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How Do I Choose the Best Topical Acne Treatment?

By Kaiser Castro
Updated May 17, 2024
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Selecting the best topical acne treatment does not have to be a complicated venture. Most medications will be formulated with benzoyl peroxide or a chemical exfoliant. Benzoyl peroxide is a viable option for oily skin, and chemical exfoliators are a beneficial for those that need something a bit gentler. Prescription-grade medications should be left for those suffering from chronic flare-ups.

Benzoyl peroxide is a popular method of controlling acne lesions on the face. Most over-the-counter medications that are formulated with benzoyl peroxide will have a lower concentration of the medicine, with more potent formulations usually being readily available through a dermatologist. Benzoyl peroxide works by killing the acne-causing bacteria, acne vulgaris.

Treatments formulated with benzoyl peroxide are effective in treating existing acne lesions. Caution will have to be taken, as this topical acne treatment can bleach clothing. Aggressive chemicals in benzoyl peroxide can even create a rash, especially for individuals who have sensitive skin. Topical acne treatment formulated with this medical will usually be in gel or cream form, usually pale in color.

Glycolic acid is a mild chemical exfoliator that is noted to increase cellular turnover. The acid is able to slough off dead skin cells and open up clogged pores, which is a hallmark for individuals who are suffering from acne. Glycolic acids are versatile, being able to deliver its exfoliating powers via facial cleansers. Usually found in moisturizers and serums, the glycolic acid is gentle enough to use on sensitive skin types.

Beta-hydroxy acid consists of a family of organic acids that are used in acne medications. Closely related to glycolic acid, these types of acids will slough the dead skin cells off of the epidermis. A popular type of beta-hydroxy acid found in topical acne treatments is salicylic acid. This topical acne treatment is not only able to increase cellular turn over, but it can also help normalize the pH level on the surface of the skin. Thus, salicylic acid helps regulate excessive sebum production.

Cystic or chronic acne breakouts will require prescription grade medications. Tretinoin is a popular medicine prescribed by doctors. The active ingredient in tretinoin is vitamin A, which completely halts the skin’s production of sebum. Tretinoin will have to be administered for a number of months for success. Though effective, the treatment can dry out the skin and is not recommended for individuals with sensitive skin or for those suffering from rosacea.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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