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Is There An Acne Remedy That Really Works?

Many people who have acne spend weeks, months, and years searching for the right acne remedy. They  spend thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. They visit dermatologists, endocrinologists, herbalists, aestheticians, cosmetologists, and even hypnotherapists. They endure aggravation, irritation, and embarrassment.

woman choosing an acne treatment
Choosing the right acne treatment is dependent upon you knowing your correct skin type.

For example, everyone knows benzoyl peroxide is present in many home remedies, but many fail to realize that it is neither the best or most effective topical solution to get rid of acne for certain skin types (your complexion is quite important). As such, the search for acne remedies that work can be expedited simply by choosing the right products for your skin type1. All you need to do is to be able to distinguish between dry skin and oily skin, tight skin and loose skin, skin that is pigmented and skin that is not, and sensitive skin and non-sensitive skin. Here’s how you do it.


  • No acne remedy works for everyone.
  • Acne remedies that may help some people may harm others, and vice versa.
  • You can choose the right acne remedy in four easy steps.

Dry Skin vs. Oily Skin

Back in the Clearasil era, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, just about every mass-marketed acne product was designed to treat pimples on oily skin. Nearly every product had a peach colored tint that did a pretty good job of masking pimples if you had peach-colored skin (and made them a lot more noticeable if you didn’t), and nearly every product had antiseptic foaming action. For some people, these products worked. For some, they actually made acne worse.

Then in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the makers of acne care formulas began to realize that the problem that creates acne is oil on your skin, not oil in your skin. It is the over-accumulation of oily sebum that blocks the openings of pores2 and traps Propionibacterium acne bacteria inside.

“Dry” skin, on the other hand, isn’t all about the pores3. It is about the concentration of water inside the skin. It is possible to have skin that is both oily and dry at the same time. Fortunately most people have to deal with just one problem or the other. Most people do not have “combination” skin.

How can you tell if you have dry skin?

Dry skin:

  • Looks gray or ash-colored when it exposed to sun or dry air.
  • Causes makeup to cake over wrinkles when applied without moisturizer.
  • Never looks shiny in photos.
  • Almost never develops enlarged pores.
  • Flakes and peels easily.

In contrast, oily skin:

  • Looks shiny if you do not blot oil every morning, and may look shiny 2 or 3 hours later even if you do.
  • Causes makeup to streak or look shiny.
  • Often looks shiny in photos, especially on the nose and around the eyes.
  • Often develops blackheads that leave enlarged pores behind when they finally dissolve.
  • Is resistant to flaking and peeling.

Dry and oily skin respond to different hydroxy acids4. They require different cleansing agents. They are sensitive to different chemicals. And if you have oily skin that dries out under certain conditions, you may need one acne remedy for your nose and around your eyes and another acne remedy for the rest of your face.

Remember, the problem with oily skin is never the oil that is in your skin. The problem is always the oil on your skin.

Pigmented Skin vs. Non-Pigmented Skin

Some people get freckles, sun spots, and age spots, and also developing browning or blackening of the skin after acne5, cuts and scrapes, or other forms of skin irritation. Some people have skin with even pigmentation and no spots of any kind. If you have highly pigmented skin, that is, skin that produces spots, you need to avoid any kind of irritation or inflammation to keep your skin tone smooth. The agents that are designed to remove skin spots sometimes cause permanent discoloration! But if you have non-pigmented skin, stronger acne products may be OK for you.

You have pigmented skin if:

  • A pimple or an ingrown hair is often followed by a brown or blackish spot.
  • You develop a brown streak on your skin after a cut heals.
  • You are a woman, and you developed brown or black spots on your skin when you took birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy.
  • Dark patches develop on your skin when you spend time in the sun.
  • You have had 20 or more freckles at one time.
  • Your skin gets darker after a sunburn.
  • Your natural hair color (before any graying) is red.

