Compare Treatments

Acne
Scars
Topical Antibacterial
Efficacy
54%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Benzoyl peroxide clears the skin completely when applied correctly.
Topical Antibacterial
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Antibacterial
Acne.org’s Real World Take
It’s been a staple of acne treatment for decades for a reason. When used properly it can completely clear the skin and it is widely available and affordable. Comes with annoying side effects for the first few weeks and can bleach fabric.
Topical Antibacterial
Reviews
3.5
20758 Reviews
Topical Antibacterial
How to Get It
This is an over-the-counter treatment. Here are some places you can find it online.
Topical Antibacterial
Efficacy
68%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Antibacterial
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Antibacterial
Acne.org’s Real World Take
At prescription strengths (15 - 20%) studies show it should help reduce mild-to-moderate acne by a significant and noticeable amount after 3 months or so of treatment, so that’s not too shabby. However, it is unlikely to completely clear the skin on its own.
Topical Antibacterial
Reviews
3.8
501 Reviews
Topical Antibacterial
How to Get It
Azelaic acid is available in 15% - 20% by prescription. Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.

Azelaic acid is also available over-the-counter in strengths 10% and lower. Here are some places you can find it online.
Phototherapy
Efficacy
67%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Phototherapy
Side Effects
Medium-High
Phototherapy
Acne.org’s Real World Take
PDT as it’s called is an incredibly painful procedure, but one that may produce lasting results. It’s a less invasive option than isotretinoin for severe acne that doesn’t cause so many potentially lifelong side effects. However, it works by permanently disabling skin oil glands, and what happens long term when you do that remains unknown. Proceed with caution.
Phototherapy
Reviews
2.8
217 Reviews
Phototherapy
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this procedure done.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Retinoid
Efficacy
87%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Use with EXTREME CAUTION: Causes severe birth defects and fetal death.
Oral Retinoid
Side Effects
High
Oral Retinoid
Acne.org’s Real World Take
The nuclear option. It works reliably and provides long-term remission of acne, and even severe acne, in about ⅔ of people who properly take an adequate dosage. However, it permanently and irreversibly changes the skin and the body forever and users may experience long-term side effects for the rest of their lives. It’ll nuke it, but there is no going back.
Oral Retinoid
Reviews
3.9
2786 Reviews
Oral Retinoid
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Retinoid
Efficacy
49%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Retinoid
Side Effects
Low
Topical Retinoid
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Works about the same as the other two topical retinoids, tazarotene and adapalene, and lands in the middle of those two when it comes to side effects. Should provide partial clearing, but comes with sensitivity when you first start using it. It probably won’t be a total game changer but it should help reduce acne.
Topical Retinoid
Reviews
3.4
1969 Reviews
Topical Retinoid
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Retinoid
Efficacy
54%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Retinoid
Side Effects
Low
Topical Retinoid
Acne.org’s Real World Take
May provide partial relief at higher prescription dosages. Comes with less side effects than the other two topical retinoids, tretinoin and tazarotene, but may also work ever-so-slightly less well. No retinoid is likely to be a game changer, but studies do show a partial reduction in acne.
Topical Retinoid
Reviews
3.2
1908 Reviews
Topical Retinoid
How to Get It
Adapalene is available in strengths up to 0.3% by prescription. Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.

Adapalene is also available over-the-counter in 0.1% strength. Here are some places you can find it online.
Topical Retinoid
Efficacy
50%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Retinoid
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Retinoid
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Produces similar results to the two other topical retinoids, tretinoin and adapalene, which means only partial clearing, and comes with far more sensitivity and side effects when you first start using it. It probably won’t be a total game changer and don’t be surprised if it’s too much for your skin to take.
Topical Retinoid
Reviews
3.4
968 Reviews
Topical Retinoid
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Phototherapy
Efficacy
52%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Phototherapy
Side Effects
Low
Phototherapy
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Light therapy is a temporary and time-consuming treatment option that produces only modest results. However, it is the least invasive of any acne treatment, and its only downside is that it reduces folic acid levels.
Phototherapy
Reviews
3.2
251 Reviews
Phototherapy
How to Get It
Light therapy can be performed with stronger, professional light devices at a doctor’s office. Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this procedure done.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.

