5 Answers to Your Most Common Pimple Questions

Breakouts, blemishes, pimples, acne-they're all annoying disruptors to an otherwise clear complexion. NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Eric Schweiger weighs in on your most common blemish-related treatment questions.

Q: What percentage of benzoyl peroxide should I look for in a spot treatment?

A: Concentrations of benzoyl peroxide products for acne range from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription options. Studies show that there is very little difference in effectiveness among the percentages, but the higher concentrations are more irritating. I recommend patients start out with a 5-percent concentration, and if it is well tolerated they can try increasing to 10 percent. If it is too irritating, I suggest decreasing to 2.5 percent. In general the back and chest are less sensitive than the face, so you can often use a stronger formula for those areas.

Q: How can I banish breakouts on my chest and back?
A: Acne medicine that works on the face can also be used successfully on your chest or back. Over-the-counter options include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid and come in the form of body washes and spot treatments. Bad truncal acne requires strong prescription medicines, including oral antibiotics. If the over-the-counter options aren't working, you should see a dermatologist.

Q: Is it true that the sun will help clear up my acne?

A: It is true that heat and light often help acne, but the sun can damage your skin, increase your chances of skin cancer, and speed up aging. Some patients are prone to sun-induced acne, meaning the sun is the cause of their flare-ups.
If you want to try a light option as an acne treatment, see a dermatologist who treats acne with blue light, photodynamic therapy, or lasers like the VBEAM. These sources of light treat acne quite well without the harmful effects of UV rays.

Q: What's the difference between salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide?
A; These are two different acne medications that are available over the counter. They work differently and target different components of acne.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that works by being an exfoliant, promoting the removal of dead skin cells. It is best for comedonal acne (whiteheads and blackheads).
Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial and works to kill the bacteria on the skin that cause acne. It is best for inflammatory acne (red bumps and pus bumps).
One is not better than the other; it just depends which type of acne you have. Both are available in creams, gels, and washes.

Q: Why does my sunscreen seem to make me break out?
A: Usually, breakouts caused by sunscreen are not from the chemicals that provide the sun protection, but as a result of the the vehicle in the sunscreen. Try to find sunscreens that say they are "oil-free" or "non-comedogenic," as they're less likely to clog pores.

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