contrast acneAccording to the National Institutes of Health, over 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 have acne breakouts. Acne is more common in females, however over 40% of men in their teens and twenties experience acne breakouts.  Acne can appear on the face, back, arms, and other locations and can lead to scarring and poor self-esteem.  Remedies and treatments vary depending on the severity and type of acne experienced.  Some individuals find that over-the-counter medicines work fine for controlling the acne while others require the expertise of an esthetician or dermatologist.

Alternatively, natural home remedies have also been shown to be effective in some individuals; and that is key when understanding the treatment protocols for acne; not all individuals respond favorably to all courses of medication, cleansing, and natural treatments.  Often, it is a trial and error situation for individuals seeking a solution to the acne on their face and backs.  Below we examine the different causes and treatment options for women, men and adolescents.

Adolescents And Acne

Teens and adolescents experience acne at an alarming rate.  Both males and females have drastic hormonal changes from the time they are 10 until they are in their late teens.  Hormonal imbalances and rapid changes are believed to be one of the causes of acne in teens and adults.  Adolescents face a difficult time as it is adjusting to the rapid changes in their body, as well as the peer pressure and expectations of society.  Even mild acne outbreaks can cause severe emotional distress and cause this age group to retreat from activities and social interaction.  The psychosocial burden associated with acne can be severe and teens and parents need to be proactive in the treatment of acne to ensure that individuals do not have permanent physical and emotional scars.

Acne In Adult Women

Acne can affect women of all ages and a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology indicates that women with acne demonstrate greater self-consciousness and negative self-image than men with similar acne outbreaks.  Additionally, this study found that in general, women over the age of 20 are significantly more likely to suffer from appearance related distress than adolescents and teens.[1]  Throughout a woman’s life, there is a natural ebb and flow of hormones.  Hormone balances and fluctuations are believed to spur acne breakouts through the added production of oils in the skin.  When this meets acne-friendly bacteria and dead skin, the results can be a significant production of both whiteheads and blackheads for mild to severe outbreaks.

Acne in women is believed to have a genetic risk associated with it as well; if adult women in the family have acne outbreaks at different stages of their lives, female siblings and offspring are more likely than their peers to have outbreaks.  Even minor outbreaks can cause emotional distress.  Younger women tend to have acne breakouts in the T-zone including the forehead, nose and chin.  As the hormone balances change, many women in their thirties, forties and fifties find that acne moves to their jawline, around their lips, and into the hollows of their cheeks.  Treatment options include over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications, and facials and other procedures including microdermabrasion done by estheticians and Dermatologists.

Men And Acne

While the percentage of males that experience acne is less than the female population, men still experience acne throughout their lives.  Like women, it is often associated with hormonal changes and is believed to be related to the hormone that causes the deepening of the voice and body hair.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is more difficult to treat in adults than in teenagers.  Where women most often experience acne on their faces and necks, men can also experience it on their backs and other areas.  This can lead to significant self-esteem challenges and cause appearance-related distress.

Getting Rid Of Acne – Treatment Options

So where should you start?  What are your options?  Here’s some alternatives to consider:

Option 1:  Drugstore Over-The Counter Treatments For Acne

The first step in tacking acne is using over-the-counter treatments.  All individuals affected with acne should start with gentle cleansing of their skin with oil-free cleansers, twice per day.  It is important to not over scrub or to use harsh abrasive cleansers as this can actually spur the skin to create more oil.  In addition to gentle and regular cleansing, over-the-counter creams and salves that have active ingredients including salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or sulfur compounds can be applied to affected areas, as recommended on the packaging.

Special Considerations For Teens:  It is important that teens be reminded not to pick or pop acne as this can lead to significant and permanent scars on their face, arms, and backs.  Battling acne is a tough at any age, but as teens are developing into who they are and facing the societal expectations and demands, outbreaks can cause significant emotional distress.  If over-the-counter acne treatments are not effective within 30 days, contact a Dermatologist.

Special Considerations For Women:  Over-the-counter treatments for acne have varying effectiveness for women.  Patience is required; it may take anywhere from two weeks to two months to see a radical change in the type of outbreak and frequency.  Women that continue to have problems with acne outbreaks should visit with an esthetician or a Dermatologist to examine their options.