Weaker light therapy devices are also available over-the-counter. Here are some places you can find it online.
Oral Contraceptive
Efficacy
56%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Improvement significantly increases after 24 weeks.
Oral Contraceptive
Side Effects
High
Oral Contraceptive
Acne.org’s Real World Take
All oral contraceptives appear to clear the skin about the same amount. Some people report cessation of acne symptoms and others see partial relief. However, messing with hormones is messing with hormones and it’s best to proceed with caution. But if you’re looking to take the birth control pill anyway, one of the benefits is clearer skin.
Oral Contraceptive
Reviews
3.2
1503 Reviews
Oral Contraceptive
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Contraceptive
Efficacy
56%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Improvement significantly increases after 24 weeks.
Oral Contraceptive
Side Effects
High
Oral Contraceptive
Acne.org’s Real World Take
All oral contraceptives appear to clear the skin about the same amount. Some people report cessation of acne symptoms and others see partial relief. However, messing with hormones is messing with hormones and it’s best to proceed with caution. But if you’re looking to take the birth control pill anyway, one of the benefits is clearer skin.
Oral Contraceptive
Reviews
3.5
1211 Reviews
Oral Contraceptive
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Contraceptive
Efficacy
56%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Improvement significantly increases after 24 weeks.
Oral Contraceptive
Side Effects
High
Oral Contraceptive
Acne.org’s Real World Take
All oral contraceptives appear to clear the skin about the same amount. Some people report cessation of acne symptoms and others see partial relief. However, messing with hormones is messing with hormones and it’s best to proceed with caution. But if you’re looking to take the birth control pill anyway, one of the benefits is clearer skin.
Oral Contraceptive
Reviews
2.9
27 Reviews
Oral Contraceptive
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Keratolytic
Efficacy
43%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Keratolytic
Side Effects
Low
Topical Keratolytic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Easy to find and with low side effects, but don’t be surprised if you are left wishing for better results after using it for a while. Any acid on its own is unlikely to dramatically clear acne.
Topical Keratolytic
Reviews
3.6
6047 Reviews
Topical Keratolytic
How to Get It
This is an over-the-counter treatment. Here are some places you can find it online.
Chemical Exfoliation
Efficacy
57%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Chemical Exfoliation
Side Effects
Medium
Chemical Exfoliation
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Common sense might tell us that chemical peels seem like such a great idea for acne, but in the real world, acid alone just doesn’t seem to completely take care of acne. They can also be expensive and leave the skin red and peeling for a few days every time you get one.
Chemical Exfoliation
Reviews
3.4
371 Reviews
Chemical Exfoliation
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this procedure done.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.

