Sofie Wise

Shannon Chapman

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About Author — Shannon enjoys breaking down technical subjects and giving others the tools to make informed decisions. Her interests include behavioral economics, sustainable living, meditation, and healthy cooking.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

How to Get Rid of Acne Fast

Acne can be the cause of much embarrassment, ridicule, and self-consciousness among individuals. Luckily a wide variety of treatments for acne exist, coming in a range of products from home remedies, acne creams, or antibiotics. While the type of acne medication recommended should depend on the severity and specific acne condition, it is also important to use trial and error to determine the best method for you. Most acne causes stems from hormonal variation stimulating excess oil production, but no acne will respond the same to different acne creams or treatments for each person. Preventative acne care and home remedies for acne can also have great effects on reducing acne. Read more about acne creams, antibiotics, and other medications as treatments for acne, such as oral contraceptives.

Creams to Stop Acne

Acne creams and medications can help manage the harshness and recurrence of acne breakouts. Acne creams and lotions work best for mild types of acne that consist of bumps with no open sores. However, if open sores with inflammation are present, some oral treatments such as oral contraceptives and spironolactone may be more effective.

A commonly recommended skin based treatment is retinoid acne creams which work by unclogging skin pores and reduce excess skin oil. Pimples, blackheads, cystic lesions or whiteheads are known to be treated effectively by these medicated acne creams with brands such as Retin-A, Tazorac, and Differin.

Other acne creams including salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide which both reduce the concentration of acne-causing bacteria. However, both can cause irritation to the skin as well as dryness depending on one’s skin condition. Thus, use of these creams should be closely monitored for unwanted effects and perhaps using a moisturizer could help. Indeed, a combination of wash and lotion is a large part of the Proactiv treatment.

Home remedy creams include using a paste made of water and crushed aspirin. While aspirin, derived from salicylic acid performs a similar function, caution should be taken in trying untested treatments with medications. There are some alternative home remedies for acne to try that offer less of these risks.


Proactiv is an acne treatment system that is meant to clear up acne with non-prescription medication. Developed by two dermatologists, it was originally created with adult women in mind, but is now predominantly used by millions of teenagers all over the world. The basic Proactiv system is comprised of a cleanser, toner, and lotion. There are also other add-on products, but the acne treatment is in the main three part system. This three part system does not cure acne, but is meant to help clear acne by blocking the process of clogged pores leading to the accumulation of oils and bacteria that lead to acne. The first step is to use the cleanser which includes tiny beads to physically exfoliate the skin and dead skin cells to unblock pores. The cleanser also includes benzoyl peroxide which is an oxidizer that kills harmful bacteria. The second step is to use a toner, which includes glycolic acid. This chemical exfoliant works to unstick the “sticky-cells” and exfoliate the skin. The last step is the repairing lotion which again, includes benzoyl peroxide to help kill bacteria.

While Proactiv has been shown to have effective results for a majority of patients, frequent use may be a big part of its success. The whole concept of the treatment system includes the customer being “proactive” about treating their acne and applying the treatment system every day. For some, exfoliating daily might have similar effectiveness on skin. Additionally, while there are other moisturizers and anti-inflammatories in Proactiv, but the main treatment is from the benzoyl peroxide. Consumer Reports ran a test in 2011 that indicated similar results from other cheaper treatments using the same main ingredient of benzoyl peroxide. Nonetheless, Proactiv is a tried and tested brand which may not be a bad choice to begin treating your mild acne conditions. As with all treatments, monitor your personal response after the prescribed treatment period and for any skin irritations. Please note that as with most acne treatments, the condition can appear worse before getting better.

Best Oral Antibiotics for Acne

Another treatment option for more severe cases or cases that can’t be controlled using traditional methods is antibiotics in both topical (apply on skin) and oral form. Antibiotics performs the similar function to salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in eliminating acne-causing bacteria. This treatment options is often used with Retinoid creams such as Retin-A described previously. Typically prescribed topical antibiotics are Clindamycin and Erythromycin under a variety of product names i.e. E-mycin®. Erythromycin can also be found in an oral form as well, complementing other oral antibiotics such as Doxycycline. Doxycycline belongs in the Tetracycline group of antibiotic drugs that is also used to treat various skin conditions including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Chlamydia. Both antibiotics of the topical and oral variety should prove effective in combatting acne with bacterial causes.

However, one should note that most antibiotics require a prescription to acquire here in the US. A big part of the concern comes due to the possibility of antibiotic resistance with misuse of these drugs as well as taking the wrong type of antibiotic. For this reason, you should consult a doctor for advice on whether antibiotics is a suitable option for your acne. If you have attempted other forms of treatment and see antibiotics as a possible form of treatment, you can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested.

Isotretinoin for Acne

One final treatment option usually reserved for severe cases of acne is isotretinoin, a derivative of Vitamin A similar to the Retinoid cream products. This drug taken by mouth decreases the level of sebum oil and thus improves the condition of severe acne. However, there can also be common side effects including dry lips, nosebleeds, and dizziness as well as more serious conditions. Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy shouldn’t consider this option due to a great risk of birth defects. For this reason, the process to begin treatment with this compound involves taking birth control in the month prior and after treatment as well as two negative pregnancy tests to begin treatment. Additionally, testing is required monthly throughout the process. For men, while not a verified side effect, some have reported symptoms of erectile dysfunction. For this reason, the compound is usually reserved for conditions in which the benefits outweigh the possible risks. Specifically cystic acne, a severe type of acne that is likely to cause permanent scarring, is known to be treated with isotretinoin when other treatment options fail. Needless to say, this compound requires consulting with a doctor and a prescription for treatment.

Adult Female Acne Treatments

Birth Control and Acne

Birth control pills for acne have been used by many dermatologists for many decades. Birth control helps reduce acne by providing synthetic hormones that decreases androgens, which decreases the secretion of oil from skin glands. It is important to note the risks and benefits before taking any birth control for acne to be able to make informed decisions. It is advised to only be used by healthy women, and typically should be started after other acne treatments have failed. There are a large variety of birth control pills available for women, each containing its own variation of hormones. Studies have not proven a significant difference between pills to prove that there is one best birth control for acne. All combination birth control pills are expected to do an effective job in treating noninflammatory and inflammatory acne. Additionally, the level of effectiveness to decide the best birth control for acne is dependent on each individual’s body and a number of other varying factors. Thus, personal trials are likely the best method of determining effectiveness though it is important to note that as with most acne treatments, it can take months for effectiveness to be seen.

Spironolactone for Acne

For women that experience only a limited effect from oral contraceptives, another option to consider is the use of spironolactone, a drug that acts as an androgen blocker. In principle, it will decrease the secretion of oils much like contraceptives. Another important note to keep in mind in evaluating treatment options is that spironolactone is a diuretic, causing frequent urination. Again, as with most acne medications, don’t expect immediate results. However, spironolactone as well as contraceptives are common physician used methods of addressing female hormonal acne.

While these treatments listed above all have proven effectiveness in most cases, one should consider consulting a physician in cases of severe acne. If you or a loved one is experiencing severe acne, you can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested.


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