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.
Prescription Treatments for Acne
Antibiotics.Antibiotics may be used on top of the skin (topical) or taken orally (systemic). Antibiotics work by clearing the skin of acne-causing bacteria and reducing inflammation. There are several topical products available in creams, gels, solutions, pads, and lotions. Topical antibiotics are limited in their ability to penetrate the skin and clear more deep-seated acne, whereas systemic antibiotics circulate throughout the body and into sebaceous glands. However, systemic antibiotics often cause more side effects than topicals, but they can be used for more severe kinds of acne. Usually, topical antibiotics aren't recommended alone as an acne treatment, as they can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance in skin bacteria. However, using benzoyl peroxide with a topical antibiotic may reduce the chances of developing antibiotic resistance.
Topical erythromycin and clindamycin are antibiotics that are also anti-inflammatory drugs and are effective against a number of bacteria. They should always be combined with benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid and applied directly to the skin. Oral erythromycin is also available, but you may become resistant to its effects, limiting its usefulness.