Do not try this at home!
Phototherapy
Efficacy
67%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Phototherapy
Side Effects
Medium-High
Phototherapy
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Laser therapy works by harming skin oil glands. That can lead to some improvement in acne, and perhaps even long-term relief of some acne symptoms. However, evolution gave us skin oil glands for a reason and what happens long term when you permanently disable them is still unknown. Proceed with caution.
Phototherapy
Reviews
2.9
232 Reviews
Phototherapy
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this procedure done.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Antiandrogen
Efficacy
68%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Antiandrogen
Side Effects
High
Antiandrogen
Acne.org’s Real World Take
“Spiro” has been shown to work in a real and noticeable way most of the time. However, messing with hormones is messing with hormones and it’s best to proceed with caution.
Antiandrogen
Reviews
4.1
1326 Reviews
Antiandrogen
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Keratolytic
Not Enough Data
Topical Keratolytic
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Keratolytic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Due to its antimicrobial properties and ability to absorb skin oil and dry out the skin, sulfur has been used for thousands of years for various skin conditions, including acne. However, it is normally reserved for noninflammatory acne (whiteheads and blackheads), because it doesn't work as well as other over-the-counter medications for inflammatory acne (papules and pustules).
Topical Keratolytic
Reviews
3.1
2209 Reviews
Topical Keratolytic
How to Get It
This is an over-the-counter treatment. Here are some places you can find it online.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Keratolytic
Efficacy
81%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Keratolytic
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Keratolytic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Not often used because it smells bad, colors the skin when applied, and can (rarely) lead to severe side effects. Limited evidence shows that it does significantly clear mild-to-moderate acne, but we need more research to know for sure how well it works.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Keratolytic
Reviews
4.0
149 Reviews
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Keratolytic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Keratolytic / Topical Keratolytic
Not Enough Data
Topical Keratolytic / Topical Keratolytic
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Keratolytic / Topical Keratolytic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Not often used because it smells bad, is opaque so it colors the skin when applied, and may rarely lead to severe side effects. Because of this, there haven’t been enough studies to show us whether it works or not, but it should help with mild-to-moderate acne.
Topical Keratolytic / Topical Keratolytic
Reviews
4.0
239 Reviews
Topical Keratolytic / Topical Keratolytic
How to Get It
This is an over-the-counter treatment. Here is a place you can find it online.
Topical Anti-inflammatory
Efficacy
52%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Anti-inflammatory
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Anti-inflammatory
Acne.org’s Real World Take
An anti-inflammatory that takes weeks or months to kick in, so you’ll need patience. Provides modest benefit in some users. It’s never hit the big time in acne treatment. But it’s an interesting way to target acne on a purely inflammation level.
Topical Anti-inflammatory
Reviews
3.9
77 Reviews
Topical Anti-inflammatory
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Retinoid / Topical Antibacterial
Efficacy
67%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Retinoid / Topical Antibacterial
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Retinoid / Topical Antibacterial
Acne.org’s Real World Take
A way of using benzoyl peroxide in combination with the topical retinoid, adapalene, that studies show works a bit better than benzoyl peroxide alone. However, when used properly, benzoyl peroxide on its own can completely clear the skin. Comes with annoying side effects for the first weeks and can bleach fabric.
Topical Retinoid / Topical Antibacterial
Reviews
3.7
578 Reviews
Topical Retinoid / Topical Antibacterial
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Efficacy
68%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Acne.org’s Real World Take
A more dangerous way of using benzoyl peroxide that studies show works a bit better than benzoyl peroxide alone. However, when used properly, benzoyl peroxide on its own can completely clear the skin without the addition of antibiotics.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Reviews
3.9
462 Reviews
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Efficacy
58%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Side Effects
Low-Medium
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Acne.org’s Real World Take
A more dangerous way of using benzoyl peroxide that studies show works a bit better than benzoyl peroxide alone. However, when used properly, benzoyl peroxide on its own can completely clear the skin without the addition of antibiotics.
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
Reviews
3.9
172 Reviews
Topical Antibiotic / Topical Antibacterial
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Antibiotic
Efficacy
55%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Should never be used on its own and for a maximum of 3 months.
Topical Antibiotic
Side Effects
Low
Topical Antibiotic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
One of the less effective treatments out there. It should never be used on its own or for longer than 3 months and may lead to resistant strains of bacteria. May provide a slight improvement in mild acne in some people. Always be your own advocate and ask your doctor questions if they prescribe antibiotics.
Topical Antibiotic
Reviews
3.6
669 Reviews
Topical Antibiotic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Antibiotic
Efficacy
53%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Should never be used on its own and for a maximum of 3 months.
Oral Antibiotic
Side Effects
High
Oral Antibiotic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Antibiotics should be used for a maximum of 3 months, provide only moderate benefit and only to some people, and may lead to side effects and strains of resistant bacteria. Studies do show they can reduce severe acne in the short term, but approach with caution and stay your own advocate.
Oral Antibiotic
Reviews
3.2
1953 Reviews
Oral Antibiotic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Antibiotic
Efficacy
58%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Should never be used on its own and for a maximum of 3 months.
Oral Antibiotic
Side Effects
Medium-High
Oral Antibiotic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Antibiotics should be used for a maximum of 3 months, provide only moderate benefit to only some people, and may lead to side effects and strains of resistant bacteria. Studies do show they can sometimes reduce severe acne in the short term, but approach with caution and stay your own advocate.
Oral Antibiotic
Reviews
3.3
586 Reviews
Oral Antibiotic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Oral Antibiotic
Efficacy
56%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Should never be used on its own and for a maximum of 3 months.
Oral Antibiotic
Side Effects
Medium-High
Oral Antibiotic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Antibiotics should be used for a maximum of 3 months, provide only moderate benefit and only to some people, and may lead to side effects and strains of resistant bacteria. Studies do show doxycycline can reduce severe acne in the short term, and as far as oral antibiotics are concerned, it’s usually the go-to, but approach with caution and stay your own advocate.
Oral Antibiotic
Reviews
3.4
1733 Reviews
Oral Antibiotic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Topical Antibiotic
Efficacy
53%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Note: Should never be used on its own and for a maximum of 3 months.
Topical Antibiotic
Side Effects
Low
Topical Antibiotic
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Antibiotics should be used for a maximum of 3 months, provide only moderate benefit and only to some people, and may lead to side effects and strains of resistant bacteria. Studies do show they can reduce severe acne in the short term, but  approach with caution and stay your own advocate.
Topical Antibiotic
Reviews
3.7
15 Reviews
Topical Antibiotic
How to Get It
Have a dermatologist? Make an appointment to get this medication.

