Best Treatment Options for Acne

Man with acne
Best treatment options for acne. The Image Bank / Getty Images

The best treatment options for acne are a mix of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide products.

In this article, I share my favorite over-the-counter products for treating acne. You can try one before the other or attempt my 3-punch system below. Aspirin masks are also beloved and totally hyped for treating pimples (aspirin contains salicylic acid). More on aspirin -- including a recipe -- in a bit.

But keep in mind that teen acne and adult acne should be treated differently. Teenage skin is relatively thick compared to the skin of an adult and most acne products are formulated for teenage skin mainly because teenagers are the main sufferers of acne. If you are an adult suffering from acne, use the less harsh versions of the treatments below. Stick to benzoyl peroxide products in the 2.5% range and salicylic acid gels, pads and cleansers in the .5% range.

Miracle Product No. 1: Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is great for acne because it kills the bacteria that grows in your pores. It is used in 2.5%, 5% and 10% concentrations.

If you have a mild case of pimples or a mild breakout, use a benzoyl peroxide product such as Clean and Clean Continuous Control Acne Cleanser or ZAPZYT Maximum Strength 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Gel to kill the bacteria. You should see results within a week and you'll want to keep using it once acne is cleared up to keep it from coming back.

One con is that benzoyl peroxide can be harsh to skin. If you find it's too inflammatory, you can switch straight away to a milder salicylic acid product for treatment. Another con is that it can stain clothes so be careful to keep it from getting on your beloved outfits.

If you're an adult, look on the labels for 2.5% concentrations.

Your skin may be too sensitive for the harsher formulas.

Your Miracle Product No. 2: Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an exfoliating ingredient and natural anti-inflammatory found in many over-the-counter acne products. It won't kill bacteria (that's what the benzoyl peroxide does) but it will dissolve the gunked-up dead skin cells that collect in the pores, causing pimples. It will also calm down the redness caused by breakouts. You can find salicylic acid in cleansers, lotions, gels, creams, toners and pads.

Look for a product that contains between .5% and 2% salicylic acid (stick to the .5% if you are an adult or have sensitive skin). Great products include Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser, Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads, Stridex Daily Care Acne PadsNoxzema Triple Clean Anti-Blemish Pads, OXY Cleansing Pads and Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel.

Choose only one salicylic acid product and follow the directions. Do not use it more than recommended. If you over-use it or combine it with other medications, you can aggravate the skin even more. And once your pimples clear up, you can continue using the salicylic acid for its great exfoliating benefits.

I've done some research on salicylic acids in beauty products.

Check these out:

  • Best Facial Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin
  • Best Scrubs, Masks and More for Acne-Prone Skin

The 3-Punch Treatment Plan

You can combine benzoyl peroxide AND salicylic acid products to really clear up acne. The salicylic acid will clear out your pores while the benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that has grown within them. Here's how it works.

  • Step 1: Cleanse skin with a mild cleanser (dermatologists recommend Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
  • Step 2: Apply the benzoyl peroxide pad or wash.
  • Step 3: Apply the salicylic acid pad or gel.

Stick with it and expect results within a month.

The Aspirin Mask Everyone Goes Ga-Ga For

Apparently, aspirin is brilliant at spot-treating pimples, clearing up acne and itchy patches. In fact, the aspirin mask on Makeupalley.com gets more than 2030 reviews -- more than any individual makeup, skincare or hair product.

85 percent of these reviews are by women who would "try it again." Dr. Oz also loves aspirin masks and unveiled a version of this mask on his show.

Aspirin contains salicylic acid, which you now know is a natural anti-inflammatory.

See the recipe: Aspirin & Lemon Juice Mask for Acne 

More on Acne

There are amazing resources on both teen and adult acne included in these articles:

  • What Causes Acne & Pimples?
  • Acne & Teens: How to Treat Pimples (& Cover Them Up)
  • 8 Adult Acne Facts (Plus, How to Treat it)
  • 5 Reasons Your Acne Isn't Going Away
  • Why Do I Get ‘Back Acne’?