Posted November 27, 2014 by The Editor in Health & Beauty Articles

Best Acne Treatment for Men


Acne (medical name Acne Vulgaris) is a common condition, especially among adolescents and young adults and contrary to what some people believe, is usually very treatable.

What Causes Acne?

Although the causes of acne can range from hormones and diet, to stress and infections, research has shown that some people are genetically more susceptible to this sometimes disfiguring and embarrassing skin disease than others. It actually develops as a result of blockages in the follicles, usually on the face, but sometimes spreading further onto the neck, shoulders, chest and back.

How Acne Develops

During adolescence, acne is commonly caused by an increase in hormones such as testosterone, which occurs during puberty in both males and females. The skin changes are caused by changes in skin structures consisting of a hair follicle and sebaceous gland – changes that require hormone stimulation.

Although acne affects 80 – 90% of teenagers, it is estimated that about nearly 3 in 10 experience inflammatory acne bad enough to need treatment to prevent longer-term scarring. Untreated acne usually lasts about 4-5 years before subsiding, though it can last for many years in some cases.

Things to Avoid if You Have Acne

Before we look at the treatment options for acne, it’s important to be aware of the things to avoid that will exacerbate the condition. These include:

  • Picking and squeezing spots – this often causes further infection and scarring
  • Diets high in sugar and milk products make acne worse in many people
  • Lack of regular washing can lengthen the time of pore blockage and infection proliferation. However, washing too much can strip the skin of essential oils, leading the body to paradoxically produce more oil
  • Tight fitting clothing items such as headbands and tight collars can cause excess sweating and infection
  • Anabolic steroids (sometimes taken by bodybuilders) can make acne worse
  • Some medication such as steroid creams and ointments that are used for eczema can exacerbate acne

Natural Remedies for Acne in Men

While more severe cases of acne require medical treatment, there are some everyday habits that will help to ease symptoms and make any medical treatments more effective. These include:

  • Gently washing the affected area twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser and luke-warm water. Excess washing and scrubbing and/or using very hot or cold water can cause more inflammation
  • If the skin is dry, use a non-greasy fragrance-free, water-based moisturising cream. Most of these are now tested so they don’t cause spots
  • Avoid diets that are high in sugar and milk based products
  • If acne is found around the shoulders, chest or back, avoid tight fitting clothes that can increase sweating and pore blockage
  • After exercising or sweating heavily, shower as soon as possible as sweat that is left to dry on the skin can irritate acne

Medical Treatment Options for Acne in Men

The four key acne treatment aims of any medical remedy are:

  1. Normalising shedding and sebum production in the pore to prevent blockage
  2. Killing acne causing bacteria
  3. Reducing inflammatory effects
  4. Hormonal manipulation (for women)

Medical treatments are either topical (applied directly to the skin in the form of creams, gels and lotions) or in tablet form. Currently, the most popular and effective topical treatments are:

Benzoyl Peroxide

This organic compound is the active component of most acne cream medications and it has a three-pronged approach in treating acne: it kills the P. acnes bacteria; it reduces inflammation; and it helps to clear blocked pores. Benzoyl peroxide is available at pharmacies, without a prescription and it comes in different brand names and strengths, usually ranging from 2.5% to 10% strength.

Things to be aware of with benzoyl peroxide:

  • It often causes an increase in skin dryness and irritation so it advisable to either stop using it or reduce the strength until the irritation subsides
  • It’s application increases sensitivity to the UV light, so sunscreen use is often advised during the treatment to prevent sunburn
  • Before applying a benzoyl peroxide cream or gel, use a water-based preparation rather than an alcohol-based one
  • Apply once daily at first, and wash off after several hours before gradually increasing the length of time left on the skin
  • Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial resistance and is often combined with antibiotics for increased effectiveness


Topical retinoids work by reducing the production of sebum (an oily or waxy substance produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin) while preventing dead skin cells plugging hair follicles. These include tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene and are available as gels or creams to be applied once a day before bed.

As with benzoyl peroxide, skin should be prepared using a mild water-based preparation and retinoids can cause skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight. A typical treatment course is 6-8 weeks, but it is often advisable to continue using the medication less frequently after this to keep acne at bay.

Topical Anibiotics

While these have little effect in unblocking pores, they help to kill bacteria on the skin and reduce inflammation and are available as a lotion or gel that is applied once or twice a day. They tend to have fewer side effects than other topical treatments, so are usually prescribed for men with less severe acne, or men who have less of a problem with blackheads and/or whiteheads.

