips and other greasy foods because they cause acne.
Whilst this does seem to make immediate sense, the real picture is a lot vaguer than that. Like bad sleep or feeling tired, the causes seem obvious in the beginning, but there can be many hidden factors that make a significant difference.
In truth, the only clear culprits confirmed by research are male (androgen) hormones, family history (genetics), and early exposure in life to the bacteria known to cause acne. Diet has a whirlwind of discussion around its effect on acne, but little has been proven after years of investigation.
What we really know about diet and acne
The unfortunate fact about modern medical research and science is that studies go where the money is. As there is little profit to be made from basic foods being utilized or avoided to amend or avoid disease, the majority of the scientific focus is directed towards plant extracts and pharmaceuticals, which can be sold at a higher price.
Fortunately, in the last few years, a meta-study (a study of studies) has looked at all the available evidence for acne, and the effects nutrition may have on it.
The study even begins by saying that the majority of the findings we not strong enough to form the basis of a therapeutic or health recommendation. So take the following as more of a guide of the general direction you and your diet should be hedging in rather than hard evidence.
To give an idea of how many foods have been implicated in acne over the years, this meta-study looked at over 140 possible influencing foods. Limited research quality has, in some cases, led to polarized and, at times, conflicting findings.
But what are the foods that dermatologists and research scientists are most concerned about?
Below we list the top 10 most frequently investigated foods in relation to acne:
- Milk products (yogurt, cream, cheese, etc.)
- ‘Western diet’
- Low glycaemic load*
- High glycaemic load*
- High glycaemic index**
- Low-fat milk
*Glycaemic load is the amount of carbohydrate in food and how fast it raises blood glucose levels. It is found through the simple equation (glycaemic index (GI) x carbohydrate in grams /100)
**Glycaemic index shows the rate at which carbohydrates in the food are broken down. The higher the number, the faster the rate.
***Smoking is included in acne research as a food modulator.
Although milk was the most investigated foodstuff, which was found to have the biggest effect on acne and had the strongest evidence?
That would be…the ‘Western Diet.’ So not a single food at all. Otherwise known as the ‘standard American diet,’ this is generally characterized by a high intake of red meat, processed meats, prepackaged foods, high sugar drinks, and candy, as well as butter, fried food, and refined grains. Essentially low nutrition foods are high in fat, salt, and sugar.
Now bear in mind that this does not point to a single nutritional culprit. Rather it shows that a generally poor diet rather than a healthy one gives people the biggest risk of developing or experiencing worsening acne.
So this should help clarify what your dietary changes should look like to combat acne; don’t focus or worry about a single food. First, take steps to grab low-hanging fruit and improve your overall diet first. Add in more vegetables and cut out some meat and deep-fried snacks. Then you can move on to try and refine down what might be causing acne for you.
If that still doesn’t motivate you, how about the finding that the western diet causes over 30% of heart attacks? Look after your body from the inside out, and you will be amazed at the effects it has on your skin.
What about stress and acne?
Stress, on the other hand, can contribute to acne’s formation.[, but a steady diet of junk food just gives you indigestion, among other potential health issues.]
The sebaceous gland, which produces the sebum involved in comedone formation and eventually acne, is controlled by a number of hormones. Two are activated by male hormones, with another two solely controlled by stress.
When you undergo short term or long term stress, receptors in the skin activate the gland, causing a sudden build-up in sebum, even if the skin already has enough natural oils present. This promotes the formation of comedones, which can eventually become inflamed as more sebum continues to be produced behind the blockage.
Shaving with acne
No question that shaving with acne is a sometimes tricky (and painful) process. If your acne is extensive, adhering to the following steps will help pave the way for smoother shaving:
- Use warm water and an anti-bacterial cleanser before you begin shaving. Doing so softens the pores and opens them up.
- Shaving creams or oils that contain tea tree oil help your razor glide more easily over the skin.
- Shave with the grain (i.e., the direction in which your hair grows).
- Wash your face thoroughly after shaving to remove excess oils and shaving cream.
- Avoid shaving too closely if your acne is extensive. Leave a short stubble instead.
How we chose the best men’s acne products
Acne treatments come with different ingredients and formulas, but our method for choosing the best acne products is hardly top-secret.
As with all of our “best of” reviews, we looked for products that have plenty of positive reviews and a strong track record of delivering proven results over time.
We ignore products that promise a quick-fix or aren’t backed by sound science.
We like products with natural ingredients, but that didn’t determine our final choices. We think you’ll be well-served by the products listed here.
