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Over The Counter Acne Treatments

There are so many over-the-counter acne treatments available today – you see them on TV, you see them on the internet, you see them on posters. It’s a multi-million dollar industry, and everyone is wanting to shout-out about their products. But regardless of brand name or ad campaign, there are a few mainstays in acne treatment, which are recommended by dermatologists and found over and over again in most of the over-the-counter products around the world.

Benzoyl-PeroxideBenzyl Peroxide

One of the most common and effective over-the-counter acne treatments in stores and pharmacies, benzyl peroxide has been in use since the 1960′s. Benzyl Peroxide is a chemical with antimicrobial properties that actively inhibits acne-causing bacteria in the skin. Research studies show that benzyl peroxide is as effective as oral or topical antibiotic treatments, and keeps bacteria from becoming resistant to drug therapies. Follow the instructions carefully when using products with benzyl peroxide, as using too much may irritate the skin, and wait at least five days before expecting noticeable results. Side effects that you can expect are few and rare, but they do occur and can include skin irritation, burning, dryness and skin peeling.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a chemical originally derived from white willow bark and is similar in structure and properties to the drug aspirin. When treating acne, you can use it directly on the acne lesions in the form of a cream, and the salicylic acid will be absorbed directly into deeper skin layers, where it balances tissue growth and inflammation. Compared to other over-the-counter acne treatments, salicylic is not the strongest or most effective treatment, but can achieve moderate results and is useful if your skin is sensitive or easily irritated by other products. As a side benefit, salicylic acid applied to the skin provides extra sun protection against UVB rays and can be useful during summer months if your acne reacts badly to sunscreens. If your acne is not just localized on your face, but also found on your neck, arms, chest or shoulders, consult with a pharmacist or doctor before using salicylic acid, as it can be toxic when used over large areas of the body for long periods of time.


Sulfur is a natural compound found in many foods and has been used for decades as an over-the-counter acne treatment. When applied directly to acne, sulfurs actively inhibits bacteria growth and thins the skin on lesions. Studies show that sulfur is an effective treatment for acne and has very few side effects, asides from an unpleasant smell and some skin discoloration from constant use. Sulfur can be purchased through pharmacies and health food stores on its own, and is also found as an extra ingredient in other over-the-counter acne treatments, soaps, creams, lotions and ointments. Sulfur is most effective when combined with other products such as benzyl peroxide. Some people are allergic to sulfur-based products, and if you have any concern about having an allergy or sensitivity to sulfur, contact your doctor before purchasing.


Zinc is a mineral with an important role to play in the treatment of acne. While zinc is crucial for skin growth, tissue healing and immune function, many people are deficient in zinc as it’s only available in some select foods, such as oysters and pumpkin seeds. According to research studies acne patients have especially low levels of zinc in their bodies, and when given oral supplements of zinc, patients noticed significant anti-inflammatory effects similar to antibiotic treatment. Zinc concentrates in your skin and regulates healthy skin growth while protecting against free radicals and bacteria. While oral zinc supplements are a useful natural treatment for acne, high doses can cause digestive discomforts such as nausea and vomiting. Take zinc after meals to reduce the risk of these digestive complaints.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A in the form of retinol can be found in a number of over-the-counter skin and acne products. More studies are still required to confirm the benefits of over-the-counter retinol treatments in acne patients, but it is generally recognized as safe. One study has shown that very high doses of topical retinol had significant beneficial effects on acne for both men and women, with limited side effects aside from skin dryness. Retinol helps to reduce the
inflammation associated with acne, and also protects against sun damage and oxidation, and reduces wrinkles and improves skin tone. Oral vitamin A supplements may also be of benefit to you, as it stimulates healthy skin and AlphaHydroxyAcidstissue growth and supports immune function.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) are organic chemicals found in a number of plant and animal products, such as cane sugar and milk. However most commercial AHA products you find in shops and pharmacies are synthesized, not extracted from natural sources. AHA are useful because they work on a number of levels, aiding skin healing as well as the prevention of future lesions when applied topically. According to research AHA’s have few side effects and help to exfoliate the skin and thin acne lesions. AHA’s such as glycolic acid, lactic acid and retinaldehyde can be found in a number of skin “peel” products as well as acne lotions and washes.

The above list are just a few of the more popular over-the-counter acne treatments that are widely available in your local stores or pharmacy.

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