When it comes to over-the-counter acne medications, there is one clear winner: benzoyl peroxide. When it is applied properly it can reliably and completely clear the skin. The only other FDA-approved over-the-counter treatments are salicylic acid, sulfur, and resorcinol, all of which come with drawbacks, not the least of which being that none of them completely clear the skin.
A helper: alpha-hydroxy-acids: Alpha hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, are not officially FDA-approved acne medications. However, glycolic acid is available over-the-counter in up to 10% strength, and can powerfully exfoliate the skin, increasing the power of benzoyl peroxide.
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Latest in Over-the-counter Treatments
Salicylic acid (BHAs)
Does Salicylic Acid Make Your Skin More Sensitive to the Sun?
Salicylic acid most likely does not make the skin more sensitive to the sun. It is a beta hydroxy acid, and from the limited research...
July 16, 2021
Does Ice Help to Heal Acne?
The application of cold temperatures reduces inflammation, as seen in soft tissue injuries such as sprained ankles. The same is true of the skin. Icing acne lesions should reduce inflammation and hasten healing. It is particularly effective when applied at the early onset of a pimple.
June 21, 2021
Everything You Need to Know About Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is available both over-the-counter and as a prescription in 2.5% - 10% strength. It kills bacteria, exfoliates the skin, and may reduce inflammation, all of which can help clear acne. It comes with side effects, especially during the first month.
April 08, 2021
Can Topical Hydrocortisone Help with Acne?
The best advice from the evidence we have is to avoid topical hydrocortisone as an acne treatment. Applying hydrocortisone regularly to the skin may make...
January 08, 2021
Why Spinning Face Brushes Are Not a Good Idea for Acne-Prone Skin
Spinning brushes physically irritate the skin. To avoid acne, it is best to avoid any form of physical irritation, so it is safest to forgo these brushes, even if they are advertised as "gentle." Instead, use only your bare hands and a gentle facial cleanser and wash gently for 10 seconds or less.
December 09, 2020
What is Benzoic Acid and Can it Help Clear Acne?
After you apply benzoyl peroxide to the skin it breaks down into (1) hydrogen peroxide, and (2) benzoic acid. Hydrogen peroxide kills acne bacteria. But what does benzoic acid do? It is hypothesized that it helps exfoliate the skin, reduce inflammation, clear clogged pores, and reduce bacteria.
October 20, 2020
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
What Are the Chemical Structure of Lactic Acid and Lactate and How Is Lactic Acid Made?
Lactic acid and lactate are different forms of the same molecule. This article will describe the chemical structures and methods of synthesis of lactic acid...
October 02, 2020
Sulfur for Acne
Sulfur has been used for thousands of years for its ability to shed the top layer of skin cells and limit bacterial growth. Both of these things help reduce acne. Its effectiveness is increased when combined with benzoyl peroxide or sodium sulfacetamide.
September 09, 2020