Frequently asked questions
Why does my acne look ‘different’?
Just as there are different types of acne, there are several variations in how acne presents. As we know, comedones (either white or black) are the visible beginnings of acne. As your acne develops, it may look more inflamed (papules) or develop pus spots in the center of the inflammation (pustules).
Having a different acne pattern or severity of inflammation doesn’t necessarily mean your acne is ‘worse’ than others, you may simply be at a different stage in the process.
Does being ‘clean’ prevent acne?
Although skin suffering from acne can appear greasy and dirty, especially if there are many blackheads, this doesn’t mean the skin has been left unwashed. It is the sebum (natural oils) from the skin which have become blocked in your pores.
When exposed to air, this can then turn into a blackhead. Remember that overwashing in an attempt to ‘stay clean’ will likely aggravate the skin and increase irritation.
Why is my face red and flushed in appearance?
If you are in your 30s and older, a flushed appearance alongside acne-type spots could mean you are suffering from Rosacea. While this skin condition is less common than acne, it is a well-known cause of spots in later life.
It can be recognized by the ‘acne’ running along the middle of the face with redness and flushing seen separately from the inflammation caused by the spots. Another key sign is the lack of white and blackheads when compared to acne.
Will my acne scars go away?
This depends on a large number of factors. Like scars caused by another condition or injury, recovery and resolution of any scars depend on the initial size of the scar, your general and skin health, diet, sleep, stress, and more. In reality, acne scars will heal at the same rate as any other scar on your body, bearing in mind the factors just mentioned.
Application of some of our recommended products can help restore blood flow and collagen to affected areas, which will go some way to reduce the appearance of scarring and restore form and function to the skin.
My family suffers a lot from acne. Will I be the same?
There is certainly a genetic component to acne, but remember that this will be exacerbated by your environment and hormones. So while you cannot get away from your genetic makeup completely, you can live a healthier lifestyle, eat right, and get plenty of good sleep. These things are unlikely to cure your acne, but they will go a long way in helping your body fight outbreaks.
Is acne contagious?
Although one of the causes of acne is the overgrowth of bacteria, this does not make it an infectious disease. So you will not pass on acne to loved ones, friends, or family just from proximity or your skin touching theirs.
Does the sun or sunbeds help acne?
There was a time when UV light was used by clinicians to help clear up acne, specifically by using it to kill acne-related bacteria. This has led to the anecdote that ‘the sun is good for acne.’ As we know, there are several factors that contribute to acne outbreaks, so reducing bacterial levels using UV light is not always an effective treatment.
Don’t forget as well that exposure to UV comes with its own risks, including skin damage, inflammation, and eventually skin cancer. Sunbathing to get rid of or reduce acne is therefore likely to end up with more skin irritation and redness, not less.
Does acne location really mean anything?
As with most organic or natural things, these are not hard and fast rules – however, research has shown that concentrations of acne on different parts of your face can help point you to an underlying cause. Going from the top of your face downwards:
Scalp or hairline acne: This is often due to a change or overuse of hair products. Make sure after each shower that any shampoo or conditioner is fully washed out and flows from front to back. Shampoos are essentially a detergent for picking up oils and dirt – letting them run over the face on your skin can dry it out too much, resulting in damaged and irritated skin. Similarly, conditioners, along with hair products like wax and pomade, can clog pores and promote comedone formation.
Forehead and nose acne: More often than not, acne in this area is from increased sebum (oil) production. The ‘T zone’ as it is known has more secreting glands than any other part of your face, leaving it as the likely culprit when acne begins to form. Hold back on moisturizing this area or use one of our lighter recommendations.
Cheek acne: We touch our faces many times a day, mostly unconsciously. While it varies from person to person, our hands travel around our mouths and cheeks frequently. This spreads bacteria across our face, and this is compounded by constant mobile phone use. Using cheap pillowcases or simply washing pillowcases infrequently also promotes acne formation.
As always, we’d love your feedback and questions. Do you have a favorite acne treatment not mentioned here? Or, have you tried one of the products listed above? Let us know!
Until next time, friends.
- Titus S, Hodge J. Diagnosis and treatment of acne. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Oct 15;86(8):734-40. PMID: 23062156.
- Jović A, Marinović B, Kostović K, Čeović R, Basta-Juzbašić A, Bukvić Mokos Z. The Impact of Pyschological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2017 Jul;25(2):1133-141. PMID: 28871928.
- Molinski H, Rechenberger I. Psychosomatik der Akne [Psychosomatics of acne]. Fortschr Med. 1977 Sep 22;95(25):2149-53. German. PMID: 144089.
