I have the face of a 14-year-old...and not in a good way
May 27, 2013 7:20 AM   Subscribe

What are the best products/techniques to get rid of pimples and dark spots on my face?

I’m a woman in my late 30s who continues to get occasional pimples. Unfortunately, these pimples don’t usually fade away gracefully – they leave scars/dark spots on my skin (I tend to pick at them, which I know I shouldn’t – I’m getting better at this). What are the best products to:

1) get rid of the existing dark spots
2) treat existing pimples

Please note I’m looking for specific products, remedies, or techniques rather than general advice like “drink more water, eat a balanced diet” etc. I appreciate those things but I am already working on them.

If you can, please tell me how long your recommendations usually take to show results.

Thank you!
posted by yawper to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I used Proactiv while in my thirties and it cleared up my acne in less than two weeks. I noticed a difference within days. I was totally skeptical, but it actually worked better than the things my dermatologist had me use.
posted by marimeko at 7:27 AM on May 27, 2013

Best answer: Regarding the dark spots from old acne, the term you are looking for is fading hyperpigmentation spots.

You want to use a chemical exfoliant to fade the marks. Your best options are retinoids, AHAs, and gentle chemical peels. I have tried retinoids but didn't notice a difference with my skin, I might try them again sometime, but for now I prefer to use an AHA. I like these list of retinoids and AHAs.

In addition to the AHA, I am currently using a Vitamin C serum (this one). Over time, I believe that a Vitamin C serum can help fade marks, but very gradually.

If you want to use a gentle chemical peel, you could try this mandelic peel - I like it a lot. There's also a fade peel, but I didn't like it as much - it was too harsh for my skin, personally. They sell other types of peels too - you can read about them and buy samples.

And finally, using any of these products will make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so if you are going to use any chemical exfoliant, it is very important that you wear a good quality sunscreen (30+ spf, broad spectrum, photostable) every single day. If you don't, you'll end causing more hyperpigmentation from sun damage than you treat.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:39 AM on May 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

This is not going to be a terribly helpful reply (sorry!), but: I know exactly what you mean re: the dark spots. I'm in my early 30s, have had problem skin since I was 9 (sigh) and I see no signs this will go away any time soon, so I'm always searching for the best ways to keep it under control. To keep the pimples themselves at bay you'll have to find what works for you: I tried virtually everything, from Proactiv to antibiotics to Accutane, before I discovered that my problem is hormonal and a monophasic daily BC pill knocks out 90% of my pimples. My advice on this front is to see if you can discover the cause of your acne (hormones, bacteria, problem products/ingredients, etc) and find the appropriate treatment.

About the dark spots: I get these too, and they're a rotten door prize. I wish I could remember this better - and this is what I mean by this won't be your most helpful answer - but I read Glamour, Women's Health, etc, and this is a question that's asked every couple of months in their various columns. Generally their dermatologists and whoever else recommend products with certain types of ingredients to help fade the spots - a form of hyperpigmentation - but I cannot remember right now what those ingredients are (and I'm traveling so I don't have access to my old magazines). Glycolic acid may be one of them, but I'm almost positive there are two or three different solutions recommended, so this is an incomplete answer. Try flipping through some womens beauty/health mags at the drugstore this month and see if they address the issue, maybe? It seems to be a very common question.

And fwiw, I love the Mario Baedscu line of products. They have a great questionnaire to help determine your skin woes and the products they recommend to address them, and the option to receive free samples of said products.

(On preview, insectosaurus may have mentioned some of the ingredients that have slipped my mind.)
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:41 AM on May 27, 2013

Best answer: I've had big zits my whole life. Just solved the problem in one weird step: dropped dairy from my diet. My wife wanted us to go non-dairy, which was hugely unattractive because I LOVE MILK, and bam-O no pimples. And when I drink dairy I get a zit the next day.

Really miss milk, but I prefer no zits...

Good luck.

