If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at Walgreens or Target searching in vain for an effective acne treatment, this article is for you. Glitter Guide contributor, PJ Feinstein, interviewed three dermatologists to find out their favorite over-the-counter acne treatments and why you should use them. The search is over! Details below.
For more than two decades, dermatologists regularly prescribed Differin to clients dealing with acne, but that’s no longer the case. No, the topical retinoid didn’t suddenly become ineffective at treating acne and preventing future breakouts. Just the opposite, actually. It was so successful that it’s now available without a prescription, and it’s the first time in 30 years that a new active ingredient (adapalene) has been FDA-approved as an over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment.
While they won’t have to prescribe Differin Gel anymore, many dermatologists will continue to recommend it to acne sufferers. Celebrity dermatologist and wellness expert, Natasha Sandy, M.D., prefers it because the retinoid treats one of the primary causes of acne, hyperkeratinization. “Hyperkeratinization in acne-prone skin leads to dead skin cells binding together with oil and bacteria, causing clogged pores and acne lesions,” she says. “When we prevent clogged pores, we prevent breakouts.”
Even though Differin Gel can now be found on drugstore shelves, that doesn’t mean skincare products with old-school benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid should be shunned. In fact, many dermatologists still frequently recommend them to their patients. We asked a few to share their favorite OTC acne treatments (besides Differin), and here are the products they like—and the reasons they like them.
“The benzoyl peroxide in PanOxyl Cleanser is great for killing the bacteria that is associated with acne,” says Tracee Blackburn, PA-C (formerly Douse-Dean), licensed physician assistant at Lakeview Dermatology in Chicago. “My recommendation is to pick the lower strength first. If you tolerate it well, you can increase the strength, but it’s not necessary.” She warns that benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabric, so wait about 10 minutes for it to be fully absorbed before getting dressed or climbing into bed.
Board-certified dermatologist, S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute, recommends tossing Stridex pads, which contain salicylic acid, into your gym bag. “Salicylic acid’s effectiveness in reducing oil and unclogging pores has been proven for decades,” she says. “Use them immediately post-workout if you won’t be showering for a while; they’re great for the chest and back.”
Finally, the key to treating acne, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, is not only to get rid of the pimples you have, but also to prevent new ones from popping up. “Your face is made of thousands of ‘pipes’ connecting your oil glands to the skin’s surface,” he explains. “You can’t predict which pipe will become clogged and lead to a pimple, so it’s important to keep them all clear.”
Zeichner recommends Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, which has benzoyl peroxide to help open blocked pores and kill acne-causing bacteria. He also likes Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control 3-in-1 Foaming Wash with salicylic acid that removes excess oil and exfoliates dead cells from the skin’s surface to “keep those pipes clear.”