When considering acne medications, there are several options. From drugstore to specialty retailer, the offerings are endless. You may know which ingredients you want, but which ones do you NOT want in an acne medication? Read on to find out more.
Common over-the-counter (OTC) medications include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, tea tree oil, alpha hydroxy acids, and sulfur. These ingredients can be found in all manner of products, including cleansers, toners, leave-on gels and creams, moisturizers, and even makeup. But there may be other ingredients in these products that can hinder getting your skin cleared up or even make acne worse.
While you should not necessarily avoid any OTC medications, do note that some people have trouble tolerating benzoyl peroxide or any of the medications in combination. So if you want to try out benzoyl peroxide, which is great for bacterial acne, start with a low strength, like the 2.5% in the Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment, before moving on to higher strengths.
One of the most common ingredients in skin care products of all types is alcohol. If found in smaller amounts near the end of the ingredient list, it’s usually not an issue. But ingredients like denatured alcohol and SD alcohol are extremely drying. Your skin may already be dry from your acne medication, but very dry skin overproduces oil, leading to increased acne. These ingredients also break down the surface layers of skin that are there to protect the deeper layers.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is another ingredient to avoid. Often found in cleansers or cleansing scrubs, it can cause major sensitivity in skin. When your skin is already adjusting to acne medication, the last thing you need is for it to be even more sensitive. Look for low or no foaming cleansers, such as the First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser.
Fragrance is something else that should be avoided for acne-prone skin. Fragrance in skincare and cosmetics is often a blend of several essential oils or synthetic compounds and can easily irritate skin, especially in leave-on products, like a moisturizer, because your skin is exposed to it for several hours each day.
For the DIY’ers out there, avoid apple cider vinegar, homemade scrubs, essential oils (tea tree oil is the exception), and witch hazel. All are known to be skin-sensitizing and essential oils may even trigger breakouts. Scrubs (even those that are not homemade) can irritate acne and make it worse.
You may see vitamins or supplements that tout themselves as being helpful for acne-prone skin, but these usually do not work in clearing acne and have very little science behind them. While not an acne medication, you definitely want to avoid these.
If OTC medications do not seem to be working (it may take up to 12 weeks to see a difference and it may take some trial and error) and you are avoiding harmful ingredients, you may need a trip to the dermatologist to see if your skin responds better to prescription medication.
Lia is a makeup addict in Washington, D.C. When not at her digital marketing day job, she explores all things beauty and works as personal makeup shopper. She enjoys a strong latte in the mornings and a strong cocktail in the evenings.