Special Considerations For Men:  While men and women both experience acne outbreaks, men are more likely to get acne on their backs and buttocks than women.  This can lead to self-image problems and appearance related distress.  Acne on backs and buttocks can be more difficult to treat; men should consider visiting with an esthetician or Dermatologist as soon as possible.

Option 2:  High-End Over-The-Counter Protocols

A number of manufacturers have formulated acne protocols that are more expensive than the variety found at drugstores.  These protocols typically contain a blend of products that work together to fight moderate to severe cases of acne in adolescents, men and women and have multiple steps including cleansing, toning and moisturizing.  Murad, Proactiv, Rodan, and others have proprietary formulas that include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, sulfur and other compounds and although these are the same ingredients used in drugstore acne products, the formulas themselves, vary greatly.  Individuals using these higher-end acne solutions report varying degrees of effectiveness and results vary widely from individual to individual.  Most of these acne protocols are recommended for use for a minimum of 60 days and while others recommend using the product for a minimum of 90 days for full effectiveness.

Special Considerations For Teens:  While parents or adolescents may be hesitant to try these higher-priced acne solutions, it is important to realize that these products are generally less expensive than visits to an esthetician or Dermatologist.  Some of these products offer money-back guarantees when used as directed.

Special Considerations For Women:  Women that experience regular breakouts that can be linked to their hormonal cycles, may find these multi-step protocols to be effective in managing outbreaks and keeping skin clear.  However, some individuals report significant drying, peeling and flaking with these products.  If an allergic reaction or excessive peeling occurs, individuals should stop using these products.

Special Considerations For Men:  These products may work for men that experience regular and prolonger acne breakouts on their faces.  However, these products are typically not recommended for use anywhere but the face, and even individuals that would want to try these products on areas larger than their face may find them to be cost prohibitive.

Option 3:  Visiting An Esthetician

Estheticians are not doctors, but they are highly trained skin care therapists.  They perform a variety of cosmetic treatments including waxing, facials, deep cleansing treatments, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and certain other services that can help clear skin of blackheads, whiteheads, and dead skin.  Deep cleansing facials, for example, slough away dead skin and open pores for easier removal of the bacteria and dirt that can lead to acne breakouts.  In some cases, they can do extractions for both whiteheads and blackheads to help reduce the appearance of the acne; it is important to realize that extractions should never be done at home, as it can lead to the spread of bacteria and result in scarring.  Besides the actual treatments, estheticians work with their clients on overall good skincare practices, techniques and recommend products based on your specific skin type and skin challenges.

Special Considerations For Teens:  Visits to professional estheticians are not cheap; however, many individuals find that professional treatments can help clear the skin of teens and adults.  Some products and services however may not be appropriate or safe for individuals under the age of 18.

Special Considerations For Women:  Facials, peels, and microdermabrasion treatments may cause an outbreak in the next couple of days.  Women should not schedule these appointments within a week of major events including weddings, reunions or interviews.

Special Considerations For Men:  Few men take the advantage of professional spa treatments; this is a shame.  Not only are they effective for a number of problems, they also can induce relaxation and healing.  Additionally, estheticians can work with men on acne that appears in other areas of their body where typical over-the-counter treatments are not viable.

Option 4:  Visiting A Dermatologist

Dermatologists work with their patients to tackle moderate to severe acne breakouts through both internal and external solutions.  Prescribed topical creams with anti-bacterial compounds and retinoids work to remove dead skin and prevent the spread of bacteria in the acne while reducing oil production.  In some cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed to help tackle the bacteria from the inside.  Attacking acne from the inside and out is believed to be the most effective way to reduce or eliminate acne breakouts in most adults.  In addition, Dermatologists have access to stronger chemical peels and light therapies including the use of lasers to fight acne.

Special Considerations For Teens:  Acne typically does not go away on its own. The right combination of hygiene, diet and acne protocols must be found.  Teens and adolescents with moderate to severe acne should visit a Dermatologist for treatment regimens that can prevent or lessen the occurrence of scarring.

Special Considerations For Women:  Because hormonal imbalances and fluctuations are considered triggers for acne in women, a Dermatologist may request hormonal testing and then prescribe a birth control pill to help regulate hormones.  Some women experience significant improvement of acne once hormones are regulated.

