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Your acne fighting guide: what works and what doesn't

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Take a walk down the skin care aisle of your average drug store. Browse the cosmetics counter in your typical mall. You will likely see a dizzying array of tubs, tubes, and vials. Some display soft, appealing colors and delicate imagery. Others are shiny and high-tech looking. All have one job, and that is to treat your acne. But which one should you choose? Which one is right for you? To clear up the confusion, simply choose the ingredient meets your unique needs. Below are the possibilities that are sure to suit (or sabotage) your skin.

WHAT WORKS

Unmedicated cleansers: Gentle, basic cleansers such as Cetaphil and CeraVe work well for people who rarely breakout and just need a simple daily cleanser to remove makeup, oil, and impurities. Unmedicated cleansers are also good for those with particularly sensitive skin or for those who are already using topical or oral acne medications.

Salicylic Acid: For those with mild to moderate acne that is a bit more stubborn, salicylic acid cleansers may work well if your skin will tolerate it. A liquid cleanser is best, since daily exfoliation can be too harsh, while foaming cleansers may not fully remove the residue. Try Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.

Glycolic Acid: If you've tried salicylic acid, but you're still getting persistent, lingering breakouts, try glycolic acid. Though it's a heavier hitter, it can really help unclog your pores and eliminate blockages. Most brands carry a percentage of 10% glycolic acid or less, and specialty stores will likely carry such powerful products. Sephora and Ulta are good places to start.

Dapsone: If you have mild to moderate acne, but your skin goes into inflammation overdrive every time you try to treat it, dapsone could do the trick. This newer technology is not available over the counter, but you can ask your dermatologist about Aczone, the only product that contains the exclusive ingredient.

Topical Treatments: Prescription-strength creams and gels such as Differin, Retin-A, and Retin-A Micro can improve your complexion significantly. Use them following a gentle cleanser, and avoid direct sunlight and UV lamps.

Oral Treatments: Your dermatologist may prescribe an oral treatment to help clear up your skin. Oral treatments can include antibiotics, birth control pills, Aldactone, and Isotretinoin. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, you must finish all the medication. If you don't, the bacteria could become resistant. Your dermatologist may also prescribe Isotretinoin if all other methods have failed. Though it has a lot of potential side effects, your doctor will monitor you closely and guide you during treatment. Always take your medication according to your doctor's instructions.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK

Benzoyl Peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is the 8-track of skin care technology. It is outdated, less effective, and more irritating than newer ingredients. We've come a long way since its inception. Avoid it and move on.

Harsh Scrubbing: Scrubbing your face with a vengeance will not reduce your breakouts. It can lead to abrasions, cuts, bleeding, and infection. It will also dry out your face, and your skin will only produce more oil to compensate.

Product Pileup: Using an excessive amount of product will not increase its effectiveness. You will only waste your time and money.

Tanning: Spending time in the sun may temporarily dry out your skin, but the oil - and the acne - will soon return, and it will be even worse than it was before. You could always tan again, but then you'll have acne, oily skin, sun damage, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer. It's not effective, and it's not worth it. Just don't.

Squeezing and Picking: Stabbing at pimples with your fingernails, needles, and other tools could lead to scarring and infection, and you could actually push the blockage deeper into your skin. Only a dermatologist can effectively extract a pimple.

It is entirely possible to create an acne-fighting plan that meets your needs. From basic cleansers to powerful drugs, there is something out there for everyone. Whether your skin is sensitive and acne-prone or practically crystal-clear, you have options. Follow your own acne battle blueprint and say goodbye to your problematic pores.

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