What Are Some Over-The-Counter Treatments For Acne?


Do you want to know some viable options for medications to treat your acne problem?

There are over-the-counter treatments and prescriptions for severe cases. Then, let’s go one by one of these possible solutions for you.

There are loads of acne skin care products around. We can classify acne skin care products into 3 broad categories:

1. Preventive or general acne skin care products

2. Over-the-counter, specialized acne skin care products

3. On-prescription acne skin care products.

General Acne Skin Products

The general acne skin care products are the ones that are used as an acne-prevention measure.

These include cleansers, make-up removers and similar products that help prevent acne.

In the real sense, these products are just those that should anyway be part of your daily routine.

However, some of these are more oriented to act like an acne skin care product.

They act against the causes of acne like limiting the production of sebum or oil and preventing clogging of skin pores.

Basically, they prevent the oil from getting trapped in pores and hence hamper the growth of bacteria that lead to acne.

The general acne skin care products also include exfoliation products like skin peels.

These work towards removing dead skin cells, hence reducing the possibility of pore-clogging and bacteria development.

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Over-the-Counter Acne Remedies

There are many types of over-the-counter treatments for acne.

When dealing with acne, most people run to the local pharmacy and buy some sort of over-the-counter medication on the basis of recommendations from their friends or perhaps even television ads.

Yet despite friendly suggestions, it is a good idea to consult with a physician before using any kind of over-the-counter medication.

Even though acne is generally a benign condition, a doctor or dermatologist can advise you on what the best course of treatment might be as well as provide further suggestions based on the particular kind of acne you may be suffering from.

Considering the fact that a large number of acne treatment products are available, it can be hard to choose which one to try.

You should not rely strictly upon the advice of friends or family because what may work for one person may not work for another.

Further, you should have some background knowledge about the active ingredients in various acne medications, so you can make a better-informed choice.

One of the most popular ingredients in acne medications is benzoyl peroxide.  Found in gels and ointments, it helps by combating the bacteria that generally help cause acne.

It is also useful for removing dead skin cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin.  It is these dead skin cells which combine with sebum to create blackheads and whiteheads.

Benzoyl peroxide has been proven to be safe and effective in combating lesions.

It can also be used as a means of acne prevention once a breakout has cleared up by keeping the skin free from acne causing bacteria.

You should start with a product that has a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide (e.g. 5%) and sees how your skin responds to it.

The only side effect associated with this ingredient is dry skin, and this can be avoided by decreasing the frequency that it is applied on the skin.

Another ingredient commonly found in a majority of acne medications is salicylic acid.

This prevents acne by clearing up dead skin cells that are accumulating too quickly and clogging the pores.

If the medication you are using contains salicylic acid you should continue to use it after the skin has cleared up to prevent future outbreaks of acne.  The only side effects associated with salicylic acid are dry, irritated skin.


Other Ingredients

Besides the more common ones, there are other ingredients you may see in acne medication such as resorcinol and sulfur.

Resorcinol causes the top layer of skin to peel and the dead skin cells that clog the pores are similarly affected.  It is often combined with sulfur.

Although it is not known how exactly sulfur affects acne conditions, it has continued to be used effectively even after more than 50 years.


Sulfur is often combined with other ingredients besides resorcinol like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

Of all the ingredients that have been listed which are effective in fighting acne or preventing its outbreak, benzoyl peroxide is probably the most versatile.

It can be used in cleansing liquids or bars, as well as lotion, cream, and gels which are applied directly on the skin.

The cleansing products are used once or twice a day, while the creams and lotions can be used as needed.

They should be applied on the skin around the acne as well as the pimples themselves for overall effectiveness.

Also, you should try to avoid getting benzoyl peroxide in the eyes, mouth or nose, as it will cause irritation or inflammation.


Alpha-hydroxy-acid based moisturizers are also popular as acne skin care products.

You might have to try a few before you zero-in on the acne skin care product that is effective for you. If nothing seems to work, you should contact a dermatologist.

Before you purchase acne creams, consider these helpful tips:

1. Most dermatologists recommend acne cream as effective acne skin care treatment product because the skin quickly absorbs it.