- Kawashima, Makoto et al. “Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients.” The Journal of dermatology vol. 44,11 (2017): 1212-1218. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.13996
- Decker LC, Deuel DM, Sedlock DM. Role of lipids in augmenting the antibacterial activity of benzoyl peroxide against Propionibacterium acnes . Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1989; 33: 326–330.
- Kawashima M, Nagare T, Katsuramaki T. Open-label, randomized, multicenter, phase III study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of benzoyl peroxide gel in long-term use in patients with acne vulgaris: A secondary publication. J Dermatol. 2017;44(6):635-643. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.13741
- Zheng Y, Yin S, Xia Y, et al. Efficacy and safety of 2% supramolecular salicylic acid compared with 5% benzoyl peroxide/0.1% adapalene in the acne treatment: a randomized, split-face, open-label, single-center study. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2019;38(1):48-54. doi:10.1080/15569527.2018.1518329
- Nofal E, Nofal A, Gharib K, Nasr M, Abdelshafy A, Elsaid E. Combination chemical peels are more effective than single chemical peel in treatment of mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris: A split face comparative clinical trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018;17(5):802-810. doi:10.1111/jocd.12763
- Clark CP 3rd. Alpha hydroxy acids in skin care. Clin Plast Surg. 1996 Jan;23(1):49-56. PMID: 8617030.
- Lin AN, Reimer RJ, Carter DM. Sulfur revisited. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1988 Mar;18(3):553-8. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(88)70079-1. PMID: 2450900.
- Gollnick H. Current concepts of the pathogenesis of acne, Implications for Drug Treatment. Drugs. 2003;63:1579–1596.
- Management of acne: a report from a Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne. Gollnick H, Cunliffe W, Berson D, Dreno B, Finlay A, Leyden JJ, Shalita AR, Thiboutot D, Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Jul; 49(1 Suppl):S1-37.
- Topical treatment in acne: current status and future aspects. Gollnick HP, Krautheim A, Dermatology. 2003; 206(1):29-36
- Namazi M. Nicotinamide in dermatology: A capsule summary. Int. J. Dermatol. 2007;46:1229–1231. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03519.x.
- Triclosan: a review of effectiveness and safety in health care settings. Jones RD, Jampani HB, Newman JL, Lee AS. Am J Infect Control. 2000 Apr; 28(2):184-96.
- Topical treatment in acne: current status and future aspects. Gollnick HP, Krautheim A. Dermatology. 2003; 206(1):29-36.
- Topical acne drugs: review of clinical properties, systemic exposure, and safety. Akhavan A, Bershad S. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003; 4(7):473-92
- Kaminsky A. Less common methods to treat acne. Dermatology. 2003;206:68–73.
- Capitanio B., Sinagra J.L., Weller R.B., Brown C., Berardesca E. Randomized controlled study of a cosmetic treatment for mild acne. Clin. Exp. Dermatol. 2012;37:346–349.
- Orafidiya L.O., Agbani E.O., Oyedele A.O., Babalola O.O., Onayemi O. Preliminary clinical tests on topical preparations of Ocimum gratissimum Linn leaf essential oil for the treatment of Acne vulgaris. Clin. Drug Investig. 2002;22:313–319.
- Evaluation of in vitro antimicrobial activity of Thai basil oils and their micro-emulsion formulas against Propionibacterium acnes.
- Williams HC, Dellavalle RP, Garner S. Acne vulgaris. Lancet. 2012 Jan 28;379(9813):361-72. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60321-8. Epub 2011 Aug 29. Erratum in: Lancet. 2012 Jan 28;379(9813):314. PMID: 21880356.
- Fiedler, Friederike & Stangl, Gabriele & Fiedler, Eckhard & Taube, Klaus-Michael. (2016). Acne and Nutrition: A Systematic Review. Acta dermato-venereologica. 97. 10.2340/00015555-2450.
- Anand, Sonia S et al. “Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System: A Report From the Workshop Convened by the World Heart Federation.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology vol. 66,14 (2015): 1590-1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050
- Anand, Sonia S et al. “Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System: A Report From the Workshop Convened by the World Heart Federation.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology vol. 66,14 (2015): 1590-1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050
- Dréno B. What is new in the pathophysiology of acne, an overview. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2017;31(S5):8-12.
- Skroza, Nevena et al. “Adult Acne Versus Adolescent Acne: A Retrospective Study of 1,167 Patients.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 11,1 (2018): 21-25.