Azelaic Acid

This is an alternative that mainly works by unplugging blocked pores and if often prescribed for patients who are experiencing particularly irritating or painful side effects of topical treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. As with other topical treatments, azelaic acid will need to be applied daily for at least a month before noticeable results are seen and daily application for six months is the normal recommended course of treatment.


Aside from topical treatments, antibiotic tablets can be effective in treating more severe cases of acne in men and they work by killing the P. acnes bacteria and reducing the resulting inflammation caused by the bacteria. For patients that have a lot of blackheads and whiteheads as well as inflamed acne spots, it is usually advisable to use a topical treatment in addition to taking an antibiotic tablet for optimum results.

In most cases, a class of antibiotics called tetracyclines such as such as doxycycline and minocycline is prescribed though as with topical treatments, there are side-effects and other factors to bear in mind before taking them, which include:

  • Food and milk affects the absorption of tetracycline-based antibiotics. Therefore, the tablets should be taken on an empty stomach, between meals, with a glass of water
  • Tetracyclines can make skin sensitive to UV radiation (sunlight)
  • In many more severe cases of acne, especially where patients have a lot of blackheads and whiteheads as well as inflamed acne spots, it is advisable to use antibiotics in conjunction with a topical treatment such as benzoyl peroxide
  • Antibiotics are only available with a prescription
  • As resistance to the P. acnes bacteria is increasing worldwide, they are becoming less effective

Isotretinoin Tablets

These are often very effective and are usually prescribed for more severe cases of acne or when other methods have proven largely ineffective. They work by greatly reducing the amount of sebum made by the sebaceous glands and reducing redness and swelling in and around spots. The downside of taking isotretinoin tablets is that they usually have more serious side-effects than other treatments, which can include:

  • Inflammation, dryness and cracking of the skin, lips and nostrils
  • Changes in blood sugar levels
  • Swelling of the eyelids and irritation of the eyes
  • Blood in the urine
  • In rare cases, taking isotretinoin can affect internal organs such as the kidneys, pancreas or liver

Because of these potential side-effects, blood tests are necessary before and during treatment. As with antibiotics, isotretinoin tablets are only available with a prescription.


Other Remedies & Alternative Treatments

Various other treatments for acne have been tried by different people, with varying degrees of success and these include:

  • Tea Tree Oil – due to its natural antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil has been shown to be moderately effective in treating acne in some cases. A 2012 review by the¬†National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. stated that it appears to be as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide for treating mild to moderate acne. It can have other benefits against fungal infections too, for example in treating athletes foot or fungal nail infections
  • Aloe Vera – has been used as a multipurpose skin treatment for thousands of years and although it doesn’t target the root cause of acne, it can provide relief from the sometimes painful inflammatory affects of the condition
  • Anti-bacterial Soap – can help keep the skin clean and free from excess bacteria which causes inflammation and is recommended for use over traditional, perfumed soap.¬†Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash is one such popular product
  • Sunlight – we all know that too much sunlight can damage the skin and many acne treatments increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV light, but some sunlight is good for the skin and overall wellbeing

Longer Term Expectations from Acne Treatments

It is important to expect that acne will flare up again if treatments are stopped. They key aim of acne treatments is two-fold: to reduce the visible signs of acne during treatment and; to reduce or eliminate long-term scarring that often result in cases of more severe, untreated or mistreated acne.

As mentioned earlier in this article, acne usually lasts about 4-5 years before subsiding. This means that treatment is usually required for a similar period of time, though the chosen treatment methods will usually change over that period of time. For example, long-term use of antibiotics can lead to resistance of bacteria to the antibiotics, so antibiotic treatments are usually stopped and replaced with other methods once the worst of the spots have cleared. Also, azelaic acid is only licensed for treatment for a limited period of time (six months in most countries).

Regardless of the severity of acne, they key is to take appropriate action early so that symptoms can be treated and any longer-term affects on the skin are eliminated or at least kept to an absolute minimum. Observing the things to avoid such as a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates and keeping the skin clean are a good place to start and then choosing the rigt course of treatment will help to ensure that the immediate and longer-term effects will have minimal impact on this often self-image impacting condition.

Though milder cases of acne can be treated with over-the-counter medications, as with all medical conditions, it is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor.

The Editor