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Acne treatments

How To Treat Mild Acne Vulgaris

I kicked off my series on acne by helping you identify your acne type with this quiz. Now that you know what ails you, it's time to talk about what you can do to help clear up your skin.

Keep in mind, no matter how severe you think your acne is, the best way to start treating it is with the mildest products, working your way gradually towards stronger ones until you find what your skin responds to the best. No need to jump right into retinoids when a gentle cleanser will do!

First up are product and treatment options for those of you with mild acne vulgaris. As a reminder, this is the most mild form of acne, consisting of mostly non-inflamed lesions such as blackheads and small whiteheads. These can pop up anywhere, but they are typically found on your nose, forehead, and chin. If this describes your acne,


  • Gentle Cleanser What many people don't realize is that you might be over-treating your acne with a too-harsh cleanser. So if you've been struggling to clear up mild acne and have tried everything, it might be time to get back to basics with a cleanser like Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser ($8). This dermatologist favorite is known for its ability to gently remove dirt and oils from your skin without over drying. Try shelving those harsh cleansers and giving Cetaphil a two-to-three- week run, and see if it helps calm and clear up your skin.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide If gentle cleansing alone doesn't work, it might be a good idea to add a topical benzoyl peroxide cream or gel to your routine. Benzoyl peroxide blasts your pores with oxygen, killing acne-causing bacteria and clearing your pores of cellular debris. It is available in concentrations from 2.5% to 10%, but if your acne is mild, you should not need higher than a 2.5% concentration. Because of the possible side effects of overdrying, flakiness, and irritation, always start with the lowest concentration and work your way up if it's not working. This also gives your skin the opportunity to get used to the ingredient, which can help reduce side effects. Try a product like this 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream. It worked wonders on my skin, and it's cheap, too.
  • Salicylic Acid This ingredient comes in many forms, from cleansers to creams to spot treatments. Salicylic acid works by sloughing off pore-clogging dead skin cells, preventing them from causing pimples. Because of this, it can be very drying and irritating, especially if used in excess. Concentrations vary from 0.5% to 2%, and as with benzoyl peroxide, it is best to start with the lowest concentration you can find and work your way up. If your lesions are spread out or abundant, try it in a cleanser form, like this Neutrogena Oil Free Power Foam Wash ($6). A spot treatment like Nature's Gate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment ($10) is a better choice if you have only a few blemishes or infrequent breakouts.

A couple important things to keep in mind. First, you shouldn't use salicylic acid in conjunction with benzoyl peroxide. If your skin does not respond to a round of treatment with either, it might be time to seek other options. Also, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, consult your doctor before trying a new acne treatment. Let me know if anyone has had luck with any of these options, and stay tuned for my treatment suggestions for moderate to severe acne.

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