Over-the-Counter Acne Products – What Works and Why?

It can be challenging to determine precisely which acne treatment could be the best for your skin because there are so many different approaches to treating acne. Even if you’ve had some kind of acne your whole life, adult acne might differ from teen acne and can be challenging to treat due to factors including hormones, changes in skin type and texture, and scarring. 

Life is difficult enough without always worrying about our skin, so we consulted physicians to see which acne treatments work best for all kinds of breakouts. Continue reading to discover the root causes of acne as well as the top acne treatments and drugs that are well investing your money on. 

It’s important to note that speaking with a dermatologist is always your best option whether you’re wanting to simply reduce some irritating blackheads or you’re suffering from something more serious like cystic or inflammatory acne. They have access to many more treatment choices than your local Store or Ulta and are trained to recognise different forms of acne just by looking at them.


To begin with, you cannot resist something which you do not comprehend. So how does acne initially become visible on your skin? Acne develops when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a clog that closes the pores. 


The good news is that there are many acne treatment choices as well as several ingredients and solutions that genuinely work there is a therapy for almost every type of acne. Finding out what kind of acne you have and making sure that the treatments you employ won’t make things worse are the tough parts, and here is where seeing a dermatologist is always a smart option.


  1. Salicylic Acid
  2. Glycolic Acid
  3. Benzoyl Peroxide
  4. Lactic Acid
  5. Retinol
  6. Retinal
  7. Bakuchiol
  8. Sulphur
  9. Spironolactone
  10. Tazarotene
  11. Isotretinoin
  12. Azelaic
  13. Antibiotics

Salicylic Acid:

Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimple remedies in teens. And if you browse the drugstore skincare aisles, you’ll see that the bulk of items marketed as “acne wash” or “spot treatment” contain it as the active component. Salicylic acid helps pimples contract and ultimately vanish by lowering swelling and clearing pores. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory qualities as well, which can assist with irritated cystic eruptions that can happen when obstructions deep in hair follicles burst beneath the skin. Salicylic acid can be used as a face wash, which is entirely OK, but you might find that using it as a toner, moisturiser, or leave-on spot treatment gives it more time to function.

Glycolic Acid:

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), and Glycolic Acid help to remove dead skin cells that can block pores by gently exfoliating the skin. Similar to salicylic acid, glycolic acid is available at your local drugstore or beauty shops in cleansers, peels, moisturisers, and serums.

Benzoyl Peroxide:

The type C. acnes bacterium that causes pimples can be effectively killed by the antibiotic chemical called, benzoyl peroxide. But benzoyl has drawbacks as well. If you’re not cautious, the leave-on lotions and cleansers can dry out the sensitive skin and even bleach the clothes. Stronger concentrations are harder on your skin. It is better to take over-the-counter medicines that do not have more than 2% active benzoyl peroxide in the active ingredients chart.

Lactic Acid:

Lactic acid is an AHA, and like glycolic acid, it exfoliates the skin by acting as a chemical exfoliator. However, it’s often kinder than glycolic acid, making it an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin that want to use an exfoliating acid. Additionally, lactic acid is a humectant, which means it attracts water to itself and has moisturising properties. Exfoliants containing lactic acid would therefore be effective for people with dry or sensitive skin without being too irritating. These items can be used to do a chemical peel at home.


Although you may be familiar with the advantages of retinoid lotions for anti-ageing, and other, these vitamin types are also effective in treating acne. But keep in your mind that retinoids may sometimes be irritating, and even an over-the-counter alternative can be too powerful if you have sensitive skin (or a skin disease like psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea). To determine how your skin will respond, it is better to always start with retinol for sensitive skin that has a low concentration of retinol (even as low as.01%). You might be able to handle over-the-counter retinol with low concentrations or low-concentration prescription retinoids more readily, which your dermatologist can also suggest.


The only and mildest retinoid available over-the-counter is retinal. Some experts advise using products containing retinol (also known as retinaldehyde) rather than conventional retinol for people with sensitive skin is a better option.  This substance is a naturally occurring retinoid that the body transforms into retinoic acid, just as retinol. Additionally, it has been demonstrated in a few trials to be as beneficial to retinol and other retinoids while having fewer adverse effects.


This component is a plant-based extract that is frequently promoted as a retinol substitute, which is not even a retinoid. However, in the few trials that were conducted before, Bakuchiol did show results in controlling issues like skin texture and fine lines—without the negative effects that we often associate with retinoids. To help increase the acne-fighting and anti-ageing effects of retinol without increasing the chance of side effects, it may now appear in a product alone or combined with a low dose of retinol. 


Sulphur smells like a rotten egg, so beware of it before using it. However, it works well to dry out whiteheads and acne that are loaded with pus. It functions by sucking up the excess oil. To maximise its effectiveness, sulphur is frequently combined with other active ingredients, and with the help of fragrances, the overpowering odour is covered up. You can frequently find it in masks and spot treatments. 


Sometimes birth control by itself is insufficient to significantly reduce hormonal acne. At that point, your doctor could suggest including an androgen blocker like spironolactone. By inhibiting the receptors that connect with testosterone, spiro (as it is often called) reduces the number of androgen hormones in circulation. Women with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may use the medication to treat symptoms of androgen excess, such as excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.


This potent prescription retinoid, which also goes by the brand name Tazorac, is synthetic. You should always follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for when and how to take retinoids because they can have unpleasant side effects including dryness and inflammation. It is interesting to note that it can also be used to treat plaque psoriasis, and it may be coupled with other topical drugs like corticosteroids to accomplish so.


Isotretinoin is a very potent retinoid and was once marketed under the name Accutane. Although it has a mixed reputation, physicians use it as a last resort for individuals who have severe acne. Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid that has all the advantages of a topical retinol but is much more effective. It is sometimes referred to as Accutane even though that specific brand has been discontinued.

Azelaic Acid:

Azelaic acid is frequently recommended for individuals with sensitive skin or those who are pregnant even though dermatologists are unsure of why it is so successful at reducing inflammation.  You can find over-the-counter choices with lesser amounts of this active component, and your dermatologist may prescribe treatments with higher concentrations of azelaic acid.


The dermatologist may recommend oral antibiotics to treat acne, however, this is not usually the case. Even while you could notice benefits right away, acne will come back as soon as you stop taking the antibiotics. Despite this, using antibiotics on top of the treatment can be quite successful, especially for acne that affects areas of the body other than the face. Some individuals may require oral antibiotics a bit sooner to treat the acne on their backs. Because not everyone has access to someone who can apply topical drugs to their backs.

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