Over-the-counter Medications

Most mild acne can be managed with over-the-counter medications. The four most effective anti-acne ingredients contained in over-the-counter acne medications are:

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Salicylic acid
  • Sulfur
  • Resorcinol
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Benzoyl peroxide is the most effective ingredient in non-prescription acne drugs. It kills the bacteria and dries up any excess sebum (or skin oils). Benzoyl peroxide is available in creams, gels and lotions, and in concentrations of 2, 5 and 10-percent. Oil-based benzoyl peroxide-based lotions and water-based gels are less irritating than alcohol or acetone-based gels.
Salicylic acid helps to slow down the development of the skin cells lining the sebum glands. It's also a powerful keratolytic antiseptic; which means that it helps dissolve the top layers of skin. Dead skin cells often cause blackheads by settling into the pores and causing blockage. Salicylic acid removes dead skin before it has a chance to clog the pores.

Resorcinol and sulfur are both topical anti-bacterial disinfectants that work to exfoliate the skin and eliminate pimples. Resorcinol is also often used as an ingredient in dandruff shampoos.

Medications used to treat mild acne are for external use only. People with mild acne usually will see improvement from these medications within a few months. In rare cases, upon initial use, some non-prescription medications will irritate the face and cause redness or burning. This will likely disappear, but if it continues to occur or worsen stop treatment and visit your doctor immediately.


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