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How To Buy Acne Products

By Lisa Cohen LeeSHOP.COM Beauty Editor

Whether you've got acne-prone skin or the occasional pimple, a spot-clearing remedy is a must for your medicine cabinet. There are loads of acne-fighting washes, gels, creams and ointments, plus at-home light therapy (the newest acne fighter), to choose from. But finding the right remedy is tricky. To steer you to your perfect acne antidote and help you prevent future flare-ups, we've compiled this go-to guide; read on for the lowdown to making your complexion completely pimple-free.

The Basics

Step 1TREATMENT: The first step towards zeroing in on which acne product will do your dirty work is to figure out what you're trying to accomplish. In other words, do you have an existing pimple that needs a spot treatment? Or are you trying to prevent breakouts? Most acne products fall into two categories: therapy and preventative. Some products can do both, which is usually noted on the label.
Step 2FORMULA: Look for a formula based on your skin type and personal preference. Acne products are available in creams, ointments, gels, scrubs, peels, exfoliating pads, cleansers or lotions, and usually contain a percentage of an active exfoliating or anti-bacterial ingredient, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil. Most therapeutic treatments are spot formulas, usually in a cream, gel or ointment. For preventative, smaller percentages of active ingredients are usually found in general skincare formulas (such as a cleanser or lotion).
Step 3RESULTS: For the best results, scan the label for the active ingredient. High concentrations of an active can bring on faster healing (like clearing a pimple in a few days). Lower concentrations are best if you tend to have reactive, sensitive skin, since they work at a slower, less intense pace. A new therapy incorporating low levels of LED light (the same one they use in a derm's office) can be done via a small flashlight device at home, to prevent frequent breakouts and clear up existing ones.

The Lingo

Percentage: The amount of the active ingredient in the topical treatment.
Salicylic Acid: A popular ingredient that exfoliates the outer layer of the skin to clear oil from pores and ward off future breakouts.
Benzoyl Peroxide: The most powerful acne medicine available over the counter (available in a 2.5 -10% range of concentration). It infuses oxygen into the pore which kills acne-causing bacteria. This ingredient should be used sparingly; when applied frequently, it can be overly-drying and cause redness.
Tea Tree Oil: An all-natural, anti-microbial essential oil that kills bacteria, and is the main ingredient in many organic or natural treatments.
Photo Light Therapy: The newest way to fight acne at home. This mimics the light therapy (LED) done in a dermatologist's office; the device emits light energy waves or low levels of heat that get beneath the surface layer of the skin, and zap bacteria and oil that cause acne, making pimples disappear in a day or two.
Non-Comedogenic: Means that the formula won't cause pimples; look for it on all acne-prevention products.
Oil-Free: A formula that doesn't contain oils which can build-up on skin, clogging pores and blemishes.

The Experts

Allure Magazine raved about Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Power-Cream Body Washsayin, "Acne isn't pretty, and it isn't easy to treat, either. This body wash, with 2 percent salicylic acid (the strongest concentration you can get without a prescription) clears up body pimples quickly without drying out the rest of our skin."
The beauty editors at Marie Claire had this to say about L'Oreal Paris Acne Response Intensive Adult Acne Peel Kit: "It has it all: a gentle cleanser that preps skin for a 2 percent salicylic acid peel and a neutralizing moisturizer with soothing botanicals to deter redness."

The Brands

Aveeno This brand has mild soy proteins (for a smooth and even tone) in all their Clear Complexion products.
Clearasil This brand is entirely devoted to acne treatment and skincare, and has separate product lines for sensitive skin, minor blemishes and severe breakouts.
Clinique Besides their three-step skincare regimen for oily skin types, this brand has a complete line of spot treatments, including a concealer with salicylic acid.
Peter Thomas Roth The therapeutic acne line has a combination of glycolic acid and salicylic acid to clear up blemishes and clogged pores.

The Price

$: Most basic acne-treatments and preventative products are in this range, and have varying concentrations of either salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil. Biore Blemish Fighting Cleansing Cloths, $4.79
$$: Expect to find many dermatologist-approved treatments with expensive skincare ingredients that help soothe inflamed, irritated blemishes. Murad Exfoliating Acne Treatment Gelhttp://www.shop.com/murad+exfoliating+gel], $54
$$$: At-home light therapy is pricey, since it includes a treatment cream, skincare and the device with specialty LED light, but can work more effectively than topical treatments alone. Tanda Clear Light Therapy Treatment, $250