9 Best Drugstore Acne Treatments That Really Work, According to Top Dermatologists

Is there really a difference between treating your acne with high-end or prescription products versus over-the-counter ones? Top dermatologists spill the beans.

“The Differin .1 Gel is a wonderful, new drugstore acne medication,” says Samer Jaber, MD of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City. “It was available by prescription for over 20 years and was just recently approved as an over-the-counter medication. It works differently than other OTC acne medications because it’s a retinoid, has anti-inflammatory properties, and clears clogged pores to prevent new acne. It should be the first OTC product that anyone struggling with facial acne uses,” Dr. Jaber says. However, if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant you should not use Differin. Find out what your acne breakout is secretly trying to tell you.

“The Biore Self-Heating One Minute Mask is applied wet to the face for one minute and rinsed off with water. It self-heats and has a tingling, fresh sensation, leaving pores smaller, tighter, and cleaner,” says Patricia Wexler, MD of Wexler Dermatology in New York City. “It contains kaolin, zeolite, and charcoal powder. It is a gentle way for an oily skin type with large pores to get significant improvement in both oil production and pore size.” Please excuse us while we sprint to the nearest drugstore to pick up this wonder product!

The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment is non-drying, oil-free, and easily absorbed. However, the most important component of this drugstore acne treatment is the fact that it contains 5.5 percent micronized Benzoyl peroxide. “Benzoyl peroxide comes in many variations from 2 to 10 percent, in either a gel, liquid wash, or foam vehicle,” says Shari Sperling, DO, FAAD, FAOCD, and board-certified dermatologist of Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, New Jersey. “I generally suggest starting at a low or mid-percentage and seeing how you tolerate it, then if it’s not too irritating (because it can be), increase in application and strength.”

“For acne on the chest and back, I always recommend Panoxyl Acne Foaming Wash. It is a Benzoyl peroxide wash, which is a very effective acne treatment for both cystic and non-cystic acne,” says Dr. Jaber. “It comes as a bar and foaming cleanser, both of which can be used in the shower.” Be careful if you have sensitive skin, as some people find Benzoyl peroxide very irritating. Also, make sure to use white towels as it will bleach your colored towels, he says. Read more about the facts and myths about adult acne that will help you on your way to clearer skin.

“The Yes to Tomatoes Acne Daily Pore Scrub is ideal for comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads), but gentle enough for daily use,” says Dr. Wexler. “It is a combination of tomatoes (Lycopene), Bisabolol, ginger, and salicylic acid. Bisabolol and ginger help control inflammation and irritation of acne flares. Ground mango seeds and bamboo exfoliate the skin and help cell turnover. Salicylic acid combats acne and blemishes by ridding the skin of excess cells that trap sebum and bacteria in the pores. The natural acid in tomatoes (Lycopene) helps shrink pores and diminish excess sebum production by restoring the skin’s natural oil balance,” she explains. You should know these home remedies for blackheads.

“The Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser is great as a daily face wash for those who have mild acne,” says Amanda Doyle, MD of Russak Dermatology Clinic in New York City. This drugstore staple is formulated with maximum strength salicylic acid acne medicine, so it’s ideal if you have severe breakouts including blackheads (but be careful if your skin is sensitive). It effectively eliminates oil and dirt and cleanses without over-drying. If you need a gentler alternative or prefer to cleanse with natural ingredients, consider these natural face cleansers you can make at home.

The classic Noxzema Ultimate Clear Anti-Blemish Pads have withstood the test of time thanks to a formula including medicated salicylic acid (SA). Dr. Sperling considers SA an excellent ingredient to look out for in OTC products as a first-line option acne treatment prior to visiting your dermatologist. And don’t be put off by the fact that it costs less than $6—Dr. Sperling says it’s fine to look for the cheapest brand. Check out the foods that improve your acne (and a few that make it worse).

“The Bye Bye Blemish Acne Control Gel is best used as a spot blemish treatment applied alone on the lesion,” says Dr. Wexler. “Do not shake when applying; apply sediment directly with a Q-Tip to the affected spot. It is both antiseptic and clarifying, and reduces the size and severity of blemishes,” she says. “It exfoliates the clogged pores with a beta hydroxy acid formula. The maximum-strength salicylic acid exfoliates dead cells from the pores and the overnight zinc oxide and sulfur rapidly reduces the size and severity of the lesions. It is also hypoallergenic and antimicrobial,” Dr. Wexler adds. Find out the acne treatments many dermatologists use on their own skin.

After you’ve applied any of the powerful treatments mentioned above, you need to soothe your skin with a nourishing cream. Keeping irritation at bay is one of the keys to returning your skin to a healthier state. “Many acne regimens can be very harsh and drying for the skin,” says Dr. Doyle. “I always recommend that patients use a nice moisturizer to prevent them from getting too dry during treatment. I like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.” On top of healing your skin with soothing cream, you should practice these equally important acne-fighting rules.

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