Getting the Best Treatment for Your Moderate Acne

To get the best treatment for acne, you have to know what type of acne you have: mild, moderate, or severe. This will help you customize treatment for your skin, and get your skin clearing more quickly because you won't waste time with treatments that won't work for your grade of acne.

This is especially true if you have moderate acne. This type of acne generally won't get better with over-the-counter products, but since it doesn't seem "bad" enough to warrant a trip to the dermatologist many people with moderate acne struggle for years trying to get their skin under control. Sound like you? You may have moderate acne breakouts.

Examining the patient's skin with a dermatological lens
Igor Alecsander / Getty Images

What Is Moderate Acne?

As the name suggests, moderate acne is moderate—not mild, but not severe either. It's more obvious and stubborn than mild acne, but not quite as inflamed or as serious as severe acne.

With moderate acne, you'll have noticeable breakouts. You'll probably have quite a few papules and pustules, and maybe even a few nodules.

You may have lots and lots of closed comedones (those "bumps" on the skin) and blackheads. But not everyone with moderate acne has blackheads. Some people with moderate acne have only inflamed blemishes.

Who Gets Moderate Acne?

Moderate acne can happen to any person at (nearly) any age. Teens with moderate acne are more likely to have both blackheads and inflammatory breakouts.

Adult women, on the other hand, often don't have blackheads at all, but only get inflamed breakouts. These tend to pop up on the lower cheeks, chin, and jawline, especially right before their periods.

Acne isn't limited to the face, either. You may have breakouts on your back, neck, chest, and shoulders, or butt.

Although scarring can happen even with milder forms of acne, you're more likely to have scarring at this severity (that's really good reason not to pick or pop those pimples).

How to Tell If You Have Moderate Acne

Wondering if you have moderate acne? See if any of these statements describe your skin:

  • Your breakouts tend to be red, inflamed papules and pustules.
  • You have a lot of obvious bumps (closed comedones) and blackheads.
  • Some of your blemishes feel "deep," or are large and painful.
  • You've tried over-the-counter treatments; they don't work.
  • Your acne may come and go or have periods where it looks better then suddenly get worse.
  • You notice dark spots and/or scars on my skin.

If three or more of these statements describe your skin, you probably have moderate acne.

Doesn't sound like your skin? You may have mild acne or severe acne. If you're not sure, don't hesitate to make an appointment with your physician. It's helpful to have an objective set of eyes look over your skin.

How to Treat Your Moderate Acne

If you have moderate acne, don't despair. There are plenty of effective treatment options that will help clear your skin.

First, you'll want to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Over-the-counter acne products rarely work well for moderate acne. You'll save yourself a lot of time and heartache by making an appointment right away.

Don't wait, either. Because moderate forms of acne tend to be inflammatory, there's a higher risk of scarring. You'll want to start treatment right away to lessen your chance of developing scars.

Prescription acne medications are quite effective in treating moderate acne breakouts. Your dermatologist will most likely start you on a topical medication or two. Depending on your skin and your circumstances, you may be prescribed an oral medication as well.

It can take several weeks to see improvement in your skin, so don't give up too soon. Follow the treatment plan that your dermatologist gives you, and be as consistent with those treatments as possible.

A Word From Verywell

It seems like a hassle to make an appointment with a dermatologist, we know, especially when there are so many acne treatment products just sitting on the shelf at the store. It feels like that next new product you try might be the one that gets your skin clear.

But moderate acne, especially if you've had it for a long while, just doesn't respond well to any OTC product. You really will be happier with the results you will get from a prescription. (And if you're not seeing results from your prescription acne medication let your dermatologist know so you can start on a new treatment plan.)

Moderate acne can be treated effectively, so don't give up!

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kraft J, Freiman A. Management of acne. CMAJ. 2011;183(7):E430-5. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090374

  2. Geller L, Rosen J, Frankel A, Goldenberg G. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(8):30-4.

Additional Reading
  • "Treating Moderate to Moderately Severe Acne." AcneNet. American Academy of Dermatology, 2011. Web.
  • Questions and Answers About Acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). National Institutes of Health. 2006.
  • Whitney KM, Ditre CM. "Management Strategies for Acne Vulgaris." Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2011; 4:41-53.
  • Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.