Choosing the Best Over-the-Counter Acne Cream

Whether you have periodic acne breakouts or you always seem to have a pimple or two, there are a variety of over-the-counter products that can help you treat and prevent acne. While all the lotions and potions that you find on the shelf of your favorite drugstore or department store share the same mission – to promote healthy, beautiful skin – they go about it in different ways. Different formulas with different active ingredients are effective against different types of breakouts. Here’s a quick guide on what to look for when choosing an over-the-counter acne cream.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide, which is one of the most common acne-fighters you’ll find on the shelf, kills acne-causing bacteria and removes dead skin and excess oil from the pores. Over-the-counter acne creams will contain this multi-tasking ingredient in strengths from 2.5 to 10 percent. While benzoyl peroxide is quite effective, it can be a little hard on sensitive skin. The most common reactions are dryness, peeling, and redness. It can also bleach fabric, so be sure to rinse your hands thoroughly after applying it, and if you apply it before bed, make sure that it is dry before your head hits the pillow.


Activated charcoal is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in acne cream. It works by acting like a magnet to draw dead skin cells, dirt, and oil out of the pores. It brings balance to the skin, controlling excess shine in oily or combination skin. It’s also gentle, making it a good option for people with dry or sensitive skin. While charcoal can be found in some lotions and spot treatments, it’s most commonly found in scrubs and face soap.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid works by preventing pores from becoming clogged. You’ll find it in over-the-counter creams in strengths from 0.5 to 5 percent. Like benzoyl peroxide, it can cause some skin irritation, so users with sensitive skin will want to start off slowly.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Glycolic acid and lactic acid, two types of alpha hydroxy acids, are found in some over-the-counter acne-fighting treatments. They help to get rid of dead skin cells, fight inflammation, and stimulate cell production. This not only cuts down on breakouts but also helps to reduce the appearance of acne scars.

No matter what type of acne cream you choose, it’s important to give it time to work. You probably won’t get the results you want overnight, but with time and consistency, you’ll see improved skin.

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