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There are many over the counter treatment for acne available in market, but with all these range of products its difficult which or how these products works on you. Not every active acne treatment ingredients work the same way, So before you go for the closest pharmacy or store to buy so called “Best over the counter acne treatment“, Its very important to learn how these over the counter acne products work and what ingredients should you look for. We’ll give a short review on these products and some common brand names you choose to buy.

Salicylic Acid

Good for non-inflammatory acne lesions. It is considered moderately effective in the treatment of acne. It is usually used as a alternative therapy to topical retinoid or benzoyl peroxide, as some patients can’t tolerate retinoids and benzoyl peroxide due to skin irritation. Its helps by slowing the shedding process of cells within a hair follicles and further preventing the pores from clogging. It break down whiteheads and blackheads. Sometimes it might cause mild skin irritation for some people.

Dermatologist may use in different concentrations ranging from 0.5% to 10% of SA in the treatment of acne, but concentrations ranging from 3% to 6% are more commonly used for psoriasis, ichthyoses, keratosis pilaris and other hyperkeratotic skin disorders. For wart and Corn removal it can be used in concentration ranging from 5% to 40%. We are talking about OTC, so the maximum strength of SA available for OTC acne products range from 0.5% to 2% , either cream or lotion. Salicylic Acid is an FDA Pregnancy Category C drug, and the safety of Salicylic Acid for breast feeding mother is unknown. But is approved for use in child acne.

Common brand names Containing Salicylic Acid are:
Neutrogena Acne Rapid Clear Daily Treatment Pads
Olay 7-In-1 Anti-Aging Salicylic Acid Acne Cleanse
DDF Acne Control Treatment
Noxzema Anti-Acne Gel
Noxzema Anti-Acne Pads
Clearasil Clearstick,
Oxy Night Watch
L’Oreal’s Acne Response

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl Peroxide is one of the most common and effective treatment available for acne treatment. Dermatologist usually used as a first-line therapy for treating acne. It helps kill the bacteria ( P. acnes) and also helps unclog pores and remove dead cells, excess oil and reduce inflammation. It is effective against both non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne. It can improves your acne within 5 days but may depend on person to person and severity. Research suggest that fixed-combination products containing Benzoyl Peroxide and a topical antibiotic are more effective than BPO alone or topical antibiotics alone. So if you find improvement with OTC BPO you might want to consult dermatologist for replacement with combination prescription products to get better results.

The usual strength that are available over the counter in the markets range from 2.5% to 10%. Interestingly, Research suggest that 10% BPO has never been shown to be more effective than the 5% concentration. So in this case more is not necessarily better, more concentration means just more side effects. So, if your skin is more sensitive to the peeling, drying and erythema caused by BPO, you can go with 2.5% BPO which is equally effective than larger concentration and is less irritating . It can cause more dryness and more sensitive to ultravoilet ( UV) exposure. So always follow the instruction before use. Also, avoid contact with the clothes and hair as it has a bleaching effect. Its application during pregnancy and breast feeding have not been adequately studied. So it should be used only if clearly needed or as doctor advice.

Common Brand Names containing Benzoyl peroxide:
Neutrogena On-the-Spot
Benzaderm Gel
Glytone 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Gel
MD Formulations Benzoyl Peroxide 10

Sulfur and Resorcinol

Resorcinol helps control acne lesion and remove dead skin cells and with combination with sulfur together they helps reduce oil and remove blackheads and whiteheads and other dead skin cells. They are usually sold on market with a strength ranging from 1% to 5% to 8% to 10% and may be found as lotions, creams, soaps and ointment. Although some might mind unpleasant odor but side effects are rare beside dry skin.

Common brand names Containing Sulfur and resorcinol:
Clearasil Medicated Blemish Cream
Clearasil Medicated Blemish Stick
Clearasil Adult Care
Rezamid Lotion
Glytone Flesh Tinted Acne Treatment Lotion
Acne-Aid Gel
Acnomel Skin Tone
Acnomel Vanishing
Night Cast S

Alpha Hydroxy Acid

There are two types of Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) found in OTC, namely Glycolic acid (from sugar cane) and lactic acid (from milk). AHAs possess exfoliative capability by decreasing the deposition of dead keratin cells in the lower layers of the stratum corneum. They also possess ability to break basal layer melanin and increase collagen synthesis within the dermis. Which is thought to be a important role in acne prevention as well as treatment of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. They are usually available OTC in concentrations up to 10%. They are generally found in the form of creams, lotions, soaps and “peel kits”.

Common brand names Containing Alpha Hydroxy Acid:
MD Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel
Neutrogena Advanced Solutions Complete Acne Therapy System
DCL Alpha Hydroxy Beta Hydroxy Acne Gel
Bliss Change Your Spots(TM) Acne Gel
Murad Post Acne Spot Lightening Gel

Alcohol and Acetone

For a oily type of skin this Alcohol and acetone in combination with other ingredients as described above may be used. Alcohol has mild antimicrobial properties and acetone removes excess and dirt from the skin. Together they help reducing oil and dirt and unclog pores.