2. Acne creams are a good option because these are derived from natural substances and sources. Quality acne creams can even help you get rid of acne without too much acne scarring.

3. Checking the label. Make sure that the acne cream you plan to buy is hypoallergenic and can be used by children or pregnant women without enduring any pain or discomfort. Knowing the ingredients used in the product will ensure that the acne cream has a balanced formulation to deliver effective results.

4. Do a little research on how the formulation and content of these creams help cure the skin infection.

5. Observe how your skin reacts to the acne skin care treatment product. After the initial application, take note of the visible changes so you can avoid possible side effects or allergies.

acne prescription

Turning Medications to Prescriptions

Generally, mild and moderate forms of acne can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but with severe cases, the only recourse is to seek treatment from a dermatologist.

In many cases, the doctor will recommend a prescription medicine to deal with the condition.

It also should be noted that these kinds of medication can be more effective even when dealing with moderate acne than what is typically available over-the-counter.


There are two types of prescription acne medications – oral and topical.


Commonly used to fight acne, antibiotics can be taken orally or as a lotion.  Topical prescription medications may include ingredients such as zinc or retinoid.

Acne skin care treatment products that have antibiotics have been long known as an effective solution for treating moderate to severe and persistent acne.

Oral treatments include products that contain tetracycline, erythromycin, minocycline and doxycycline are known to be effective.

The most common antibiotic used for treating acne is tetracycline.  It is used to kill the bacteria responsible for acne and also reduces inflammation.

Treatment may take several weeks or even months to be effective and it is important to continue using antibiotics even after the acne has cleared up.

A common side effect associated with tetracycline is increased sensitivity to sunlight resulting in bad sunburns if the patient stays in the sun too long.  Further side effects may include dizziness, hives, and upset stomach.

Women who are taking tetracycline may be susceptible to an increase in incidences of vaginal yeast.


Ointments and Topical Solutions

Antibiotic ointments actually have fewer complications than oral antibiotics.  Like oral antibiotics, topical treatments are rather effective in killing bacteria that cause acne.

If you use these ointments with other topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide the bacteria may not develop resistance to the antibiotics. This increases the level of prevention that you will experience.



Retinoids are a form of acne medication that is derived from vitamin A and can be applied directly to the skin typically in the form of lotions or creams.

Topical retinoid medications are useful for treating blackheads and whiteheads by helping to open clogged pores.

Oral retinoids are used to treat the more severe forms of acne because they have a better chance of dealing breakouts and lesions which don’t respond to other treatments.

In addition, oral retinoids cause the upper layer of the skin to peel thereby opening pores.

They also cause the body to produce less sebum – the substance which causes oily skin.

As with many other types of prescription strength medication, a number of serious side effects are associated with oral retinoids.

They can also cause liver damage and depression, so regular medical attention is needed to make sure the patient is not being adversely affected by retinoid treatment.

It is not unheard of for this kind of medication to cause birth defects if mothers are taking them when pregnant, so females should consult their doctor if pregnant, or suspect pregnancy.



Tretinoin is a retinoid. Retinoids are compounds that are derived from Vitamin A. Tretinoin is applied topically on acne and has been found to be very effective.

Tretinoin controls acne effectively by unclogging the pores and promoting the peeling of the affected skin. US FDA approved it in 1971 for the topical treatment of some forms of acne.

Tretinoin is available in the form of a topical gel, liquid or cream. It is normally recommended for use every day at nighttime or at an interval of some days. Your doctor will tell you about that after looking at your acne.

In the beginning of the acne treatment, your acne may get worse with the use of Tretinoin.

The skin may appear red, and an increase in acne sores may be found with scaling of the skin. The normal time period during which improvement is seen is between three to six weeks.

While using Tretinoin for acne treatment, please consult your doctor about the use of any topical medication and also any other product such as lotions and others.

Ask your doctor about the use of shampoos etc. while you are under treatment. You must also inform your doctor if you are using any oral medication.

