Here are common active ingredients found in OTC acne products and how they work to treat acne.
- Benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient kills the bacteria that cause acne, helps remove excess oil from the skin and removes dead skin cells, which can clog pores. Works great for white heads.
- Salicylic acid. This ingredient helps prevent pores from becoming plugged. Products with salicylic acid in them will help exfoliate and peel away the layers of dead skin cells, thus helping to unclog and get rid of black heads.
- Alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids treat acne by helping to remove dead skin cells and reduce inflammation. Alpha hydroxy acids also stimulate the growth of new, smoother skin. This helps improve the appearance of acne scars and gives the impression of smaller pores. Look for ingredients like Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid.
- Sulfur. Sulfur removes dead skin cells that clog pores and helps remove excess oil. It's often combined with other ingredients, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or resorcinol.
- Retinoids, which include over-the-counter retinol and prescription-strength Retin-A, reduce acne by altering the oil chemistry on the skin. They help stop dense sebum from getting stuck within the pores . Without oil deposits, bacteria can’t grow and cause blemishes.
**Those who suffer from blackheads, whiteheads, or occasional pimples should not consider retinol for acne because these forms of mild acne can be better treated with ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. However, if you have acne that has not responded to lighter ingredients, it may be time to try a retinol.