Acne can be embarrassing and frustrating at any age and is an extremely common condition. While we normally think of teenagers getting acne, it can start much younger — up to 50% of 10-year old’s and 90% of 18-year old’s in America currently have, or have dealt with, some level of acne on their face, chest, back, or shoulders. It can cause individuals to avoid swimsuits or even change their entire wardrobe to hide their disease. And the effects can go more than “skin deep”; severe acne breakouts can lead to social isolation, avoidance of romantic relationships, depression and anxiety. Acne flares can be a really big problem!
A common question I receive in my office is “how long will it take for my acne to get better?”
Knowing the significant impact acne can have on young peoples’ lives, this is a very reasonable question.
The answer depends on many factors. It depends on a patient’s goals: is the goal to be 100% clear of all acne lesions or is it to calm down an acne flare? Calming an acne flare is much faster and easier than returning the skin to zero acne lesions and marks.
It also depends on the type of acne the patient has: red spots and pus bumps can be improved within days to weeks whereas blackheads and large cysts may take months to clear.
Finally, a healthy diet, a good skin regimen, and stress management will accelerate acne improvement in all individuals. In this post, I will review medical therapies that have been shown to clear up acne lesions fast.
Systemic medications (i.e. pills) that work fast
Oral antibiotics such as minocycline or doxycycline can improve widespread red lesions and pus bumps within days to weeks. This is the fastest method for clearing up lots of pimples quickly. However, oral antibiotics can have side-effects — most commonly nausea, stomach discomfort, and sun sensitivity. When this type of treatment is needed, I suggest taking short courses of antibiotics, taking the medication with food, and considering a probiotic supplement to avoid stomach problems.
Topical medications (creams) that work fast
Topical antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide are very popular fast acting agents that work good on red lesions and pus bumps. These are good for “spot treatment” of individual acne lesions and can clear a spot within days to weeks. The most common topical antibiotic is clindamycin and it works much better when combined with benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is over the counter and is most effective when formulated in a 2-5% cream or gel — going to higher concentrations (like 10% benzoyl peroxide) increases the drying effect of the medication but does not improve acne lesions any more than the less concentrated creams.
Anti-inflammatory medications can also clear up painful red bumps quickly, however, patients should be careful about hurting their skin through overuse of this method. For individuals who need red acne bumps cleared up overnight, I sometimes prescribe a very short course of a topical steroid. Topical steroids should be used cautiously, however, as overuse can lead to skin thinning and a new type of acne called “steroid acne.” If over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream is used to clear small red pimples, only use for 2 to 3 nights; this method should be used sparingly to avoid side effects.
Taking care of your skin’s and body’s health will speed up the resolution of acne, so take care of yourself. Avoid foods that are especially acne causing like milk products (especially low fat milk), whey protein supplements, and high glycemic index foods (foods with lots of sugar or corn syrup).
There are also natural therapies that work well on acne, we’ll cover that in our next post.
This post was created to provide general information and education. The content provided is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.