Few things are quite as frustrating as waking up with breakouts or being unable to tackle stubborn pimples—so finding the best acne treatment is key. Whether you’ve been combating acne since your teenage years, suffer from maskne, or only started breaking out as an adult, the quest to find that right product is always daunting.
“Acne (acne vulgaris) is one of the most common skin conditions affecting millions each year,” says board-certified dermatologist Michele Green. “Most people get acne at some point in their lifetime, and the underlying cause of a breakout may vary depending on the type of acne.” She notes that while “a combination of factors contributes to the formation of acne, including hormones, genetics, environmental factors, stress, skin care, and diet,” at the end of the day, the main cause is an overproduction of sebum and clogged pores.
Nonetheless, the right treatment goes back to what kind of acne and skin you have. According to Los Angeles–based dermatologist Jessica Wu, “hormonal acne can be treated by prescription-strength topical or oral hormone-balancing medication. Inflammation and clogged pores can be improved by using the proper cleanser. Maskne can be improved by using softer masks and keeping them clean.”
Both dermatologists Elyse Love and Whitney Bowe emphasize the importance of a balanced diet to combat acne, too—specifically for healthy gut health, which Bowe says contributes to inflammation and, in turn, breakouts. In fact, her three golden rules to reduce gut inflammation are to cut down on processed foods, limit dairy consumption, and incorporate probiotics into your diet.
While it is advised to consult with your doctor around dietary guidance and curating the proper beauty regimen, our experts share that salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and topical retinoids like adapalene are the most effective ingredients to treat and prevent acne.
With this guidance in mind, these are the dermatologist-approved acne treatments and products to add to your routine.
“If you notice that your skin is acne-prone, it can feel good to double cleanse because it helps degrease the skin,” says Dr. Bowe, who recommends starting with Bioderma’s micellar water then cleansing with Skinfix’s foaming cleanser—both options she notes are gentle enough not to damage the skin barrier. The La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser is a favorite of hers as well. “It is made with prebiotic thermal water to help nurture and restore your skin’s healthy microbiome,” she explains. Or perhaps the iS Clinical Cleansing Complex is more your speed to gently clarify pores and blemishes for a smoother complexion.
Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, likes the CeraVe Foaming Cream Cleanser, especially for those with sensitive skin; or the SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel, which is formulated with a cocktail of acids to “treat acne and prevent aging.” Meanwhile, Dr. Wu recommends the Avène Cleansing Foam for those with acne-prone dry, sensitive skin and the Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Acne Cleanser for normal to oily skin types because it “contains salicylic acid to fight blackheads and congestion, along with panthenol to soothe skin and help prevent irritation.”
Post-cleanse, look for a toner or exfoliating solution to further unclog congested pores, wipe away dead skin, and remove impurities. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is one of the most recommended products, and Dr. Green says it’s gentle enough for daily use. “This product gently exfoliates the skin, breaking down sebum and debris that are clogging the pores to reveal a smoother, healthier complexion,” she explains