The occasional pimple can be concealed. If used at all, over-the-counter cover-up creams and cosmetics should be water-based. Even if outbreaks of acne cannot be eliminated, conventional treatment can provide relief.
The best treatments inhibit sebum production, limit bacterial growth, or encourage shedding of skin cells to unclog pores. Because many therapies can have side effects, any patient with acne should proceed with caution when trying a new treatment. People with any type of acne that lowers their self-esteem or makes them unhappy, those with acne that is leaving scars or people with severe, persistent cases of acne, need the care of a dermatologist.
Soap and water. Gentle cleansing of the face with soap and water no more than two times a day can help with acne. However, this does not clear up acne that is already present. Aggressive scrubbing can injure the skin and cause other skin problems.
Cleansers. There are many cleansers and soaps advertised for treating acne. They often contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur.
Benzoyl peroxide. For mild acne, you may try, or your doctor may recommend, treatment with a nonprescription drug that contains benzoyl peroxide. It's believed that this compound works by destroying the bacteria associated with acne. It usually takes at least four weeks to work and it must be used continuously to keep acne at bay. Like many over-the-counter and prescription products, it does not affect sebum production or the way the skin follicle cells are shed, and when you stop using it, the acne comes back. It is available in many forms: creams, lotions, washes, and gels. Benzoyl peroxide can cause dry skin and can bleach fabrics, so take care when applying it. Consider wearing an old T-shirt to bed if you are applying it to your back or chest overnight.
Salicylic acid. On the skin, salicylic acid helps to correct the abnormal shedding of cells. For milder acne, salicylic acid helps unclog pores to resolve and prevent lesions. It does not have any effect on sebum production and does not kill bacteria. It must be used continuously, just like benzoyl peroxide, because its effects stop when you stop using it -- pores clog up again and the acne returns. Salicylic acid is available in many acne products, including lotions, creams, and pads.
Sulfur. In combination with other substances such as alcohol and salicylic acid, sulfur is a component of many over-the-counter acne medications. It usually isn't used by itself because of its unpleasant odor. It's unclear how sulfur works, but it has only a marginal benefit in most cases.
Alcohol and acetone. Alcohol is a mild anti-bacterial agent, and acetone can remove oils from the surface of the skin. These substances are combined in some over-the-counter acne drugs. These agents dry out the skin, have little or no effect on acne, and are generally not recommended by dermatologists.
Herbal, organic, and "natural" medications. There are many herbal, organic, and natural products marketed to treat or prevent acne. The effectiveness of these agents isn't proven and they are unlikely to have much benefit.
Note: When pus-filled pimples are ready to break, apply a hot towel for a few minutes to encourage the natural bursting process. Inflamed pimples should be opened only by a nurse or doctor using surgical instruments and following antiseptic practices. Squeezing pimples yourself may lead to further problems and perhaps permanent scars.