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Tips for treating different types of acne

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), up to 50 million Americans deal with acne every year. Acne comes in many forms, plugged up pores are usually to blame thanks to pesky things like bacteria, hormones, ingrown hairs, excess dead skin cells and excess oil (sebum) production.

The two main branches of acne are non-inflammatory and inflammatory. Non-inflammatory acne (aka comedones) includes whiteheads (closed comedones) and blackheads (open comedones). Inflammatory acne is typically more intense than non-inflammatory acne and includes pustules, nodules, papules and cysts.

Lots of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can treat and prevent whiteheads or blackheads. They come in creams, rinses, moisturizers, gels or toners. Look for stuff that contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, resorcinol or sulfur. Some folks also dig microdermabrasion, chemical peels or light therapy. Just be sure to talk with your dermatologist before you go with one of these treatments.

For more severe cases your dermatologist might suggest an Rx treatment. Your doc might prescribe an oral med like antibiotics to kill off bad bacteria. They could also give you a vitamin A derivative (isotretinoin) that can decrease oil gland size in the pores.

Important: Don’t use a big amount of different products at once. This can dry out your skin and make your acne even worse.

Here’s a chart that shows different types of acne and their treatments :

Type of acneOTC treatmentsPrescription treatments
blackheadssalicylic acid, topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs)topical retinoids like tretinoin or adapalene
whiteheadssalicylic acid, topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or AHAs and BHAsazelaic acid or topical retinoids
papulesbenzoyl peroxide or salicylic acidhormonal birth control pills (for peeps who have a vagina) or antibiotics such as erythromycin or doxycycline
pustulescortisone creams, salicylic acid, salicylic acid, azelaic acid, or benzoyl peroxideantibiotic creams or pills, steroid creams, or prescription-strength salicylic or azelaic acid
nodulescold pack to reduce swellinghormonal birth control pills (for peeps who have a vagina), antibiotics, corticosteroids, dapsone, or isotretinoin
cystswarm compress to help the cyst drain on its own (DO NOT pop it!)antibiotics, isotretinoin, or a procedure to drain or remove the cyst.
acne mechanicasalicylic acid, topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or AHAs and BHAsprescription-strength AHAs and BHAs or topical antibiotics
acne conglobataN/Aoral acne meds like Sotret, Claravis, Isotretinoin, or Amnesteem
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