Acne, blemishes, pimples, zits: They’re all names for an annoying condition that affects adolescents and adults alike. There have been so many old wives tales about how to get rid of them that it’s mind boggling. Some say to smear toothpaste on the zit. And in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Windex was even suggested as a remedy. But there are an equal number of consumer products on the market promising results. To find out how well these more conventional methods work, we decided to try three different ones on three different young women.
But before we look at treatments, let’s find out what causes that ugly bump in your complexion. David Bank, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., said: “It’s when the pore gets blocked up just below the surface of the skin and then the oil gland tries to pop against that and it can’t because it’s blocked. That then ruptures and bacteria and white blood cells collect under the skin, and basically that’s a pimple.” Lovely right? So how do you get rid of them?
We went all out with the first product, Proactiv Solution. Its infomercials blast the airwaves promising great results. At $60 for the treatment it was the most expensive treatment on our list. But, hey, if P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson swear by it, then it must work. Right? We decided to have 17-year-old Tara Maini of Katonah, N.Y., give it a try. Maini had problems with acne on the side of her face and along her forehead. This was a condition that made her a bit self- conscious.After using the product for four weeks, she did look much better. We asked Dr. Bank to assess her results. “Tara did beautifully with the proactive but she might have done just as well with products from her local pharmacy costing one tenth of the price,” he said. The makers of Proactiv took issue with his statement. A spokesperson for the Palm Desert, Calif.-based direct market company, Guthy-Renker, said: “While the ingredients in Proactiv solution and other acne products may be similar, It’s the unique formulation, the manufacturing procedures and the process that activates the ingredients that make Proactiv distinctive and different.”
Well, we just had to try a product that costs a lot less. So we purchased an Oxy product for $6 and added two other oxy products. For $18, we had pads, wash and lotion. We asked 17-year-old Stephanie Lacko of Amawalc, N.Y., to try this treatment for one month. She, like Maini, said that it was embarrassing to go out in public with her marked complexion. Four weeks later? Lacko looked, and felt, much better. “I’ve never had a product with this much progress,” she said. “I started using it once I got home, and immediately within a couple of days my skin started to clear up.” Dr. Bank’s take? “She’s gotten a great result and it probably isn’t that different than one she would have gotten from Proactive or any of the other more expensive brands,” he said. “They all have the same active ingredient, benzyol peroxide.”
But what happens when your acne is so bad, over-the-counter products won’t do the job? That was the case for 25-year-old Allie Farese of Carmel, N.Y. So Dr. Bank decided to write her a prescription for Plexicon pads, Benzaclin gel, and Differin cream. Like our other participants, she used the medicine for one month. When we checked back with her, she had great results. Dr. Bank’s reaction? “Allie had really cystic acne before this; it was much deeper acne,” he said. “And it’s much more superficial now. She is clearly not 100 percent better, but it’s dramatic over the really deep acne that she started with four weeks ago.”
Dr. Bank suggested that all our participants keep using their products, believing that their results would get even better in another month. His take on the less expensive over-the-counter products? Pick something with benzoyl peroxide as the active ingredient. There’s no need to spend a lot of money, any generic brand will do. If the acne is more severe, see your dermatologist.
Janice Lieberman is the “Today” show’s consumer correspondent. She joined NBC News as a consumer reporter in 1999. She is author of “Tricks of the Trade: A Consumer Survival Guide.” She is a graduate of Rutgers University.