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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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.
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Sulfur for Acne
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Salicylic acid (BHAs)
Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in over-the-counter anti-acne medications, washes, spot treatments, and makeup. It penetrates into the skin where it helps unclog pores and prevents future clogs. It also helps reduce inflammation. On its own, however, it will not completely clear the skin.
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Is Benzoyl Peroxide Safe?
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