First Line Acne Treatments

These are acne treatments that you can buy without a prescription.

Self-medication for acne

You, as the consumer, can choose what you wish to buy and are able to do so without any restrictions. These will usually be first line treatments that can be used as soon as your skin begins to show signs of acne. They can be bought from various suppliers, including herbal or homoeopathic practitioners, the Internet, beauty salons, supermarkets and pharmacies. However, do ensure that any treatments that you buy online are bought from reputable websites.

What you seek in a treatment should depend upon how bad the acne usually is. The odd spot on an otherwise acne free skin type could be treated with emergency spot remedies that can be dabbed on. These will reduce surface redness and calm the spot, helping to speed up healing. However, be aware that such products should not be used on broken skin, or for on-going acne use in the place of other treatments designed to be used on a long term basis.

Milder acne problems can be helped with a selection of products that come in a variety of formulations such as wipes, masks, cleansers, pads and strips. Often deciding which to use is merely a matter of preference and budget. Try to avoid using too many at once as using more does not mean that your skin will clear any faster.

Usually the first place to go for self-help treatments would be the pharmacist or supermarket. For mild acne start with a wash designed for acne skin types. For blackheads and blocked skin, try products that have an exfoliating action on the skin. Exfoliation is when the top (dead skin cell) layers are removed either by the action of a rough cloth or by products containing something that will have the same abrasive action.

A simple guide to self-help treatments

  • Emergency spot treatments will target redness and inflammation and may soothe the skin.
  • Anti-spot products need to work on at least one of the four main causes of acne. They might affect abnormal cell growth, for examples, or target the bacteria.
  • There is an extensive range of washes, exfoliators and skin care products that can be used at the first signs of acne and that will be suitable for most skin types (sensitive, greasy and so on). These are usually an excellent starting point.

Key acne fighting ingredients

Look for products aimed at greasy, acne type or spot prone skin. These ranges will usually include ingredients that help reduce redness and remove surface skin cells in an exfoliating action.

Benzoyl peroxide:

This is one of the oldest and still most effective ingredients, this chemical attacks the bacteria that cause acne spots. In order to thrive, bacteria require an oxygen free environment, which is why the blocked poor is such an ideal breeding ground for acne. However, where benzoyl peroxide steps in is by introducing oxygen into the follicle. This oxygen helped to kill the bacteria and reduces the inflammation and redness. Many prescription acne treatments still contain this useful ingredient, and many dermatologists firmly believe in its benefits in helping mild to moderate acne. The other main advantage of benzoyl peroxide is at that it prevents the development of antibiotic resistance.

Despite its usefulness in treating acne, be aware of two important problems with benzoyl peroxide:

  • It is likely to cause excessive drying and /or redness of the skin.
  • It won’t bleach your skin but it will bleach anything else it comes into contact with. That includes hair, eyebrows, towels and bedding. Use old towels or bed sheets to avoid mishaps.

Benzoyl peroxide is available in different strengths tween to 2% and 10%. Some studies have compared these different strengths. The results of the studies suggest that using the lowest percentages (two, 4.5 or five) gives the same results as the higher (10%). The advantage of sticking with the lower strength is that there will be less chance of experiencing unwanted side-effects such as tingling, redness, dryness or irritation.

A wide range of acne creams/lotions and washes contain benzoyl peroxide. Take a careful look at the ingredient list and note the percentage. If there is a choice of percentages, try the lowest first. You can always move up in strength if you feel that you need to later.

Salicylic acid:

This common ingredient can also be found in aspirin and wart treatments. It works very well as a natural exfoliator. By removing dead skin cells it reduces blockages within the skin that cause blackheads to form.

Do not be put off by the word ‘acid’ as this doesn’t mean that it will melt the skin away. This type of product is commonly found in a wide range of skincare products that are especially formulated for greasy, spot prone skins, and may come in different strengths. You can find salicylic acid in washes, cleansers, pads and lotions. It is even added to make up and cover sticks.

Used on its own it is unlikely to solve anything more than a mild acne problem common, but it can be useful as part of a skincare regime at the same time as treating your skin with prescription products. Like benzoyl peroxide it can be drying, but applying an oil free moisturiser afterwards will help. Some skin care products contain only the lowest amount of salicylic acid, so try to find those with a higher percentage (5% or more).

Be aware that it should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. This also applies to women who are likely to become pregnant. If you are allergic to aspirin, then you should not use salicylic containing products.

Other self-medications

As long as you stick to the two-month rule you can try a range of self-medications from the pharmacist or supermarket. Many of the will be marketed at teenagers but are not exclusively for teenage skin. Brand names aside, many of the ranges available off the shelf will contain the same basic range of ingredients, which may or may not include benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. There are other ingredients that may help to reduce bacteria or blocked pores or both. The current list is extensive and the choice is down to individual preference and budget. However, bear in mind three things:

  • Evidence they work may be minimal – few or no studies may have been done to compare them against other proven treatments.
  • Often the same key acne fighting ingredients are available in the same brand range but in different strengths. If in doubt, start with the mildest first and work up.
  • Do not wait for these types of treatment to work if your skin seems to be getting progressively worse or scarring (remember the two-month rule).