BTW, it took about 1-3 weeks to get cleared up originally. Also: I still enjoy cheese and yogurt every now and then (but if I have yogurt two days in a row I get a zit).
posted by Murray M at 8:39 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

ALso I should add that I was drinking between 1 and 2 gallons of milk a week.
posted by Murray M at 8:41 AM on May 27, 2013

Best answer: Proactiv was also my winning solution in my early 30s and my face cleared up in about 3 weeks. I still use the blemish reparing treatment lotion. It's so much easier now that I can grab a bottle at the kiosk at my local mall rather than order online and get tangled up in auto-renew, auto-ship webs. I've moved onto Cetaphil cleanser and dumped the toner altogether. I still get zits, but they are tiny and disappear in a day.

I follow the daily acne.org regimen almost faithfully, and it's very apparent when I don't.
posted by kimberussell at 9:04 AM on May 27, 2013

Hydroquinone for dark marks. You can get a generic brand at the drugstore usually. Wear it overnight just on the dark spots for a couple weeks, and use sunblock during the day (you should do this anyway.)

For basics, I use a simple face wash (Cetaphil) and a basic moisturizer - I have oily skin and I use Complex 15 Daily Face Cream and Olay Complete SPF 15 for Sensitive Skin during the daytime.

For actual treatment/prevention of acne, I use Neutrogena 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment during the day underneath my SPF 15, and at night I use either Benzagel 5% benzoyl peroxide treatment (when my skin is particularly oily/acting up) or a lactic acid lotion (like AmLactin or LacHydrin) for nights when my skin is dry-ish.

The combo of AHA (lactic acid) and BHA (the Neutrogena treatment) works well for my skin as prevention. The BP is good for the occasional oily flare-up.

This is very individual and depends 1) how oily or dry your skin is, 2) how sensitive you are to active ingredients, and 3) which active ingredients interact best with your skin. There are many active ingredients out there, including retinoids and other types of AHAs (like glycolic and mandelic acid.) They can come in leave-on treatments, some OTC and some Rx-only, peels, or in washes or toners. There is also physical exfoliation to consider.

You have to experiment to find out what works for you, which can be an arduous process and result in various rashes/chemical burns. Fun times. Be careful.
posted by Ouisch at 9:46 AM on May 27, 2013

For breakouts, I had good results with Acanya. It's a topical gel, benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin. A couple things: It's prescription-only (U.S.), $50/small bottle (but there's a half-off coupon you can print out), and they say that it expires after 3 months. I kind of don't understand how that last one is possible, but maybe. I continue to use it 4+ months later, maybe it just becomes less effective? I think it has worked well because I've had to use less and less of it over time, and my skin has improved a lot. The bottle is small, but you only want to use a very small amount to begin with because it can make your skin dry and red.
posted by perryfugue at 10:05 AM on May 27, 2013

Hydroquinone will lighten hyperpigmentation spots, but there is a debate over its safety. I personally wouldn't use it, and I would suggest reading about the debate and making an informed decision about whether to use it.

Here's the FDA fact sheet; as I read it, they are reevaluating the safety of it currently, but during the reevaluation it continues to be available over the counter at certain strengths.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:05 AM on May 27, 2013

Best answer: I'm also in my 30s and still get breakouts, and also started getting them before puberty -- thanks genetics!

The biggest impact I've seen on my skin was to stop using products all together -- I mean I wash my face, and I moisturize and use sunscreen, but very little else. One big tip a dermatologist gave me a while back, is "why are you washing your face in the morning?" In the evening, there is makeup and dirt to take off, but very little happens at night, so just splash your face with water. Washing it will dry it out, and just cause your face to produce more oil.

Diet also made a big difference -- cutting out sugar and dairy for the most part, and making sure I was getting lots of veg for nutrients and sunlight for extra vitamin D -- but it sounds like you are working on it.
posted by hrj at 10:16 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: About a month ago, I started taking vitamin E (800 IU in liqui-gels) and my skin has cleared up a lot. I still get the odd zit, but they go away a lot faster and heal with less scarring. And my skin feels softer and looks glowier. Mileage may vary, obviously, but it's cheap and easy to try :)
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:32 AM on May 27, 2013

Best answer: The only thing that's worked for me is tretinoin, which is prescription and can take half a year to work. I'm in my fourth month and only just now have my breakouts/cysts started to really recede. Dark spots/scars, however, have faded significantly since my third month of usage. I started with 0.01% and started seeing better results with 0.025%. Generally speaking, starting slow with lower dosages helps your skin get used to it - there's supposed to be less irritation that way.

