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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.

Join The Conversation
sugahigh sugahigh 9 years
i love cetaphil ! ive had acne issues for years and ive tried everything.. including tonnes of glycolic acid peels, enough oral antibiotics to ensure that im resistant to all antibiotics for the rest of my life time ( this is a bad thing ) and laser to fry my sebaceous glands. not mention the fact that ive emptied out my wallet getting skin care products all the while!! and with all this..the acne kept coming back after i stopped treatment i bought cetaphil just for the heck of it .. and.. its the best thing ive ever bought !!! i use it daily.. and when i get worried about a solitary pimple.. i just apply a topical antibiotic in the night and everything clears up !!! yayyyyy !!
allodola allodola 9 years
it's much better to stay away from BP, not only does it cause skin aging but also increases the probability of skin cancer :((
nohesitation nohesitation 9 years
wow, i had no idea so many other people were allergic to benzoyl peroxide! when i was a teenager, i kept getting recurring redness and puffiness on my face. the skin around my eyes would swell so much i could barely open them! anyway, it was a few years before i figured out that it was the benzoyl peroxide in my brother's acne cream that was causing these excruciating episodes. i had gotten it on my skin through towels, not even direct contact. so now i stay about 10 miles away from BP at all times. but i've never had a problem with salicylic acid other than the usual minor drying.
megnmac megnmac 9 years
I LOVE Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser... I recently decided to shut down the beauty routine because something was making my face red and somewhat burned and I was breaking out... badly. So I went from the cleansers and toners and exfoliations and moisturizers I had been using and went to Cetaphil. It is so amazing I can't imagine life before it (which did include SA, esp once I was breaking out). Cetaphil is gentle enough to not freak out my skin and it has allowed it to cool down from everything else I was doing. And I've added the 2.5% BP on my breakout zones (everywhere) which has cleared up my acne. I've moisturized throughout, but somehow, simplifying worked for me. I know everyone sees pimples and thinks they need to amp up the routine, but I just needed to step back and figure it was doing more harm than help, and that my face needs more gentle coaxing than I was using.
calliope calliope 9 years
I am also allergic to BP, but I've never tried SA. I will definitely check out a product with that in it.
audreyxoxo audreyxoxo 9 years
i used to buy the coolest looking cleansers, i wouldnt care what was in them. now that i've done some research, ive tried proactive and regular cleansing with a simple foam. Nothing has worked better than what i do now: cetaphil morning and night, 10% BP at night, and lots of the cetaphil moisturizer morning and night. my skin isnt completely clear, but its doing hella lot better than before.
brutalcupcake brutalcupcake 9 years
Great, but how should one treat severe acne vulgaris?
creepupmytee creepupmytee 9 years
this is such a good guide! I LOVE BELLA! :D
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
Thanks Bella, I have moderate to severe acne and I really appreciate you posting about this because it is such a frustrating condition to have. I'll share more when you post about severe acne, but one of the things I use is a prescription, Duac, and one of the ingredients is Benzoyl Peroxide, which I think is great in combination with other treatments! I know we're not there yet, but some acne medication, retinoids, such as Differin and Retin-A micro actually prevent lines from since I use Differin and moisturizer I don't worry too much about the BP!
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
emily sulfur is absol amazing if you get a pimple or two. :)
emilyzoe emilyzoe 9 years
I used to sell proactiv at a kiosk in the mall, I can't tell you how many people are allergic to BP including myself. SA dries out your skin but at least it doesn't make my face tight and red. Sulpher works amazing if you're not allergic to it, which I am =). Also if you use BP it makes your skin more likly to sunburn so you have to use a sunscreen with it
BeautyXRush BeautyXRush 9 years
I really don't think BP is a factor in aging skin, the majority of people moisturize a ton anyways. Just don't over do the BP, and you should be fine.
JennaV JennaV 9 years
I LOVE Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser
Kaori Kaori 9 years
Francoisehardly, I'm the same. I think I'm allergic to benzoyl peroxide? My face does the red and itchy thing too. And once the area under my eye got all puffy and stuff. It was terrible, never using that stuff again D:
Rouge14 Rouge14 9 years
I read about Salicylic Acid in a French magazine when I was 14, they said in it that you can find Salicylic Acid in aspirin and toothpaste which is why if you ever need to dry a spot you can apply toothpaste on it (do not go out like that obviously!)so since then everytime I came up with an acne rash, I got my toothpaste out! It works well, but if the acne is really severe, it might be better to get proper treatments from a dermatologist.
Meka_suga Meka_suga 9 years
Thankx a bunch Bella.
Kaciegrrl Kaciegrrl 9 years
Salicylic acid is the best thing to ever happen to my skin. BP causes me to break out into an allergic rash for days afterward, but SA is much more gentle (IMO) and as long as I use it consistently, it keeps my skin clear.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
What if you can't use BP or SA. BP makes my pimples turn dark. SA dries my skin out and produces more pimple or makes them seem to stay longer.
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 9 years
I just looked it up myself, because I hadn't actually googled it, but one of the things I read for people who feel it's the only thing that works is that you would just use a lower concentration. And since the irritation and drying is what helps encourage premature aging, I agree that it would probably be a good idea to moisturize first.
Mchris344 Mchris344 9 years
BP ages the skin because it dries it out. Use a moisturizer first, then apply the BP. It is effective and prevents over drying and irritation.
GreenSkittlesGal GreenSkittlesGal 9 years
Francoise -- holy crap! I didn't believe your comment about BP aging the skin b/c I had never heard of that. I just ran a quick google search and apparently everyone is saying that. I am so scared and saddened. It works best on me. :( But I'm so very glad you posted the comment about the aging. I'm going to find other alternatives.
terryt18 terryt18 9 years
Yeah, I totally do better w/ salicylic. Great tips, B. A while back Walgreens had the Cetaphil cleanser on sale, the big one now, for like $6. I still have it and use it regularly. Good stuff.
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 9 years
I actually stay away from benzoyl peroxide because besides the fact that I keep reading that it ages the skin, I can't use it without getting a red itchy face. I seem to be able to keep my face pretty clear with the oil cleansing method and the aspirin mask and on different nights I use one or the other while using a regular cleanser in the morning, which has salicylic acid.
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