Over The Counter Treatments

Acne - Over the Counter Treatments

Self-treatment of acne is the most common situation. Most acne is mild enough that over the counter, non-prescription medications work fine. Combined with a regimen of overall good skin care, they will do an effective job of clearing up acne in as short a time as possible.

Benzoyl Peroxide

One of the most common - and most effective - treatments possible for mild acne, benzoyl peroxide is used daily by millions. It works by helping combat the bacteria that is partly responsible for acne in the first place: Propionibacterium acnes. It also helps to remove dead skin cells from the area. If those don't move to the surface where they can be sloughed or washed off, they can accumulate, upping the odds of getting acne.

Benzoyl Peroxide has been in use for decades so the pros and cons are well known. One possible side effect is excessive drying of the skin. It can also bleach fabric, and so should be used with care when treating acne while dressed.

The risk of side effects can be minimized by using the proper amount. If a 2.5% concentration is working, don't assume that 10% is better, or will work faster. Higher dosage only increases the odds of side effects without any compensating value.

Salicylic Acid

This is the active ingredient in aspirin and part of the reason this simple compound is sometimes called a miracle drug. It has many uses and is safe and effective, used properly.

Often coming in the form of soaked pads, salicylic acid helps break down blackheads and whiteheads. It slows down the process of shedding dead skin cells inside the follicle, making build up and compaction less likely. It also helps remove them. This helps prevent bacteria build up in the sebum (skin oil) inside the pore.

It should not be combined with other treatments, unless recommended by your dermatologist. Excessive skin irritation can occur.


Resorcinol is another popular OTC medication and is effective in many cases, especially when combined with other compounds such as sulfur. It functions by breaking down hardened skin, leading to more effective removal from the follicle and the area outside. That also produces lower odds of clogging, a major factor in acne formation.

It should not be used in conjunction with astringents such as alcohol.

Alcohol and Acetone

Both of these common chemicals are safe, but are generally much less effective than more modern treatments. Alcohol is a mild antibacterial and helps remove oil from the surface. Similarly, acetone is a degreasing agent and helps keep the surface clear. But the excess oil (sebum) that contributes to acne lies well under surface where it lends a growth medium for bacteria and helps clog pores. Removing surface oil is of limited benefit.

The small savings over other treatments is generally money wasted, except as part of an overall skin care regimen.

Use all over the counter medications in the manner directed on the instructions. If acne persists for more than a couple of weeks, or grows worse, see a dermatologist. He or she may recommend a stronger treatment, such as a prescription medication.


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