Pregnancy is to be avoided while using Tretinoin. Please talk to your doctor in detail about that before you begin using Tretinoin for treating your acne.

Tretinoin makes the skin very sensitive to sunlight. Proper sun screening is necessary while using Tretinoin.

If you observe any side effects such as red scaling skin, change in color of skin, stinging in the skin or swelling and if these symptoms do not go away, please consult your doctor immediately.


Retin A

Retin A, a derivative of Vitamin A is not a topical acne medication but it is noted to show great effects on the growth of acne.

It works by drying the skin thus preventing new pimples from developing. However, it is suggested that if you should use this, you must at all times, stay away from the sun as this may only aggravate the skin condition.

Meanwhile, systematic acne medication is one that is taken internally to combat acne. It usually comes in the form of antibiotics.

The type of antibiotic that you may use will depend largely on the severity of the case and your skin type.

The type of antibiotic that you may use will depend largely on the severity of the case and your skin type.

At times, you may be prescribed to use small amounts of antibiotic contents like that in Bacitracin and many over the counter acne medications.

On the average, these acne medications may take six to eight weeks before significant developments take effect.


Other Medications

In some certain cases, your dermatologist may prescribe you with hormonal acne medication treatment.

The principle in most hormonal treatments is to control the release of hormones such as androgens and testosterone.

This happens when the dermatologist decides that a hormone imbalance is the cause of your acne.

Birth control pills are sometimes effective in treating acne in women.  They change hormone levels in the body and can reduce the acne causing effects of testosterone.


How do birth control pills work on acne?

Androgen is group hormones, also known as male hormones in the body are responsible for excess sebum production.

Birth control pills control androgen hormones significantly. Androgen hormones’ activity in sebaceous glands either increases or decreases the production of sebum.

When androgen hormones increase in sebaceous glands, its produces more sebum and so it appears in the form of acne.

This activity is greatly observed in teenagers and young adults especially between the ages of 12 and 24 when they experience many physical changes.

However, it must be noted here that there are mainly two types of birth control pills available.

One is Progestin Only Pill (POP) and other is Combination Pill (having progestin and estrogen hormones).

These combination birth control pills come in different combination level of progestin and estrogen hormones.

The estrogens may be in the form of Ethinyl estradiol. In fact, this is the Ethinyl estradiol that controls the level of androgen hormones in the sebaceous glands.

In 1997, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved low-dose birth control pill Ortho Tri-cyclen to be used for acne treatment.

It controls the production of androgen hormones in sebaceous glands and thus reduces acne to appear significantly.



In combination with oral contraceptives, doctors also may prescribe an anti-androgen.

These drugs inhibit androgen production in the ovaries and adrenal glands and help prevent existing androgens from causing excessive oil production.

Spironolactone, a high blood pressure medicine with anti-androgenic properties, has proven quite effective in the treatment of acne.

Side effects may include breast tenderness, menstrual irregularities (in women not using oral contraceptives), headache and fatigue. Since it’s also a diuretic, you may experience frequent urination as well.

NOTE: Spironolactone is teratogenic and can cause feminization of a male fetus. If you are sexually active and not taking “the pill,” it’s imperative that you use another form of birth control.



Small doses of corticosteroids, like prednisone or dexamethasone, may curb inflammation and suppress the androgens produced by the adrenal glands.

Keep in mind that in some acne sufferers, corticosteroids may actually aggravate acne. They’re most effective when used in combination with oral contraceptives.

Despite the fact that birth control pills work effectively on acne treatment, it is certainly not advisable for sexually inactive and teenagers to use them as the medium of acne treatment unless they consult their physician or doctor first.

if you think your acne is hormonally induced, see your doctor right away. While this kind of acne requires a different course of treatment, it is highly treatable.

For patients who suffer from moderate to severe acne, doctors may prescribe a combination of topical remedies and oral antibiotics.

The most common oral medications used to treat acne are tetracycline, minocycline, doxycycline, and erythromycin.

These are some varied list and options for treating acne from over the counter medications to prescriptions.

Along with the recommendation of your dermatologist, choose wisely and use a lot of caution which among these options you will use.


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