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Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

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Top Treatments for Acne Prone Skin

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Nearly everyone has acne at sometime between the ages of 7 and 22. It may be mild, or it may be severe. It might just cause embarrassing whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples, or it might leave debilitating scars, nodules, and cysts.

nose and cheek acne
Acne on the nose and cheeks is normally caused by excess oil.

The good thing about acne is that it usually goes away. About 20 to 25% of adults, however, continue to have persistent patches of acne-prone skin. These areas are usually not as extensive as they were in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, but they can continue to require special handling even as late in life as age 55 or even later. Without getting into the complexities of skin care, this article will tell you the best ways to handle acne by the places on the body where they occur.


  • Skin all over your face may break out in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood1, but most people over the age of 25 only have patches of acne-prone skin.
  • Different products work best on different locations on the body.
  • Back acne usually causes blackheads. These often respond to topical tretinoin.
  • Acne around the eyes is usually caused by dryness. An application of moisturizer may be all that is needed.
  • Whiteheads and blackheads across the cheeks and on the nose are usually caused by excess oil.
  • Pimples across the cheeks and on the nose may be a sign of rosacea.
  • For people with Asian skin, the brown spots left when acne heals are usually a bigger concern than the acne itself.
  • Certain products are used to keep skin light, and others are used to bleach it. People who have Asian, Hispanic, or African skin types need to avoid some skin lighteners altogether.
  • The best way to keep skin clear after you take care of problem blemishes is a complete acne care system such as Exposed Skin Care.

How to Treat Back Acne

Blackheads and pimples on the back can be a problem throughout adult life. Even octogenarians and nonagenarians can have persistent, large blackheads on the back, usually just a few that last for years and years.

The back acne blemishes occur2 when the skin is tough and tight. The solution is never to try to pop them out. They are usually too firmly embedded to be squeezed or even lanced. The way to get rid of these back acne blemishes is with topical tretinoin.

Topic tretinoin3 is the non-prescription form of the acne drug Retin-A. It is a form of vitamin A that stimulates the maturation of skin cells so that they live out a 21-day life cycle and die on the surface of the skin. Placing topical tretinoin around a blackhead on the back will stimulate the skin around the pore to grow and open the pore, so that the blackhead falls out on its own.

Tretinoin is a skin irritant4, but if the skin on your back is so tough that you have blackheads that have been there since the Jimmy Carter administration, chances are that the preparation will not irritate your skin. Just be sure to use a mirror or the help of a partner to get the gel exactly on the blackhead, and leave the area uncovered for at least an hour, not lying on your back in bed or leaning your back against the back of a chair, to give the product a chance to be absorbed. Results take about 3 or 4 weeks.

Another cause back acne is acne mechanica5. Tight shirts, blouses, and brassieres trap sweat on pores, and tiny pimples break out. All you need to do to treat this form of acne is wear loose clothing, and wait. Acne mechanica usually resolves itself in 3 or 4 weeks when loose-fitting clothes are worn.

How to Treat Acne on the Temples and at the Sides of the Face6

Many people who otherwise have “perfect skin” sometimes get whiteheads or blackheads at the side of the face or on the temples. This is almost always due tightness of the skin, and almost always occurs during the summer or after long-term exposure to dry air.

The solution is not to fight the blemish but to moisturize the skin. After cleansing the face7, apply just a dot or a dab of an alcohol-free moisturizer around the blemish. Often in as little as 24 hours, it will pop out on its own. Blemishes around the eyes and across the forehead are almost always due to dry skin.

How to Treat Acne on the Upper Forehead

Blemishes on the upper forehead and at the hairline8 are almost always triggered by hair care products9. Shampoo, conditioner, volumizer, mousse, gel, and treatments for split ends get on the skin and clog pores. If you just make sure to rinse hair thoroughly after treatment and keep it off the face, acne on the upper forehead and at the hair line will quickly disappear with minimal treatment.

How to Treat Acne Across the Cheeks and on the Nose

Blackheads and whiteheads across the cheeks and on the nose are usually very easy to treat10. Pimples across the cheeks and on the nose are usually hard to treat.

The nose and cheeks are often referred to as the “T zone,”11 the part of the face where oil production is highest. If you tend to non-inflammatory blemishes in this part of your face, the problem is probably excess oil. Don’t try to “dry out” your skin. Just make sure you blot off excess oil whenever your skin is shiny, and, if you use makeup, use an oil control produce and loose powder to keep the texture of your skin even throughout the day12. Be absolutely sure to remove any makeup on your face before you go to bed.

Tiny pimples across the face and on the nose are often, collectively, a sign of rosacea13. This skin condition is not due to clogged pores. Instead, it is caused by broken blood vessels—and treatments to open up the pores not only don’t help; they usually hurt. Especially when your skin breaks out quickly after it is exposed to heat (either from the air or from drinking a hot beverage), you will need to take appropriate steps to treat rosacea.

How to Treat Brown Spots Left When Acne Heals

The most troubling aspect of treating acne-prone skin on Asian and dark skin types usually is not the acne blemish itself. Most people who have Asian or dark skin types are more concerned about the brown or black spots left behind when acne heals14.

The most important thing to know about after-care of acne-prone skin in these skin types is that lighteners and whiteners that work on white skin can have devastating effects on Asian, brown, and black skin. Hydroquinone, in particular, can cause a skin reaction that turns Asian skins blue and black skins even blacker15. But the main thing to know about lightening agents is when to use them.

Arbutin, vitamin C, kojic acid, and azelaic acid are used before the skin turns brown to prevent browning of the skin. Alpha-hydroxy acids and salicylic acid are used after the skin turns brown to lighten it. Hydroquinone is OK for fair skin—but people who have fair skin usually don’t need it. Neither hydroquinone nor fluocinolone (often included in topical tretinoin treatments) should be used on any skin type other than fair skin.

A Simpler Approach to Treating Acne-Prone Skin

All of these approaches are great for treating acne-prone skin. But for keeping acne-prone clear once you have taken care of problem blemishes, the best product is a complete acne care system such as Exposed Skin Care.

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