It's not enough to just call acne "frustrating." How do you even begin to describe something that, in an instant, can knock all the self-confidence you've built up your entire life? Acne is one thing that can make you lose all hope in your skin as you try every treatment, product and DIY tip out there in hope of diminishing it.
We know that treating acne can feel downright hopeless at times, and it can be hard to figure out which products are worth trying. Because there are so many treatments and products on the market, we've spoken with some leading dermatologists to find out what your best bets are for getting rid of acne.
The 3-Pronged Approach
Heading to a clinic for an acne treatment can be very effective on its own, but Nick Lowe, MB, ChB, MD, FRCP, FACP, consultant dermatologist at Cranley Clinic, says, "The secret for successful acne treatments is to be treated at a clinic such as ours (we offer dermatologists, skin specialist physicians, trained nurses and beauty therapists). To improve and provide long-term control of acne, there needs to be a combination of non-prescription products with a variety of clinical treatments and prescription products. For patients with more severe and resistant acne, we would offer a range of prescription treatments that include retinoids and short courses of antibiotics."
Education is a vital part of this combination approach too, as finding the causes of acne will help assess how to best treat it. Combining products with prescription treatments is a great course of action that can be guided by your dermatologist. For an in-clinic treatment that's used regularly for acne, Lowe recommends the Isolaz Treatment. "It's a visible light that puts out blue and red lights. It has a suction system that extracts the contents of the acne lesion. It sucks, extracts and then the light zaps the acne," he says.
So what's the deal with prescription treatments? If your acne goes beyond being mild, then this is one of the most effective and proven treatments to get from a clinic. Justine Kluk, MBChB, FRCP, consultant dermatologist, explains that there are different ones available. "Topical retinoids are derived from vitamin A and work by unclogging pores," she says. "They are the treatment of choice for blackheads and closed comedones—the small, stubborn skin-coloured bumps that often appear on the forehead and sides of the cheeks or jawline."
If your acne is the absolute bane of your existence, Kluk adds, "Isotretinoin (aka Accutane) is an oral retinoid and the treatment of choice for severe or persistent acne associated with nodules, cysts, scarring or psychological distress. It's also a good option for when other first-line treatments have failed. It works by suppressing sebaceous gland activity, which helps us to shed our dead skin cells more effectively. Isotretinoin also prevents blocked pores and reduces inflammation and the growth of Propionibacterium acne (the bacteria implicated in acne development). There's also a medicine called spironolactone, which may also be helpful in women with hormonal acne by reducing the effects of testosterone on the skin."
With all of these prescription treatments, a consultant dermatologist will be able to explain their side effects. They'll also work with you to find out what your best option might be, based on your medical history and the severity of your acne.
Peels, Lasers and Lights
If you're looking for an addition to prescriptions and other in-clinic treatments, cosmetic doctor Frances Prenna Jones recommends combining "regular glycolic peels with LED light therapy." Glycolic peels exfoliate the skin and brighten the complexion, which helps to reveal a new layer of skin. They also work to reduce pores and any congestion, so glycolic peels work well as part of a combined acne treatment plan.
Another one of the treatments that Jones recommends is The Black Laser Peel (£205), which combines charcoal and laser technology. It utilises the charcoal's absorbing properties to exfoliate the skin, reduce sebum and brighten the complexion. If you're dealing with acne scarring or the aftereffects of treatment or product misuse, then this is a great option for bringing your skin back to life.
Not ready to visit the derm just yet? We've also found some amazing acne products that you can use at home to keep blemishes at bay.
Dr Nick Lowe's antimicrobial serum was tested in an acne research lab, so you know it works. Its potent ingredients include niacinamide, eucalyptus leaf and zinc—all of which are all experts in targeting blemishes and spots.
Problematic skin needs a solid cleanser. Dr Frances Prenna Jones's does the job by tackling breakouts, reducing excess oil production and calming down inflamed skin. Get it on your bathroom shelf immediately.
First of all, this sleek tube is just crying out to be shown off in an Instagram photo. But what's inside the tube is really what counts. Allies of Skin's overnight mask—made with colloidal silver, AHAs and enzymes—brightens the skin by reducing pores and sebum.
For mild acne, Neutrogena's genius at-home mask will give you all the inflammation and bacteria-reducing benefits of red and blue lights. Take your Sunday face mask to a whole new level with this option that will give you clearer skin when you use it for 10 minutes a day.
Yes, there really are only three steps between you and your best skin yet. You really can't beat La Roche-Posay's beloved Effaclar range for simple, efficient everyday products for acne-prone skin. This kit includes a cleanser, a toner, and of course the moisturiser that's changed the game for treating blemishes.
Try out one of these products so you can finally get a reprieve from those pesky spots that keep you from having radiant skin.