Don't have a dermatologist? See The American Academy of Dermatology Physician Database to find one.
Thermotherapy
Efficacy
57%
Based on All Available Studies
Strength of Evidence
1
2
3
4
5
Thermotherapy
Side Effects
Low
Thermotherapy
Acne.org’s Real World Take
Based on many people's experiences here on Acne.org, heat therapy doesn't seem to help whatsoever. In fact, it sometimes makes a lesion more noticeable. Most companies have stopped making the devices.
Thermotherapy
Reviews
0.0
0 Reviews
Thermotherapy
How to Get It
Manufacturers have largely stopped making these devices because they are ineffective. Buyer beware if you still find one anywhere!

Finding a Doctor

The right dermatologist can make a big difference to your patient experience and the success of your acne treatment plan. Here are the steps to find a dermatologist who is a good fit:

  1. Use the search feature on the American Academy of Dermatology website to look for board-certified dermatologists in your area, and filter the search results for doctors with a special interest in treating acne.
  2. Read online patient reviews of any dermatologists you are considering and ask people you know whether they have any experience with these dermatologists.
  3. Do your research and go to your first appointment with questions prepared.
  4. Listen to what your gut feeling tells you once you see a dermatologist in person. If you are not completely comfortable, try a different dermatologist.

Finding a Doctor

Only a select few plastic surgeons specialize in acne scar revision surgery. Be certain to find a provider who specializes in acne scar repair and who is passionate and experienced in this area.

Be sure to:

  • Look at before and after photos, the more the better, especially patients with similar scarring to your own.
  • Be realistic about results. Look for improvement, not a cure.

Questions to ask a potential scar revision specialist:

  • Are you board certified? Be certain that they are board certified.
  • How long have you been performing these procedures? Normally, the more experience the better, however, some younger surgeons may be more on top of the latest procedures.
  • Can I speak to some of your other patients? Ask for references for several patients who had similar scarring and speak to them about the process and their satisfaction with results.

Red flags:

  • Their story changes: As you discuss different treatment options, if they tend to change their mind easily, or agree with whatever you say, consider this a red flag. A confident, experienced surgeon will possess strong, unwavering opinions.
  • Your gut tells you "no": Trust your gut. If you just don't feel that the doctor is the right fit, trust that and move on. On the other hand, if you feel they are the perfect specialist for you, trust that feeling.