You’ve gone to every drugstore. You’ve spent hours scouring the internet. You’ve spent more money than you care to admit. Acne is tough to treat, and you probably have a cabinet of half-used products to prove it.

If over-the-counter acne products are no longer working for you, it’s time to step up your game.

We asked top medical experts on RealSelf for their favorite in-office and prescription acne treatments. Here are their top picks.


Chemical peels

In-office, physician-grade chemical peels


To keep your skin as clear as possible, Dr. Annie Chiu, a Redondo Beach, California, dermatologist, suggests in-office, physician-grade chemical peels. She says peels “refresh the skin, unclog pores, promote turnover of dull skin and regulate oil production.”

While popular for treating acne, chemical peels also help fade the appearance of acne scars, sun damage and enlarged pores. Depending on the type of peel you get, you’ll experience a reaction similar to a sunburn. After three to 14 days, your skin should be smoother, brighter and softer.

A RealSelf reviewer, MsJaeTea, shares her success with chemical peels for acne: “My morning routine would consist of layers of BB cream, foundation and concealer. Today, I am proud to say that I can get away with a light layer of BB cream or go with no makeup at all. It feels great!”


Laser treatments

Sciton’s ForeverClear BBL


If you have a lighter skin color, Dr. Shervin Naderi, a Washington, D.C., facial plastic surgeon, recommends a series of Sciton’s ForeverClear BBL treatments. These treatments kill acne-causing bacteria while shrinking oil glands.

Broadband light treatments are somewhat of a universal laser treatment. They can treat sun damage, age spots, freckles, small veins, rosacea and acne. It can also remove hair and provide mild skin tightening.

“I’m only three treatments into a six-treatment plan, and I’m already thrilled with my results,” says amytwinmom85, a RealSelf reviewer. “I have over two decades of acne scars, plus a lot of active acne. After three treatments, I’ve not had a new zit in the last five days, which might be a lifelong record for me!”


Aerolase Lightpod Neo Laser (YAG laser)


“It is safe for all skin types and there’s no downtime,” says Anita Vennekotter, a registered nurse from Botox Anonymous in Pearland, Texas. “It’s fantastic for teens or anyone who doesn’t tolerate pain well. Treatments can be performed every two weeks with resolution of breakouts and great improvement in scarring after six treatments.”

“I had laser treatment to my acne scars five days ago, and the results are so amazing,” says RealSelf reviewer LoreBrUSA. “I had tried for years — a lot of peelings — but nothing worked like this laser. My scars are softer, they almost disappear, and my skin is so clear.”


Tried-and-true prescriptions



Dr. Naderi adds Retin-A to any treatment plan for people who have been using OTC salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide products without success. “Retin-A will be harsh and make you peel, get red or break out more initially,” he warns. Experts say to follow directions, stay patient and stick with it. Retin-A works in the long run.

And it doesn’t just improve acne. Retin-A is a powerful anti-ager, eventually improving overall skin tone and texture.

RealSelf user Vegaspeach started Retin-A to treat acne but was frustrated by how dry and flaky it made her skin. A good moisturizer did the trick: “I visited my family, and they asked me what kind of makeup I was using because my skin had a nice glow, but I wasn’t wearing anything,” she wrote. “To anyone who used to have bad acne, you know how much of a compliment this is!”




Dr. Michele S. Green, a New York dermatologist, recommends Accutane for hard-to-treat acne. The medication works by reducing the amount of oil released by the skin. While it can work really well for some people, Accutane has been linked to an increased risk of depression and may cause severe, life-threatening birth defects.

“My face is getting better and better even after Accutane,” says RealSelf reviewer mzhaliza. “Can’t tell you how much it has changed my life to not have to worry about acne anymore. It’s just a freeing feeling.”


Ready to contact an expert? Find a doctor near you.