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Do OTC Acne Treatments Really Work?

By Erika Luceri-Johnson

When it comes to fighting acne, over-the-counter (OTC) products are often the first recourse for the blemish-stricken. Luckily, finding an effective face wash or cream can be as easy as going down to the nearest drugstore — as long as you know what to look for. Here’s what makes OTC treatments so effective, and what you should look for to get the most bang for your buck:

Keeping Things Clean

When it comes to battling blemishes, simply washing your face is one of the best ways to improve your complexion in both the short- and long-term. With (gentle!) cleansing twice daily, you can significantly reduce the buildup of oils and dirt that typically clogs the pores and causes  breakouts.

It’s important to note that not every acne wash is created equal, and everyone’s skin is different; so a solution that works wonders for your friend could actually make your acne worse. Before you begin an OTC treatment, you should consult a dermatologist in order to find the right face wash for your skin type, which will help maximize the efficacy of your regimen while minimizing the risk of irritation.

The Magic Of Benzoyl Peroxide

While there’s no magical cure-all treatment for acne, benzoyl peroxide comes pretty close. As the Mayo Clinic notes, benzoyl peroxide is the best place to start when experimenting with OTC solutions. An effective anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial product, benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria even better than some prescribed antibiotic lotions, like clindamycin.

While benzoyl peroxide is effective for most skin types, it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way. Start with a low dose to determine your sensitivity — if your skin gets too dry, it could become irritated, which could actually worsen your breakout. For those with sensitive skin, many doctors recommend using a benzoyl peroxide product in the morning, and a gentle cleanser at night.

Other Acne-Fighting Ingredients

Of course, benzoyl peroxide isn’t the only acne-fighting ingredient you can purchase without a prescription. If you’re not sure where to start, Women’s Health made a useful list of some of the OTC superstar ingredients to look for in your local drugstore, including salicylic and glycolic acid. Between doing away with dead skin cells and unclogging sebum-filled pores, these readily available ingredients can actually be used in tandem with benzoyl peroxide, making your at-home routine even more effective.

One of the wonderful things about using OTC products is that companies are constantly coming out with newer, more effective solutions. With that in mind, tried-and-true treatments are often preferable — those who have been fighting acne for a while might remember Differin Gel, a prescription-only product that made its debut on the market more than a decade ago. As of July, the FDA-approved Differin for OTC use, meaning this time-tested product should be available at drugstores near you in no time. While it’s up to you (and your skin type) to decide whether this product is worth taking a test drive, the fact remains: with exciting new treatments coming to market every day, OTC solutions are more viable (and more effective!) than ever before.

Looking for help with your acne? Join ClearlyDerm’s Virtual Acne Program for personalized treatments without the hassle of an in-office visit.

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