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If you’re plagued by pimples, you already know there is not one single answer to the question of how to get rid of acne. You know there may be a period of trial and error to effectively eliminate blemishes. You know that it takes time. But there is good news too: Even while scientists still struggle to understand exactly what causes acne, today’s products and treatments for acne are more effective than ever. It is possible to get clear skin, no matter how bad it may seem.

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It starts with assessing your acne, says Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center and the author of “Forget the Facelift.” If your pimples are leaving scars, make an appointment for a dermatologist right away. Otherwise you can begin to get rid of acne by selecting an over-the-counter product from your local drugstore.

So how do you find the best acne products? Start by remembering that they work in different ways, depending on their active ingredient, says Day. Some work by killing bacteria that causes acne flare-ups, others remove excess oil and dead skin cells that create pimples when trapped in hair follicles. Some are decidedly gentler than others — and better for sensitive skin.

(Skip ahead now to see the best products for getting rid of acne.)

For Day, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are acne-treatment winners. “Most of the time you can get great results with over-the-counter products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide,” says Day. “Because they are over-the-counter, they aren�t as harsh. Salicylic acid is great for acne because it helps gently exfoliate the skin; and it gets down into the follicle and helps exfoliate deeper than glycolic acid.” To get rid of acne, she suggests patients alternate a salicylic acid cleanser or cream with acne products that contain bacteria-killing benzoyl peroxide for maximum efficacy.

Two things that don�t help when treating acne, she cautions: rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. “These clean wounds, but they do not affect the bacteria that causes acne,” she says. “Also alcohol is very drying and hydrogen peroxide is actually toxic when applied directly to the skin.”

What causes acne? “We know that acne is caused by excess oil getting trapped in the hair follicle, but we still don’t know exactly why,” Day says. “We know that stress triggers it, hormones impact it, metabolism and gut flora could be a factor.” But even though all research points to an immune system response versus a skin disorder, luckily there are acne treatments that work at the skin level until we figure the rest out. Check out the ingredients and products that get rid of acne now.

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