Common brand names Containing Alcohol and acetone:
Seba-Nil Liquid Cleanser
Tyrosum Liquid Acne Skin Cleanser
Glytone Acne Treatment Toner

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is an essential oil of the Australian native tree Melaleucaalternifolia. Tea tree oil has been used in countries like Australia as a topical antiseptic agent for decades and few research studies have shown that it has variety of antimicrobial activities. The efficacy of topical tea tree oil as a therapy for acne has been evaluated in one study and it showed that 5% tea tree oil gel significantly reduced both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne lesions. It was found that although it had slower onset of action then 5% benzoyl peroxide lotion, but the side effects were fewer then that of benzoyl peroxide lotion. Few people may experience allergic contact dermatitis. They are usually sold in combination with other acne medications or herbal medications.

Common brand names Containing Tea Tree Oil:
Desert Essence – Blemish Touch Stick with Eco-Harvest Tea Tree Oil
DDF Benzoyl Peroxide Gel 5% with Tea Tree Oil
Doctor D. Schwab Controlling Mask with Tea Tree Oil
Camella Acne Facial Foam Blemish Treatment Tea Tree oil
GlyMed Plus – Serious Action Skin Gel with Tea Tree Oil

So before you buy any products make sure to look for the ingredients that suits your skin type and don’t just jump to some miracle products that claims to treat your acne within 2-3 days. Its about your look, make a wise choice.

if you have any problem in choosing over the counter acne products or need any suggestion please ask our experts at : DermaTalk Skin Care Advice Forum.

Updated: Feb-01-2010


  1. Bryan
    December 5, 2009 at 3:17 am

    I’m afraid to use any of these cosmetic products, I’m afraid it may harm my skin more. However, I guess I let a try. Thanks for posting this one!

  2. Frank H
    December 15, 2009 at 7:44 am

    One thing to find the best acne solution is to know the causes of acne. It also helps to stick to that facial care treatment that fits you regardless if it is expensive or not.

  3. Trackback: Over The Counter Acne Treatment « Dermatalk SkinCare Blog
  4. Hans
    May 14, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I think it depends on the skin type. I used ProActive and it helped but didnt clear my skin. The Clean and Clear Acne System was a heck of a lot cheaper and helped a whole lot more! Of course I had to stop using it when I got pregnant, and thank God pregnancy helps with clear skin!

  5. Michael Davis
    July 4, 2010 at 4:21 am

    I’m afraid to try skin care products without the guidance of my derma as I might just get more acne. I’m an acne sufferer for almost 4yrs and I hope I can end it soon.

  6. eliminate acne scar
    October 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I can actually testify of salicylic acid because i have used it before with a proven result.That was when i had wart on me however i had to take a pill afterwards as well.Ever since then,it has been a past tense for me.Thus these products do work if you will really take your time to know how they wrok.

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  8. Julie Cav
    July 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Great post. I’m always searching for relevant acne treatment information to share with my own readers, and this gave me more ammunition going forward.

    Thanks very much for the help. Keep up the great work!

  9. carrie
    July 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    The best over the counter medication that i currently use i glycolic acid or witch hazel. They are both really effective for my type of acne which is the cystic type.

  10. Lisa
    August 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Salicylic Acid is really very effective in acne treatment but we should look for the root cause of acne then we should give treatment so that it can be removed from the root….

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  12. G Bloom
    November 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Aknicare works best for me! It was recommended to me and it is the best recommendation I’ve ever had. It is endorsed by one of the UKs top dermatologists at Hammersmith Hospital and he is also director of one of the acne charities.

    You can try it for free on their website and they often have good deals on. I’d definitely recommend you give it a try.

  13. Avril McCormack
    November 4, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I have tried many over the counter acne creams.

    The only one that has worked for me is Pomada De Azufre Sulfur Ointment

  14. acne and pimple treatment at home
    August 9, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Perhaps one of the best home remedies for acne is the application
    of pure sandalwood paste on the skin. And most of these homeopathic
    cures for acne scars are usually inexpensive
    options to almost all cosmetic merchandise over the counter, which can
    be pricey and include substances. Mix equal amounts of lemon juice and groundnut oil; apply to the
    affected area.

  15. Maria
    January 5, 2015 at 11:01 am

    I always had a fascination of tying out exotic treatments for my acne and at times some of them paid off well. Very recently I got hold of the Problematik Skin Mask from Sakare and since using it my face has been largely free from acne. I typically use it once every week and the results I have been getting has encouraged me to try out more of their products.
    Even my boyfriend seems to appreciate the difference in my face and I can definitely recommend Sakare to anyone looking to pamper their skin

  16. Edna
    September 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the post i really liked it!

  17. Shasta Popick
    February 6, 2017 at 12:15 am

    Your stuff is incredibly helpful.|

  18. kepago
    August 18, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the challenges.
    It was truly informative. Your website is useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  19. Trackback: What is Maskne (Mask Acne): Its Treatment and Prevention - DermaTalk
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