If you do decide to get tretinoin, generic or brand-name (Retin-A), be aware that the initial breakout can last for a long-ass time, your skin will flake like there's no tomorrow and sunscreen becomes your new best friend, forever and ever. Once you start it, you pretty much have to grit your teeth and keep using it, even through the breakouts or you'll get no results. But speaking for myself, I'm glad I stuck with it and finally it's shown promise and actual progress compared to over-the-counter salicylic acid treatments and the like, and I had deep, pissed-off cystic acne that just liked to hang out on my cheeks and scowl at me.

10% glycolic acid in an alcohol-free solution makes a pretty good chemical exfoliator - someone with more chemistry knowledge than I can chime in, but I heard since glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of all the AHAs out there, it's more efficient at penetrating the skin. At any rate, plain old glycolic acid also seems to be the most cost-efficient and easily purchased online.

Another thing I've had decent success with is bentonite clay masks mixed with green tea powder, water and apple cider vinegar. It sounds awful and you smell like salad dressing afterwards, but it makes a surprisingly good spot treatment. Don't ask me how it works, but it works, oddly enough. It's not a miracle treatment but if you have red, inflamed pimples, this helps soothe the inflammation. It doesn't seem to work for deep covered cysts. Good luck!
posted by zennish at 10:41 AM on May 27, 2013

Seconding Retin-A (tretinoin), which made the dark spots on my face significantly lighter within a few months. Its benefits are proven.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:47 AM on May 27, 2013

Nthing benzoyl peroxide for acne management. I put it on my face at night before going to bed and stopped getting the terrible cystic zits I used to get. (Data point - late 20s female who has had terrible acne since puberty)

Be forewarned - it will act like bleach on fabric - wash your hands thoroughly after using and don't sleep on colored sheets.

Also - I cleared up a lot of my body acne by showering twice a day. I only really wash my hair in the morning and otherwise soap up like woah at night.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:43 AM on May 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input. I appreciate every answer but am marking as best specific things that I think I will try.
posted by yawper at 6:09 PM on May 27, 2013

Seconding cutting out dairy. I had acne-riddled skin for 20+ years, nothing seemed to help. I gave up dairy for unrelated reasons, and my skin cleared up almost immediately. It's never looked better. I've found it a worthwhile tradeoff.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:57 AM on May 28, 2013

Here are the products I use and that have been helpful:

Clinique Dark Spot Corrector (LOVE this stuff. I've seen rapid improvement).
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Facial Moisturizer SPF 15
(I alternate between these two.)

St. Ives Apricot Scrub Blemish and Blackhead Control (every two or three days).
Ivory Soap
Olay Wet Cleansing Cloths - Normal Skin (I use one or two the minute I walk in my door at the end of the day).
Clearasil Ultra Vanishing Acne Treatment (spot treatment of pimples).

For me, exfoliation = prevention.

Also, I wash my hands frequently, clean my desk/mouse @ work often, and my cell phone as well. Change my pillowcase a few times a week, drink lots and lots of water.

Less dairy/less sugar in my diet has also been helpful.

Despite all my best efforts, I'm guaranteed a break out the week of my period.
posted by itsallfunandgames at 7:22 AM on May 28, 2013

Response by poster: Just a followup in case anyone reads this.

There was lots of good advice in this thread, but being the lazy sloth that I am, I only made 2 real changes:

1. Stopped drinking milk (I used to drink a lot). I still have cheese and yogurt occasionally.
2. Bought a non-comedogenic moisturizer (Olay Complete SPF 15 for Sensitive Skin)

I noticed the difference almost immediately. The existing pimples I had cleared up and I haven’t had a new one in 3 months. My skin just feels different. I’m guessing that the milk was the main culprit, but I love my new moisturizer too.

The information at acne.org about drugstore products was very helpful to me.

Thanks to all who contributed!
posted by yawper at 7:45 AM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: Oh yes, also - I have not yet done anything for the hyperpigmentation spots - that is next on my list.
posted by yawper at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2013

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