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Best Over the Counter Acne Product

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Mild to moderate acne can be effectively treated with OTC products. Find out which oral and topical OTC products are effective for treating this skin disease.

You can find many over-the-counter (OTC) acne products on the internet or the shelves of your local drug stores. OTC acne products are usually formulated like regular skincare products.

They are usually topical preparations such as creams, lotions, serums, pads, and wipes. These topical forms can serve different purposes including toners, cleansers, exfoliants, astringents, moisturizers, masks, and spot treatments.

OTC acne products may contain simple synthetic active ingredients such as peroxides and hydroxyl acids. They may also contain herbal extracts such as aloe vera and licorice root. Some acne products even combine the two groups of active ingredients.

OTC acne products can be divided into two classes: those that are sold in one dosage form and those that take the multi-dosage form approach.

Those acne products in the first group are usually sold as single products while the ones in the other group come as a kit of many products (usually 3 but can be as many as 10).

OTC acne products can also be oral or topical preparations.

Oral acne drugs are usually botanical extracts and/or nutritional supplements. Most of the oral acne products containing very strong chemicals such as antibiotics and oral retinoids are not termed OTC.

Multi-part OTC acne kits usually combine different topical preparations. The usual trio in such kits is a cleanser, toner, and an exfoliant/astringent acne cream or serum. Sometimes, such kits are expanded to include an oral supplement (herbal extract or a multivitamin) and even a microdermabrasion cloth.

To effectively treat acne, here are the major ways by which OTC acne products work:

How OTC  Acne Products Work
  • Provide a deep cleansing action to remove the excess sebum from the skin and clogged pores
  • Exfoliate the top layer of the skin to increase skin turnover and remove the buildup of dead skin cells
  • Restore the normal pH of the skin to reduce the activity of acne-causing bacteria
  • Provide a mild to moderate antibacterial or a full antiseptic effect on the skin to remove acne-causing bacteria
  • Reduce skin pore size to prevent the clogging of the pores and increase microcirculation in the blood vessels supplying the sebaceous follicles
  • Restore hormonal balance and treat nutritional deficiencies that may trigger acne breakouts
  • Reduce the local inflammation on the skin caused by the cells of the immune system
  • Protect the skin against harmful free radicals and other toxins as well as against photoaging by ultraviolet rays of the sun

Most OTC acne products contain similar active ingredients but in different combinations. Although there is a long list of candidate anti-acne ingredients to choose from, some ingredients are more commonly included than others.

Discussed below are some of the most effective active ingredients of OTC acne products.

Active Ingredients of Oral OTC Acne Products

The active ingredients commonly included in oral OTC acne preparations are often essential vitamins and minerals. Here are 5 of the most effective of these nutritional supplements used in such oral preparations

Vitamin B5: Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that is very useful in acne treatment. It reduces the size of skin pores to provide an astringent-like action that prevents the clogging of these pores.

Secondly, vitamin B5 increases fat metabolism through Coenzyme A.

Therefore, excess fat is no longer pushed out through the skin pores where they can form pus and acne comedones. Vitamin B5 also treats cane by reducing the production of male sex hormones that cause acne.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. The sunshine vitamin, as it is called, is particularly helpful in acne treatment.

It provides the following benefits: break down acne comedones, reduce skin inflammation, kill off acne-causing bacteria and serve as an antioxidant.

Cod Liver Oil: Cod liver oil contains vitamins A and D as well as Omega-3 fatty acids.

The two vitamins are effective for treating acne. Between the two of them, they reduce the production of excess sebum, remove dead skin cells, kill off acne-causing bacteria and protect the skin from damage from harmful free radicals.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the two Omega-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil. They are effective for reducing and preventing the formation of inflammatory acne lesions. The fatty acids can also be incorporated into the structural matrix of the skin.

Zinc: The serum level of zinc can affect the outcome and severity of acne.

To reduce acne breakouts, zinc supplements are needed to regulate the production of male sex hormones that cause acne. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions, and it promotes the absorption of vitamins A and E.

Selenium: Selenium is an antioxidant and when combined with vitamins A and E, it boosts their antioxidant effects too.

Active Ingredients of Topical OTC Acne Products

Benzoyl Peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent.

As a peroxide, it is capable of drying up acne-causing bacteria and breaking down their cell membranes. It can also help remove excess sebum and dead skin cells from the skin.

Benzoyl peroxide is usually included in acne products in varying strengths in this range: 2.5 – 10%. Although a potent oxidizer, it is quickly converted to harmless benzoic acid and oxygen when it comes in contact with the skin.

It can, however, bleach hair and clothes. Therefore, care should be taken before applying it. This peroxide may dry the skin and cause redness, itching, and burning sensations.

Apply an oil-free moisturizer along with acne products containing benzoyl peroxide.

Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid has similar actions and side effects to benzoyl peroxide. It reduces the rate of production of dead skin cells and can help remove acne comedones such as whiteheads and blackheads.

It is included in concentrations between 0.5% and 2% in OTC acne products.

Alpha Hydroxyl Acids: There are two common types of alpha hydroxyl acids used in OTC acne products. These are glycolic acid and lactic acid.

Alpha-hydroxyl acids are useful for sloughing off dead skin cells, for reducing skin inflammation, and for promoting the growth of new skin.

Sulfur: Sulfur is an age-old remedy for skin diseases. It has a strong exfoliating property and it is also an astringent. Sulfur can break down acne comedones. However, it can trigger new ones since it dries and strongly irritates the skin. It does smell bad.

Resorcinol: Resorcinol is a phenol used for treating skin diseases. It breaks down acne comedones but it can also strongly irritate the skin.

Top OTC Acne Products

Exposed Skin Care

Exposed Skin Care is an acne product kit. It has a full complement of 9 skincare products.

This OTC acne product provides perhaps the most extensive topical acne treatment. It even includes an oral formulation of multivitamins and probiotics that can help treat acne internally.

Exposed Skin Care even contains a microdermabrasion cloth called Derm-X. There is also a toner, a cleanser, a scrub, a mask, a tonic, and two serums.

The acne products in Exposed Skin Care kit contain about every topical active ingredient used for treating acne. The serums and tonic contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid; the mask contains sulfur and resorcinol, and the moisturizer contains vitamin E.

All the topical products in the kit contain several effective botanicals ranging from aloe barbadensis and gotu kola to witch hazel and green tea leaf extracts.

Exposed Skin Care is effective for over 90% of acne patients who use it. However, since users may opt to buy less than the full component of the kit, there is no guarantee that it will be just as effective for everyone.

Still, getting all of the products in the Exposed Skin Care kit can be expensive and some of these provide overlapping benefits.


Proactiv contains 3 topical acne preparations. The members of this OTC acne kit include a cleanser, a toner, and a repairing treatment.

The main active ingredients in Proactiv products are benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid. The peroxide is supplied as fine crystals to improve their effectiveness. Also, Proactiv includes fine, exfoliating microscopic beads that help exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells.

Also included are botanicals such as aloe, witch hazel, and chamomile extracts.

These main ingredients make Proactiv effective for unclogging pores, reducing inflammatory skin lesions, and killing off acne-causing bacteria.

Proactiv is not for everyone; it may not work for those with severe acne or with sensitive skin. For others, Proactiv is a great OTC acne product.

Proactiv users will benefit from excellent customer care support especially when they buy from the product’s website. Backed and formulated by two dermatologists, Proactiv users can get advice and develop personal skincare regimens with the help of these dermatology experts.


ClearPores is an effective OTC acne product especially for those with oily and/or sensitive skin.

ClearPores is a kit of 3 acne products. There is an oral herbal supplement along with two topical acne preparations (a deep, facial wash and a moisturizing protective cream).

The oral product in ClearPores contains 12 herbal extracts including aloe vera, dandelion root, licorice root, and kelp. These herbs provide multiple benefits for acne sufferers. They can help correct hormonal imbalance, detoxify the body, reduce sebum protection, and moderate inflammatory response during acne breakouts.

The facial wash provides a deep cleansing action that prevents the clogging of skin pores and new acne flare-ups. This product contains herbal extracts such as meadowsweet and linseed as well as regular acne medications such as salicylic acid and vitamin E.

The cream also contains salicylic acid for providing an antibacterial cover. It also contains glycolic acid for exfoliating and rejuvenating the skin.


Actimine is a powerhouse of nutritional supplements. It is an oral OTC acne product that provides an alternative treatment option for acne.

Actimine contains carefully selected vitamins, minerals, and plant extracts that are not only effective in acne treatment but also produce synergistic anti-acne benefits when combined.

The active ingredients in Actimine are vitamins A and E, zinc, selenium, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), and Gum guggul extract.

Different studies have shown the benefits of combining vitamin A and vitamin E. Including zinc and selenium also improves the antioxidant protection and anti-inflammatory effects of these vitamins.

Zinc is also essential for addressing the hormonal causes of acne. Since it inhibits the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, zinc can prevent hyperkeratinization and the production of excess sebum.

Gum guggul extract is effective in reducing acne nodules. Nodules are deep acne lesions that appear in severe acne breakouts. They are difficult to effectively treat even by oral antibiotics.

MSM improves cellular metabolism and can help improve the appearance and integrity of the skin. It is also useful for reducing local inflammation on the skin caused by acne lesions.

The combination of these effective anti-acne supplements is the reason over 95% of Actimine users report immediate improvement in their acne symptoms.

Next Article: Aloe for Acne Treatment