Pigmented skin is usually sensitive skin. It is essential to avoid products that cause any kind of inflammation. If the statements above do not describe your skin, then you have non-sensitive, resistant skin

Tight Skin vs. Loose Skin

Tight skin tends to trap oil inside pores. Loose skin tends to form wrinkles6. If you have loose, wrinkle-prone skin now, you can tighten it so you avoid wrinkles later.

You probably have wrinkle-resistant, tight skin if:

  • Your face does not show lines or wrinkles, or very noticeable lines or wrinkles, when you smile or talk.
  • You have never used tanning booths and never sun bathed.
  • You have lived in a cloudy, cool climate, rather than a desert, hot climate.
  • You have never smoked.
  • You live in a location where air pollution is minimal.
  • You eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Your parents and grandparents looked “young for their age.”
  • Your natural skin tones are dark yellow or brown.

If the above does not apply to you, then you may have loose or wrinkle-prone skin. Acne care treatments that are rich in antioxidants7—as long as the antioxidants stay on your skin and are not washed down the drain—will also help you avoid wrinkling. If you have tight skin, applying antioxidants is not as critical.

Sensitive Skin vs. Non-Sensitive (or Resistant) Skin

Some people have sensitive skin that gets tingly and then red and itchy and then breaks out after exposure to just about any kind of chemical. Some people have non-sensitive (also termed resistant) skin that is unaffected by most chemicals.

If you have sensitive skin, you probably need to avoid most of the acne treatment additives8 put in products to make them seem more “natural,” such as herbal essences, essential oils, perfumes, and fragrances. Menthol, peppermint, and wintergreen are frequent offenders. If you have non-sensitive or resistant skin, you may be able to tolerate a wider range of acne care products.

You probably have sensitive skin if:

  • You are an adult, and you get a new pimple nearly every week.
  • Cleansers, moisturizers, toners, and exfoliants usually make your skin tingle.
  • You have been diagnosed with rosacea.
  • Jewelry that is not 14-karat gold makes you break out with a rash.
  • You have been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, eczema, or hives.
  • Someone in your immediate family (a parent, sibling, or grandparent) has been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, eczema, or hives.
  • You often break out when you use skin care products provided by a hotel.
  • You often get rashes underneath your rings, bracelets, or watch band.
  • Bubble bath makes your skin itch.

You probably have resistant skin if the characteristics above do not apply to you.

Probably no skin characteristic is more relevant to your choice of acne remedy than sensitivity or relative non-sensitivity. Choosing treatments that soothe the skin so it can heal itself rather than treatments to scrub or burn acne away will prevent a lifetime of future problems.


  1. Rendon MI, Rodriguez DA, Kawata AK, Degboe AN, Wilcox TK, Burk CT, Daniels SR, Roberts WE. Acne treatment patterns, expectations, and satisfaction among adult females of different races/ethnicities. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 May 2;8:231-8.
  2. Dréno B. What is new in the pathophysiology of acne, an overview. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Sep;31 Suppl 5:8-12.
  3. Pons-Guiraud A. Dry skin in dermatology: a complex physiopathology. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2007 Sep;21 Suppl 2:1-4.
  4. Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Aug;10(8):49-55. Epub 2017 Aug 1.
  5. Zawar VP, Agarwal M, Vasudevan B. Treatment of Postinflammatory Pigmentation Due to Acne with Q-Switched Neodymium-Doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet In 78 Indian Cases. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015 Oct-Dec;8(4):222-6.
  6. Vashi NA, de Castro Maymone MB, Kundu RV. Aging Differences in Ethnic Skin. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016 Jan;9(1):31-8.
  7. Al-Shobaili HA. Oxidants and anti-oxidants status in acne vulgaris patients with varying severity. Ann Clin Lab Sci. 2014 Spring;44(2):202-7.
  8. Mills OH Jr, Berger RS. Defining the susceptibility of acne-prone and sensitive skin populations to extrinsic factors. Dermatol Clin. 1991 Jan;9(1):93-8.
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