Acne Treatment Review – Popular Over the Counter Drugs

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or medications do not require a prescription. When we enter a drugstore or supermarket, we will find the aisles filled with such products that come in fancy packaging – gels, pads, lotions, creams, cleansers, ointments, wipes, foams, soaps or masks. They can be oil-free, organic, hypoallergenic, herbal, protein-rich, radiant, non-comedogenic, dermatologist-tested etc. This is why the lay person gets confused when confronted with such a wide choice and wonders, which are the most popular over-the-counter drugs for acne?

What are the Popular Over-the-Counter Drugs?

When we ask for OTC products for acne, we will find when comparing labels that most of them contain at least one active ingredient combined with several inactive ingredients. Active ingredients for acne used in OTC drugs are:

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Salicylic acid
  • Sulfur 
  • Resorcinol

These are the ingredients found in popular over-the-counter drugs. The choice of which ingredient we go for depends really on the type of acne. Of these, 2 ingredients, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most popular and the other two less so. 

Benefits of OTC drugs for Acne

The following are some of the benefits of the popular over-the-counter drugs.

Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is an extremely effective topical product that is safe to use. It is available usually as a cream or lotion that is directly applied on the affected areas. The first product that most dermatologists will recommend is benzoyl peroxide especially for whiteheads or blackheads.   

Benzoyl peroxide is an anti-bacterial agent that penetrates the skin and kills P.acnes. It also possesses mild peeling and drying properties Over the Counter Drugs for acnethat help to prevent further outbreaks and lessen inflammation. A concentration of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is sufficient for higher concentrations can produce various side effects.  It is the best acne-fighting ingredient and therefore very useful to treat acne in both teenagers and adults. 

Salicylic Acid
This ingredient is popularly used in OTC acne medications with strength of up to 2%. Normally salicylic acid pads are the popular OTC products used. When hair follicles on the skin shed very quickly, they can clump together and combine with excess oil and dirt to clog pores and cause acne outbreaks. Salicylic acid slows down this excessive shedding of cells within the follicles and therefore prevents clogging. It can also prevent outbreaks of blackheads and whiteheads.  Since it is oil soluble, it can penetrate acne pores that are clogged with oil. These actions of salicylic acid helps to clear blockages and the skin can renew faster. 

This product is used in combination with other active OTC ingredients like salicylic acid, alcohol and resorcinol. Sulfur can treat acne by cleansing the skin and by curing inflammatory conditions.  It is often used as an ingredient in cosmetics. OTC drugs with sulfur can peel off dead skin cells and reveal unblemished new skin cells.  

This product is combined with sulfur or other OTC products to fight acne. It helps by removing hard, scaly and roughened skin.  It can also clear excess oil and remove dead skin cells. It can cure whiteheads and blackheads. 

Limitations and Precautions for Acne OTC drugs

The following are some of the limitations of the popular over-the-counter drugs and the precautions, which need to be followed when using them.

Benzoyl Peroxide produces a few side effects like blistering, tingling or stinging feeling of the skin, dry and peeling skin, rashes, burning, redness, and inflammation. You must report to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.  This product must not be used if you demonstrate an allergic reaction. Inform your doctor about all medications including vitamin supplements you are taking, for any one of these can react adversely with benzoyl peroxide. 

Benzoyl peroxide can bleach the hair and fabrics. It must not be used at the same time as other acne medications, skin products or products that induce photosensitivity.  

Salicylic Acid must not be used along with other OTC products, medicated soaps or cosmetics for it can cause irritation.  Common side effects redness,  stinging, flushing, skin irritation, dry and peeling skin. When more serious side effects like diarrhea, rapid breathing or nausea happen, you must refer to your doctor at once. 

Sulfur side effects includes hives, itching, chest tightness, swelling of hands and face, breathing problems, scaling and redness of skin, tingling or swelling of the mouth or throat.  The strong odor of rotten eggs is a turn-off for most users. Other side effects include skin discoloration.  Never use sulfur with other OTC medications and if you have kidney problems. 

Resorcinol can cause redness, peeling of skin and skin irritations.  More serious side effects can be headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, drowsiness, nervousness or sweating. These symptoms must be reported to the doctor at once. Never use resorcinol with other OTC products for acne, abrasive cleansers, products that contain alcohol, medicated soaps or cosmetics. 

User Comments

The following are some of the reviews based on user comments for these popular over-the-counter drugs.

  • Users have rated benzoyl peroxide as being an excellent product for mild or moderate acne. There were signs of acne clearing. The price is moderate. Minor issues were regarding the dryness and minor skin irritation that was experienced but which cleared by using a good moisturizer. It may not be suitable for those with sensitive skin.  
  • Products with salicylic acid especially the pads are extremely effective to clear acne. These products are priced moderately. It is not so ideal for sensitive skin. Most users recommend it for moderate or mild acne. 
  • The acne face mask that uses sulfur received good reviews from users. Their acne cleared, redness reduced, it is not very expensive, and the product is easy to use. Minor issues concern the strong odor of sulfur, and that it dries skin. 
  • An OTC product using resorcinol and sulfur combination was recommended by users as it is easy to use, effective, soothing to inflamed skin and minimizes pores. Some issues were concerning the fact that it dries skin.