This Skin-Saving, Breakout-Fighting Ingredient Is Totally Worth the Trip to the Derm

Rachel Krause
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No matter how vain you are or aren’t, putting a premium on good skin is practically human nature. It’s different from lusting after the perfect beach waves, or lips meticulously lined and glossed into the illusion of youthful plumpness; your face is the first thing you present to the world, and when it’s not to your liking, you feel it.

This is why Accutane exists, and extensive YouTube tutorials showing how to convincingly cover serious breakouts with foundation, and a large market for prescription skin care that is always growing, always looking for a better way to tackle acne without destroying your barrier function or your liver. Somewhere along the way, doctors or scientists or whoever’s in charge of this sort of thing discovered an antibiotic called dapsone. (Or, rather, discovered that it’s an effective topical acne treatment, and not just an effective way to treat leprosy, which is how dapsone has been used since the 1940s.)

They took this antibiotic and branded it as Aczone, a prescription gel used topically to treat and prevent moderate to severe acne, and started marketing it toward acne sufferers for whom other prescription topicals failed. You know, people like me.

For some context: I don’t have the kind of full-fledged painful breakouts that seriously diminish my quality of life. I don’t necessarily need the big guns—a dermatologist would probably feel great trepidation about prescribing me Accutane—but I sympathize with those who do, because acne struggles are acne struggles, and I want to cry every time a cluster of red, inflamed, angry hormonal cysts blooms on my chin. I’ve been on antibiotics and spironolactone, both of which have helped immensely before I became terrified of the long-term side effects or ran out and didn’t feel like refilling the prescription, respectively. Benzoyl peroxide–based topicals, prescription and otherwise, don’t do much for me; same goes for anything I’ve ever tried OTC. But Aczone does.

MORE: A Brief Rundown of the Best Acne Medications Out There

The lightweight gel, which comes in a 5-percent concentration for use twice daily or a stronger 7.5-percent dose for once a day application, is the sole product in my skin-care routine right now that has made an appreciable difference in both the frequency and severity of my breakouts. I still get a formidable zit here and there, but the painful under-the-skin cysts I’ve lived in fear of for so long are few and far between, as are errant whiteheads and lesser breakouts. Most of the time, my skin is clear, and pills are no longer involved.

“Topical dapsone has been shown to be effective for both red, angry bumps and blackheads and whiteheads,” explains dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “The formulation is totally nonirritating, making it a great option for even the most sensitive-skinned people.” There it is: a pretty convincing professional case for why anyone who’s had little success with other anti-acne treatments should give Aczone a try.

As with all prescription drugs, topical or otherwise, consult a derm to make sure Aczone is right for you. Once you’ve gotten the green light and the script in hand, you might just find clear, blemish-free skin around the bend. Nobody is paying me to say this, I swear—good skin speaks for itself.

MORE: The Most Compelling Argument for Using Retinoids in Your 20s

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