Bothered by Acne? Choose From Over-the-counter Acne Treatments

acne treatments

If you’re like most of us, I’m sure you know how agonizing it is to have an acne flare-up! Believe me, I’ve been there and I hated it! I would get a big fat zit, then as it starts to die a natural death, another one pops up, then another, then another. Aaargh! Those icky pimples popping up here and there can cause a blow to your self-esteem. But did you know that you can treat mild to moderate acne with over-the counter acne treatments?

Let’s talk about the different types of acne treatment and some useful tips in choosing what to use.

Over-the-counter Acne treatments

There are a number of medications available for treating acne. They’re readily available over-the-counter (OTC), so you won’t have the hassle of going to a dermatologist for prescription meds. This is especially true if you have mild to moderate acne and you want to help it clear up more quickly.

These OTC acne treatments include:

Benzoyl peroxide

This medication is one of the go-to products for acne. It’s been in use for over 60 years, and quite effectively speeds up acne healing and prevents further pimples.

It has an anti-bacterial action that works well to kill off any pesky bacteria causing your pimples. Additionally, it also reduces the swelling seen in large zits. It also helps quicken skin turnover, so that the pimples dry out and easily peel off. It also slows down the skin’s oil production.

Because of its action, you may experience some mild side effects like skin dryness, slight redness and a fine peeling action initially. Usually, higher concentrations have a more potent action and thus may also have more pronounced side effects.

Note that benzoyl peroxide is classified under pregnancy category C. This means that it may not be great to use for pregnant women as it may have unknown risks for the unborn baby.

Read our post about treatment of pregnancy acne

Salicylic acid

A relative of aspirin, salicylic acid is a well-known ingredient in various anti-acne formulations. It’s found in astringents, exfoliators, cleansers and other skin products that fight off acne.

Salicylic acid works by promoting natural turnover of the skin cells. It has a comedolytic action, meaning that it helps break down blackheads and whiteheads. It also keeps pores from getting plugged with oil, dirt and bacteria. This helps prevent further pimples from forming. Additionally, salicylic acid also decreases swelling and inflammation seen in most pimples.


Sulfur isn’t very popular as an anti-acne medication on its own. It’s usually combined with other skin medications, like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and resorcinol. Sulfur is a mineral that has been used medicinally for various skin diseases. It is antimicrobial and also helps in rapid skin cell turnover.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s)

These include glycolic acid and lactic acid. AHA’s are better known for their use as chemical peels in dermatologist clinics. They can reduce the occurrence of acne, and aid in skin regeneration.

There are AHA peels available, however, for do-it-yourself chemical peeling. They’re available in concentrations up to 10 %, which causes mild peeling. Care should be taken though, as any wrong application can cause irritation. Other side effects include redness and dryness of the skin.

Different forms of OTC acne treatments

Over-The-Counter acne treatments are available in a variety of forms. These include gels, creams, lotions, soaps, pads and solutions. You usually have to apply these products to the skin after washing. Additionally, the length of treatment can vary depending on the product you choose to use.

If you have dry, sensitive skin, it’s best to use acne treatments in the form of creams and lotions. They won’t add to extra irritation and won’t cause severe drying. In contrast, gels and solutions may dry the skin and are best for oily skin types.