Everyone deals with acne at some stage in their life. Some will experience it worse than others. Some forms of acne will be more mild than others. The vast majority of people will, however, be in the middle somewhere.
Although there may not be a direct linkage, acne may be aggravated by factors such as stress, diet, air quality and life-style choices. But the main factors causing acne are: hormonal imbalances and genetics. Everyone, at some time in their lives will go through a period of time when their hormones seem to get messed up (puberty and pregnancy are prime examples) and if acne is your genetic trait — you’re stuck with it.
Fortunately, there are many over the counter (OTC) medications available to help people deal with acne. How well they work for you will pretty much be determined by three factors: the product’s active ingredients, the cause of the user’s acne and the user’s skin type.
Not all acne products will work the same way because of the different ingredients used. The active ingredient salicylic acid works by reducing the amount of dead skin. The active ingredient benzoyl peroxide works by reducing the P.acnes bacteria (a naturally occurring bacteria in the skin).
Following are descriptions of the active ingredients you will find used in most over-the-counter acne medications:
Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is the ‘wonder drug’ in the acne treatment industry; it works by reducing the natural P.acnes bacteria and reduces the quantity of dead skin cells. By performing these two actions, benzoyl peroxide manages to lessen the effects of two of the main causes of comedones (the large, deep, pus-filled pimples that are the trademarks of acne). Benzoyl peroxide has been used for years in acne treatment medications since being discovered to be very effective in treating mild acne.
You will find (on the Internet) many ‘personal’ recommendations for benzoyl peroxide and details about how it was used to successfully treat acne. But as with all medications, use an acne product with benzoyl peroxide as instructed on the product label or as instructed by a physician. Benzoyl peroxide, when over-used, has the side-effect of drying out your skin and can also discolor any fabrics or materials it comes into contact with, e.g., shirts, towels, sheets, etc.. Benzoyl peroxide is available as a lotion or gel and can be used as a preventative acne treatment even after your acne has cleared up.
Alcohol and acetone: Alcohol and acetone are used together in some over-the-counter acne medications. The alcohol kills external bacteria while the acetone makes the skin less oily.
“Herbal”, “organic” and “natural” products: You will find some OTC products with labels such “herbal,” “organic” and “natural;” these products are generally put on the market to appeal to the people who are attracted to products with those labels. The products themselves may or may not be beneficial for acne and actual results have proven inconclusive.
Resorcinol: The active ingredient resorcinol has been found to work well on small acne blemishes and can be found in some OTC products combined with sulfur.
Sulfur itself has been used in a number of OTC medications for decades. You will find this usually in combination with active ingredients such as alcohol, salicylic acid and resorcinol. Sulfur has been found be an effective acne treatment for some people but it does not seem to be known exactly how it works to clear up acne. Also, products with sulfur will tend to have an unpleasant smell.
Salicylic acid: The active ingredient salicylic acid is generally effective for acne blemishes when there is no inflammation present. Salicylic acid acts by unclogging clogged-up pores to reduce the number of acne blemishes formed — it does this by minimizing the amount of dead skin cells; it has no known effect on the production of sebum or the production of the P.acnes bacteria. Just as is recommended with products containing benzoyl peroxide, products with salicylic acid as the active ingredient should be used even after the acne clears up to prevent its return. One possible side-effect of salicylic acid is skin irritation in some people.
Remember -everyone’s skin is different! Some people have generally dry skin, some have generally oily skin and most people have a combination of the two on different areas on our bodies. Acne in areas of oily skin will respond better to a gel based acne product. Acne on dry skin will respond better to a cream.
Those with sensitive skin should not use real strong acne medication. It may lead to skin irritation or even make your acne worse!
Some of the milder acne treatments can be used as a preventative measure and some (like those with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) are recommended as post-acne preventative measures but many are too strong and will irritate your skin.
If you have anything but a mild, seemingly manageable case of acne, an OTC medicine may control it and eventually get rid of it. If, however, your acne seems out of control or painful or too stressful to handle by yourself, be sure to see a get to a dermatologist!