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Gels for Acne

There are many different kinds of gels for acne. It's important to choose an acne gel that meets your skin type and your needs.
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Topical acne treatments come in many different styles.

While creams, cleansers, and spot treatments all exist, acne gels are potentially the most popular. Gels for acne tend to be more gentle on the skin and easier to apply, and can be placed over the entire face.

Acne gels also tend to absorb better into the skin so those using gels rarely feel as though they have placed an acne treatment on their face.

There are several different types of acne gels. In this article, we'll review some of the different types of acne gels and their overall effectiveness on clearing acne.

Types of Acne Gels

Benzoyl Peroxide Gels for Acne

The most commonly recommended gel is benzoyl peroxide.

The World Health Organizations considers benzoyl peroxide an essential medicine when it comes to fighting acne.

It has three benefits that allow it to prevent acne breakouts:

Benefits of Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide naturally kills bacteria on the skin – bacteria that is generally the cause of acne. By killing that bacteria, your pores are less likely to become inflamed and you'll have less acne overall.

Benzoyl peroxide appears to inject air into the pore itself. The cause of acne is clogged pores (usually clogged by bacteria). By injecting air into the pore, the pore is unable to clog up and acne is unable to form.

Benzoyl peroxide fights inflammation. No acne treatment can be 100% perfect, so when acne appears, benzoyl peroxide minimizes its appearance, causing it to be less visibly pronounced than it would be otherwise. 


Benzoyl peroxide acne gel is known to be one of the few commonly effective treatments for acne with a considerable amount of research evidence. It comes in 2.5%, 5%, and 10% solutions.

Yet while it's known that benzoyl peroxide is effective, it's not that popular a treatment among those that use it. That's because the chemicals in benzoyl peroxide can be harsh on the skin. This may lead to several complications that stop motivating people to use the gels.

First, benzoyl peroxide can severely irritate the skin. Some people report that their faces burn and become incredibly red. This type of irritation can also lead to peeling, stinging, and other unwanted reactions.

Second, benzoyl peroxide may lead to allergic reactions, much like other medications. The reactions are similar to the natural reactions of benzoyl peroxide on skin. Redness peeling, itching, rash, and swelling may all occur if you have developed an allergy to this type of acne gel.

Finally, researchers believe that there may be some long term consequences of using this type of acne treatment for a long period of time. Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical, and thus not natural for your skin. Preliminary evidence suggests that using benzoyl peroxide could potentially increase your risk for unhealthy skin conditions, including skin cancer.

Beyond these reasons, many people simply prefer not to put harsh chemicals on their skin, and some people's skin is simply too sensitive to handle the effects of benzoyl peroxide gels.

Retinol Gels for Acne

Research has shown that Vitamin A may be beneficial for combatting acne breakouts.

It's been found in several studies that those with severe acne are often lacking in vitamin A. Follow up research indicated that those using medical gels derived from Vitamin A (known as retinol gels) appeared to have drastically improved their overall skin health compared to placebo.

Generally, most people try to get more vitamin A in their diet, and there's evidence that vitamin A supplementation can be enough to reduce acne breakouts. But those that prefer to use a gel for acne may find that a retinol gel has similar benefits, entering the blood stream near the face and possibly improving the appearance of acne.

In most studies with retinol gel, the individual already used some type of antibiotic first in order to reduce bacteria buildup before they used a retinol gel. It's unclear if this needs to be conducted for retinol gel to work.

Although retinol is based on a natural ingredient (vitamin A), it still has side effects. Most of the side effects are similar to benzoyl peroxide – including skin irritation, redness, peeling, and more. It's also possible that retinol gels cause photosensitivity, and may be mixed with other ingredients that could also lead to adverse reactions.

Salicylic Acid Gels for Acne

Salicylic acid was originally derived from white willow bark – a type of plant that many believe has additional health properties.

Now, most salicylic acid is created in a lab.

Research has shown salicylic to be effective at unclogging pores (an important part of reducing acne), reducing bacteria, and shedding skin more quickly. The latter presumably reduces acne scarring and improves acne healing time.

Salicylic acid is very different from benzoyl peroxide, despite having the same benefits. Most experts recommend salicylic acid for blackheads and benzoyl peroxide for whiteheads.

Side effects of salicylic acid, however, are very similar to benzoyl peroxide. Skin redness, peeling, and stinging are all possible. Allergic reactions, nausea, and vomiting are rare but also possible.

Tea Tree Oil Gels for Acne

Those that choose to use natural products for acne often turn to tea tree oil. Acne gels with tea tree oil are popular because they are believed to have a similar effect on your skin as benzoyl peroxide.

Several studies have indicated that tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide have a similar effect on acne, although it's likely that benzoyl peroxide is slightly more effective at clearing out pores and reducing bacteria.

Most studies also confirm the idea that tea tree oil is slightly less effective because it works more slowly than benzoyl peroxide. Tea tree oil also has side effects like benzoyl peroxide, but the side effects also tend to be a bit milder.

Tea tree oil is not a food supplement, and can be toxic if ingested. For home remedies, it's important that the tea tree oil is diluted well otherwise it may cause adverse skin reactions. Like all acne products, allergic reaction is also a possibility.

Tea tree oil is natural, but it needs to be treated like a medication because of the powerful effects of the extract. Never double up tea tree oil with another acne treatment like benzoyl peroxide. It will not be more effective, and could either damage your skin or cause more acne.

Antibiotic Gels for Acne

Oral antibiotics are a common method of treating acne.

Several antibiotics come in topical forms as well, including:

  • Clindamycin
  • Erythromycin
  • Tetracycline

Antibiotic acne gels are slightly different than the oral antibiotics. Side effects tend to be much weaker, since less of the antibiotic gets into the blood stream.

Topical antibiotic gels are not necessarily designed to act as antibiotics in the same way that oral antibiotics are. Some are believed to reduce inflammation rather than decrease bacterial count. Others attempt to decrease bacteria in the face without affecting the entire body.

Many are also prescribed with benzoyl peroxide to improve the efficacy of the treatment. Since both have a different mechanism of action. Side effects are similar, including skin irritation and peeling. Rare antibiotic-related side effects are possible as well, but much less common due to the low doses of the drug.

As with all antibiotic acne treatments, bacteria may become immune to the medication over time, so those using an antibiotic acne gel may find that it stops working any time within 3 months to one year.

Choosing the Right Acne Gels

There are many different factors for choosing a good acne gel. Because of these factors, it's generally a good idea to speak with your dermatologist, especially if you are choosing a prescription level acne treatment.

No matter which type of acne gel you choose, make sure you give it a minimum of 3 months. Acne is growing under the skin long before it reaches the surface, so new acne will still pop up even with the best available treatment. The exception is if you are suffering a skin reaction or allergic reaction, as it may be in your best interests to stop using the topical treatment right away.

It may also be advantageous to combine a gel for acne with some type of oral treatment to counter the causes of acne from both the inside and out. 

Sources


http://www.sciencemag.org/content/213/4511/1023.short

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.1977.tb06138.x/abstract

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16243460

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