I've been part of these boards for years and years, and just wanted to come back with my $0.02 worth on what works for me. I'm 31, so my advice may not be as useful to teens, but hopefully some adult sufferers out there will benefit.
1. Diet and exercise: I know there's a lot of debate about diet not being linked to acne. That's fine, but you are what you eat, so I choose to eat well, which means plenty of veggies of all different kinds, whole grains, and as much locally produced, organic food that I can find. I'm primarily vegetarian, but that's just my choice. I walk 15-20 miles a week (I live in a city with no car) and try my best to get a good, sweaty, weight based workout in 1-2x per week. This doesn't stop acne per se, but when I'm following a healthy lifestyle, my skin looks better overall, and any problems heal a lot faster.
2. Several years ago, I followed "The Acne Cure," a book by Dr. Dubrow. Check it out at your library; the first chapter on the mechanics of skin is worth it alone. The book claims to cure acne in about 6 weeks I think, and it was a good 12 before my skin saw a lot of improvement, but it was by far the best system I'd ever used. It really regulated my skin and calmed it down. Also, there was no initial breakout period. In fact, I've since shunned anything that causes initial breakouts. In my experience, things that cause initial breakouts never really clear anything up. I've done the gamut of dermo Rx's, and I will never go that route again. Research has led me to believe that antibiotics longterm are detrimental to health and skin and I've honestly never found a dermo who was sensitive to the problem or willing to take a holistic approach. For example, I was prescribed a strong concentration of RetinA when my lifestyle *required* me to be in the summer sun, daily. Coupled with antibiotics, I ended up with sun damage I'll never be rid of. Thanks, MDs.
3. I quit beating up my skin. I do my best not to touch or pick, and I quit attacking my skin, wearing it out.
4. I found the right daily regimen for me. It's different for everyone, but I will say this: if your skin is irritated, looks worse, or your regimen is making you unhappy, then stop it. Acne is bad enough. Acne on tired, inflamed, unhappy skin is worse. Right now I use: Alpha Hydrox foaming face cleanser. Gentle, pH balanced, and soap free. It's the best cleanser I've found. In the morning, I apply Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne spot eliminating gel. I use a small amount all over my face to clean out my pores and reduce inflammation. It's salicylic acid, which is a great anti-inflammatory. (This is Neutrogena's replacement for Clear Pore gel, a product that I still miss). I apply Olay Regenerist daily serum, spf 15 after the gel is dry. Any makeup I wear goes over that.
In the evening, I use the same foaming face wash, and then apply Alpha Hydrox 10% AHA (glycolic acid) formula. I moisturize, and once the Olay is absorbed, I apply a decent amount of Neutrogena On the Spot acne treatment to areas that are breakout prone. The On the Spot is 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. This is the only concentration of BP that's proved effective for me without wrecking my skin via dryness.
I still break out occasionally, usually around that time of the month. Every now and again, I get one of those dastardly cysts. When that happens, I go back to the Acne Cure procedure with the ice and all and do my best not to perform DIY surgeries (it's hard!).
I think my regimen works because it's a combination of gentle cleaning, anti-inflammatories (the salicylic acid), exfoliation (the glycolic acid) to keep dead skin cells at bay, and disinfecting (the BP).
Also, I try to be religious about following this routine. Neglecting it can lead to breakouts. Also, if I have a sweaty workout midday, I don't go through the whole routine. I just rinse thoroughly with water and moisturize. Washing more than twice a day is too much for my skin.
Long post, I know, but hopefully somebody gets something out of it.