How to Tackle Acne Without a Prescription
Acne is a very common skin condition that usually manifests at the beginning of puberty, but can last into the late teens and adulthood as well. Everyone with acne is affected differently, some only to a mild degree and others more severely to the point where their quality of life may be significantly decreased. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent acne breakouts from rearing its ugly head!
A variety of factors contribute to acne, including oil production on the skin, presence of bacteria, inflammation and more. These can all be worsened by fluctuating hormones and dietary changes, which are things that can vary on a day-to-day basis. Almost everyone gets the occasional blackhead or whitehead, but some develop other inflammatory lesions such as pustules, papules, cysts and nodules which may result in scarring. It is important to not only get rid of existing acne lesions, but to prevent new ones from forming and scarring from occurring. There is some low-quality evidence to suggest that non-drug measures such as reducing sugar and dairy in one’s diet, properly cleansing the skin twice a day and not picking or squeezing lesions may be helpful in non-severe acne, however, the cornerstone of acne treatment relies on drugs. Luckily, there are many different over-the-counter (OTC) products that you can try before seeing your doctor for prescription medication.
What is BENZOYL PEROXIDE?
Benzoyl peroxide, or BPO, is commonly found in OTC acne products. It helps kill acne-causing bacteria without bacterial resistance and resolves blackheads and whiteheads. BPO is usually applied once to twice a day and it may take a few weeks to see a positive effect. This is commonplace among acne products! Downsides to BPO are that it may be mildly irritating to the skin and cause the bleaching of clothing and bedsheets.
What is SALICYLIC ACID?
Salicylic acid is also commonly formulated in topical acne products that are found OTC. Just like BPO, salicylic acid helps to resolve blackheads and whiteheads. When applied to the skin, salicylic acid has an additional anti-inflammatory effect and helps to reduce redness and swelling. Generally, it is recommended that the maximum strength of salicylic acid to be used is 2% as anything stronger would be highly irritating to the skin. Side effects for salicylic acid include skin irritation and dryness.
What is AZELAIC ACID?
Azelaic acid is found less commonly in topical OTC products that treat acne, usually up to a concentration of 10%. At a concentration of 15%, azelaic acid gel is used to treat acne that is associated with rosacea. Like BPO and salicylic acid, azelaic acid helps to resolve blackheads and whiteheads. It helps to reduce pigmentation and discoloration associated with acne and kills certain bacteria that cause acne. Skin irritation is possible with the application of azelaic acid.
What is CHARCOAL?
Charcoal is a common substance found in acne products, face masks, and shampoos today. While its purposes today are primarily cosmetic, it has historically been used for poisonings. In the gut, charcoal binds to toxins and prevents them from getting absorbed. This is similar to its theoretical purpose for acne, that charcoal binds bacteria and dirt in pores and prevents the development of blemishes. Current evidence suggests that while charcoal is generally safe to be used (albeit slightly irritating), there is a lack of solid evidence suggesting its effectiveness for acne.
What is TEA TREE OIL?
Tea tree oil is another commonly found substance in acne products. Current low-quality evidence suggests that tea tree oil might be able to reduce the number of acne spots and lesions, but it may be irritating to the skin.
Because many of these are widely available in community drugstores, make sure to ask a pharmacist for product recommendations. At EasyDrugs, a pharmacist is available from 9am to 5pm to speak to you about your medication concerns and questions! If you have tried OTC products without any signs of improvement, consider speaking to a doctor about stronger prescription-grade therapies.
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- Cao H, Yang G, Wang Y, Liu JP, Smith CA, Luo H, et al. Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jan 19;1:CD009436.