How Long Does It Take to Clear Up Acne?


Acne is a skin condition triggered by clogged hair follicles (pores). Each hair follicle on the human body has an associated gland which secretes an oil called sebum. Sebum is normally cleared through an open pore, but dirt and oil can clog the pore and trap sebum beneath the skin's surface. According to, bacteria "feast" on this trapped oil, causing the surrounding tissue to become inflamed. This process can result in a pustule if the inflammation is near the skin's surface, or a pimple or cyst if the inflammation is deeper. Whiteheads and blackheads occur when the trapped oil breaks through the skin's surface.


Whiteheads and blackheads may heal fully within two weeks or less, according to Pustules and pimples, however, have a much longer life cycle. In pustules and pimples, white blood cells are sent to repair an inflamed (damaged) hair follicle, a process resulting in a red or pink mark that fades gradually and may take up to 12 weeks to fully disappear, depending on an individual’s skin and mode of treatment.


Benzoyl peroxide (usually as a lotion or cream) is the primary over-the-counter product used in the treatment of mild to moderate acne. Benzoyl peroxide has been shown to speed the clearing of acne by killing the bacteria (P. Acnes) that infects clogged and damaged pores, thereby reducing the length of the acne cycle.

Severe Acne

Some cases of acne are severe and cannot be treated with over-the-counter medications. They require the attention of a dermatologist. While mild to moderate pimples usually fade completely over time, cystic acne, which is a follicle that becomes highly inflamed, can result in large, puss-filled lesions that almost always leave scars. These scars can sometimes be repaired with various forms of laser surgery.


There is no definitive evidence that foods like pizza, french fries and cola have a direct relation to the duration of acne, and avoiding these foods most likely will not speed acne recovery. Some studies have suggested, however, that foods high in iodine (milk and iodized salt being two) may contribute to increased activity in the sebaceous glands (Arbesman). This increased activity could potentially lead to overproduction of sebum, thereby increasing the rate and intensity of infection.


Extensive face-washing can contribute to the increased duration of an acne outbreak by over-drying (and further damaging) the skin. Individuals prone to acne should wash their face with a salicylic acid wash or a gentle cleanser, and soaps that dry the skin should be avoided. Likewise, sun exposure can damage the skin and prolong outbreaks; while a deep tan or sunburn may temporarily darken certain skin tones, the acne is only hidden, not healed, and the damaged skin is more likely to become clogged or infected again.

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  • Pediatrics in Review: Managing Adolecent Acne; Daniel P. Krowchuk, MD; July 2005
  • Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: Dairy and acne—the iodine connection; H. Arbesman, MD; Volume 53, Issue 6, Pages 1102-1102
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