An Overview of Acne Treatments – Dr. Anna Karp

Acne is a multi-factorial disease with increased dead skin cells filling up in our pores causing comedones (also known as whiteheads and blackheads) and inflammation.  Bacteria often colonize the pore leading to worse acne.

It is a myth that acne only happens in our teenage years.  We see so many adults with adult-onset acne.  This is sometimes related to hormonal imbalances, stress or even using irritating and/or pore clogging products.

Treatments for acne treat any number of these factors with the most effective treatments working on more than one cause.  There are so many great products on the market targeted towards acne.  It is a common myth that toothpaste helps dry out a pimple but it often only leads to more irritation!

Ingredients to look for in acne treatments include and are not limited to:

  1. Retinol – Retinols lessen the shedding of dead skin cells into the pore/hair follicle and decrease inflammation. They are a topical form of vitamin A and one of the most effective acne treatment ingredients.
  2. Benzoyl peroxide – Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial compound that is effective against P. Acnes (the specific bacteria causing acne).  The great thing about it is that it has not been associated with bacterial resistance. It kills bacteria on the surface of the skin and also decreases inflammation in acne lesions.
  3. Clay and/or charcoal – Bentonite clay is one type of clay that is highly absorbent and can be used as a facial mask. The clay helps absorb oils and pull impurities out of the skin such as whiteheads and blackheads.  Charcoal products have a similar effect.
  4. Salicylic Acid – Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is both highly keratolytic and comedolytic, which means it not only dissolves dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, but it’s also able to get down into the pore, dissolve the oil and break apart the debris inside that commonly leads to acne.

Using the Opu app is a great way to track your progress with your acne treatments.

Regardless of what treatments you use, you do not want to over exfoliate your skin by scrubbing it.  Scrubbing your skin always makes acne worse and using a gentle face wash daily is best.  Ingredients like salicylic acid exfoliate your skin gently.  There is also a myth that the sun makes acne better.  The sun has some anti-inflammatory properties and this may help in the short-term but in the long-term, the sun causes major damage to our skin.  It ages our skin and can lead to skin cancer regardless of the color of your skin.

Although I generally say not pick at your acne lesions, sometimes, we do see a pimple with visible pus that would benefit from being popped.  First, soak a towel in hot water and apply it to the pimple.  The best way to pop a pimple at home is with two clean cutips rather than your fingernails.  This helps avoid an infection and/or scarring.  After, apply some benzoyl peroxide to the spot.

Dr. Anna Karp is a native New Yorker who grew up on Long Island’s South Shore. Dr. Karp attended medical school at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. After receiving her medical degree, she completed dual residencies in Family Medicine and Dermatology at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York. Dr. Karp specializes in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology and treats both adults and children. She is a fellow and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, and the American Medical Association. Dr. Karp is also an advisor to Opu Labs.