What are the best acne treatments?

Our guide to choosing the right acne treatment for you

Written by
Kate Iselin
Medically reviewed by
min read
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An upside of looking for an acne treatment is that there are so many options out there.

Browse through any skincare store or website and you’ll be presented with a seemingly endless amount of products: vegan acne treatments, oil-free acne treatments, acne treatments that moisturise, acne treatments that shrink pores...we are literally spoilt for choice.

Unfortunately, the large amount of acne treatments available can also make it difficult to find the right one for you.

When every treatment is advertised as the Number One Effective Game-Changer that everyone has to have, it’s really hard to tell the difference between the products that actually work and the products that are just advertising well.

So here’s our guide to choosing the right acne treatment—screenshot it, save it on your phone, or bookmark it and use it as a reference next time you’re standing in the skincare aisle.

We reckon knowledge is empowering, and you deserve to be in the know about acne treatments.

Ignore the celebrity endorsements

When you see a product advertised by a celebrity on TV or Instagram, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily effective—it just means they have a good advertising budget.

Prior to making any skincare purchase, check out the reviews left on the website and on social media by actual customers.

Many top skincare brands and stores are well aware of the power of reviews, and encourage shoppers to be detailed and thorough when reporting on their experience with a product.

Some reviews even highlight the person’s age and prior skin conditions as well.

Learning that a top model was paid to endorse an acne cream isn’t life changing, but reading about how other people your age with acne have responded to a product absolutely can be.

Don’t think you have to pay top dollar

Some skincare products cost a few hundred dollars—and no, that’s not for a lifetime supply.

Top-shelf, luxury skincare products might be a bit of fun for those who can afford them, but we do not believe that you need to spend big to achieve good skin.

There are plenty of high-quality, effective products out there that are also affordable. It’s completely possible to invest in a good skincare routine for less than a hundred dollars!

If you see a so-called miracle product that costs hundreds, look carefully at what it contains and what it promises to do.

We bet there’s one out there that’s almost identical, minus the massive price tag.

Read the ingredients list

The most important information isn’t written on the front of the packaging, it’s written on the back.

Get in the habit of reading through the ingredients of any product you buy to make sure that it contains things you actually want to be putting on your skin.

Here are some ingredients to look for when you’re shopping for an acne treatment:

  • Salicylic acid. A mainstay of acne treatments! Salicylic acid softens keratin, which makes dry and rough skin easier to remove from our pores and faces1. It also breaks down comedones2. Products containing salicylic acid will be effective at vanishing blackheads and whiteheads, and will lightly exfoliate skin. Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash unclogs debris and trapped oils in the pores, clears away acne-causing bacteria and reduces the formation of blackheads and whiteheads. And, you can use it to target acne across your face, chest and back.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. A stronger ingredient than salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide kills the p. acnes bacteria that can cause acne3. Benzoyl peroxide is strong, so it’s suited to people with more severe cases of acne. Products containing benzoyl peroxide can reduce acne over time, but can also cause dry skin so should be used before moisturising.
  • Retinoids. The ultimate acne fighter. You can read our full Guide to Retinoids here, but in a nutshell this ingredient rapidly reduces acne lesions that are already present on the skin, prevents new ones from forming, and helps reduce inflammation and redness as well4. Products containing retinoids can make your skin photosensitive, so don’t forget your sunscreen after using5.
  • Niacinamide. A real must-have ingredient. Niacinamide reduces sebum production, which in turn can reduce acne6. It also reduces oiliness, redness, blotchiness, sallowness, and hyperpigmentation, while boosting moisture and hydration at the same time7,8. We love niacinamide and the glowy, bright effect it has on our skin—have a read of our Guide to Niacinamide.
  • Azelaic acid. A gentle but effective ingredient. Azelaic acid reduces active acne lesions and prevents new ones from forming by killing off acne-causing bacteria. It also helps reduce redness, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation caused by acne9. This ingredient isn’t super well-known, but we love it—you can read our Guide to Azelaic Acid for more information on this quiet achiever.

Over-the-counter products—those you can buy in stores without a prescription—can be really effective against acne.

But for more severe acne, or acne that just won’t go away no matter how many products you try, we recommend speaking with a medical professional.

Doctors and dermatologists can prescribe products that are stronger and more effective than those available on shelves, and this strength and efficacy can be just what your skin needs.

Software’s custom treatments include pharmaceutical-grade concentrations of powerful acne fighting ingredients such as azelaic acid, niacinamide, and retinoids are created by licensed practitioners, these products utilise higher concentrations of prescription ingredients, which are more effective at treating acne.

If you’re over trying to navigate the skincare aisle, complete our online consult and a local Software practitioner will create a customised prescription formula for you.

This is compounded and delivered straight to your door and you can access ongoing follow-up support from your practitioner as you use your treatment.

While acne is annoying and it can feel out of your control, it is treatable and we can help.

Better skin starts here
$54 per month for your custom prescription formula
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  1. DermNet NZ, Salicylic acid‚ <https://dermnetnz.org/topics/salicylic-acid/>, accessed 4th July 2020.
  2. Woodruff, Jacqueline, and Appa, Yohini 2013,  double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of a 2% salicylic acid cleanser for improvement of acne vulgaris, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 68, no. 4, pp. <https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(12)01331-X/>, accessed 4th July 2020.
  3. Del Rosso, James Q. 2008, ‘What is the role of benzoyl peroxide cleansers in acne management?, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 48-51. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016935/>, accessed 4th July 2020.
  4. Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., and Weiss, J. 2017, ‘Why topical retinoids are mainstay of therapy for acne, Dermatology and Therapy, 7(3), pp. 293-304. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574737/#CR12>, accessed 5th June 2020.
  5. DermNet NZ, Topical retinoids, <https://dermnetnz.org/topics/topical-retinoids/>, accessed June 5th 2020.
  6. Shalita, A. R., Smith, J. G., Parish, L. C., Sofman, M. S., Chalker, D. K. 1995, ‚Topical nicotinamide compared with clindamycin gel in the treatment of inflammatory acne vulgaris, International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 34, no. 6, pp. 434-437. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7657446/>, accessed 14th June 2020.
  7. Levin, Jacquelyn, and Momin, Saira B. 2010, How much do we really know about our favourite cosmeceutical ingredients?, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 22-41. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/#B53>, accessed 14th June 2020.
  8. Soma, Yoshinao, Kashima, Masato, Imaizumi, Akiko, Takahama, Hideto, Kawakami, Tamihiro, and Mizoguchi, Masako 2005, Moisturising effects of topical nicotinamide on atopic dry skin, International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 197—202. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15807725/>, accessed 14th June 2020.
  9. DermNet NZ, Azelaic acid, <https://dermnetnz.org/topics/azelaic-acid>, accessed 16th June 2020.
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