Special Considerations For Men:  Like women, male acne may be related to hormonal imbalances.  For severe cases of acne, the Dermatologist may require hormonal testing and medications as part of the protocol to fight acne.

Option 5:  Natural & Alternative Therapies

Topical Applications:  Natural and alternative topical applications for acne are also available.  Herbal remedies including thyme, papaya, bananas, olive oil, honey, tea tree oil, coconut oil, and acids from certain fruits have been found to be safe and effective in treating acne in some individuals.  Thyme, raspberries, green tea, papaya, bananas, basil and other foods can be made into a paste or a tea, applied to the affected areas, and then wiped off.  The natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties help to clear the skin in some individuals.

Oral Herbal Supplements:  Many individuals believe in the addition of herbal supplements in the form of teas, tinctures, capsules or pills into their diet.  Some supplements are believed to help with acne and hormonal imbalances.  These include zinc, green tea, papaya, thyme, Vitamin B complexes, Vitamin A, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Lavender, and many others.  Consult with a natural health professional for more information on what supplements may help you with your acne.

Oil Cleansing Method:  The Oil Cleansing Method seems counterintuitive to many individuals and results vary widely. Instead of washing the face with “oil-free” cleansers, individuals apply natural oils to the face.  Castor oil plus a mild carrier oil like Avocado, Jojoba or Almond oil are mixed together and then rubbed in circular motions into the face and neck.  The massage should continue for ten to 15 minutes; many individuals report feeling the loosening of the sebum in acne as well as the removal of dead skin.  A thorough rinsing is important after completing to remove any residual oil on the skin.  Results may take weeks or months to fully realize.  The benefit is that skin is naturally hydrated during this process and skin is left feeling supple and soft.

Things To Remember When Fighting Acne

  • Over 80% of individuals suffer from acne.
  • Acne typically will not go away on its own; some sort of intervention is necessary.
  • Hormonal imbalances in adolescents, women and men can lead to moderate to severe acne breakouts.
  • Over cleansing of the face with harsh products may in fact cause greater outbreaks as the body tries to compensate for the drying by producing more oil.
  • Regular and gentle exfoliation to rid dead skin cells is considered an essential part of any acne program.  Individuals should avoid harsh products and opt for finer natural products including baking soda, brown sugar, and other alternatives.
  • A healthy diet and the consumption of a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day helps the body fight inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and keeps skin glowing and healthy.
  • An overnight cure for acne does not exist; it can take weeks or even months to experience a noticeable difference.
  • Not every cure will work for every individual; it may take trial and error before you find the right combination of products, medications and treatments.
  • Hair products including gels, hairsprays, conditioners, and mousses can clog pores; keep hair off the face when fighting an acne breakout.
  • Makeup can be worn during acne breakouts; however, it is imperative that makeup be oil-free or labeled as “noncomedongenic” or “nonacnegenic”.
  • The price of the medication or treatment does not guarantee effectiveness.  Some individuals may find that cheap at home products including honey, baking soda, and brown sugar may be all they need while other individuals may require continuing laser, phototherapy or chemical peel treatments.

Key Acne Fighting Ingredients

  • Benzoyl Peroxide:  Kills bacteria
  • Salicylic Acid:  Unclogs pores
  • Glycolic Acid:  Removes dead skin
  • Sulfur:  Dries sebum found in acne
  • Aloe Vera:  Sooths irritated skin
  • Green Tea:  Kills bacteria
  • Passion Flower:  Reduces inflammation

Sources And Further Reading:

National Institutes Of Health:  Acne:

WebMB:  Acne Health Center:

Mayo Clinic:  Acne

Mayo Clinic:  Natural Acne Treatments:

American Academy Of Dermatology:

[1] Hassan, Judith; Grogan, Sarah; Clark-Carter, David.  Journal of Health Psychology; Nov 2009, Vol 14 Issue 8 p 1105-1118.  The individual health burden of acne:  Appearance-related distress in male and female adolescents and adults with back, chest and facial acne.


Kathleen McCoy is professional beauty, education and healthcare analyst and writer. A University of Maryland graduate, Kathleen has traveled and studied extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America covering skin care and natural beauty techniques from around the globe.

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