Can over the counter products treat acne?

Do over-the-counter products work for acne?

Its a little overwhelming when you walk by a department store stocked to the roof with amazing looking skincare products, chemists have rows and rows of medical looking products and even supermarkets now stock acne treating skincare that promise the world. "Banish acne, Prevent pimples, and keep your skin clean and fresh forever". 

I see so many clients expressing the same disappointment - "I've spent so much money on so many different skincare products only to find the promise of acne free skin has not occurred". You are not alone as its incredibly hard to select the products that are going to best work when you don't have the full understanding of skin types, conditions and ingredients best suited for these skins.

A little-known fact about the skincare products you see in stores is that they’re ‘cosmeceuticals’—cosmetic pharmaceuticals that have been tested for safety, but not always for efficacy. This basically means that the latest ‘anti-acne’ product doesn’t actually have to be proven to treat acne to be advertised as such. 

There are a lot of empty promises and advertising directed to skin concerns in the skincare industry. I've put together a little list guide of some ingredients that have been scientifically proven to work against acne, and some options on in clinic treatments if you are finding you've tried these with no success.

Look for: niacinamide Niacinamide is a popular ingredient when it comes to oil and acne skins. In quick terms it reduces inflammation, keeps skin hydrated while banishing excess sebum, helps fade redness and blotchiness. For those with acne, this can mean a big reduction in inflamed, oily, and dry skin, and a smoother, brighter skin tone. 

Niacinamide’s antioxidant capabilities also mean it can protect skin from oxidative stress caused by damaging free radicals. As a bonus, it’s also very gentle, which makes it a great option for anyone whose skin is too sensitive for stronger clinical ingredients. 

Look for: salicylic acid This is one of my favourite GO TO ingredients for oily and breakout skins. Salicylic acid is a really common ingredient in anti-acne products. It works by softening dead cells and the glue like substance that hold ours skin cells together. It’s also effective at breaking down comedones, which makes it an ideal ingredient for anyone with recurring whiteheads, blackheads and under the skin bumps known as congestion. 

Look for: benzoyl peroxide Benzoyl peroxide is stronger than salicylic acid, which means that chances of skin irritation are higher. However, benzoyl peroxide is among the more effective anti-acne treatments available without a prescription. It works by killing the p. acnes bacteria that breeds in our skin to cause pimples and acne lesions. . 

Benzoyl peroxide is commonly used as a spot treatment. It’s suitable for stronger cases of acne: meaning that if you just get one or two pimples now and again, a milder ingredient like salicylic acid might be more suitable for your skin. You should always apply a moisturiser after use, as benzoyl peroxide can have a drying effect—and it can also strip the colour from towels, clothing, and even hair. I advocate with my clients this ingredient is a short term solution to harness active breakout but as mentioned not suitable for the odd pimple here and there.


Some other acids to keep an eye out for are glycolic acid and lactic acid. They’re both AHAs: alpha-hydroxy acids, and are often derived from natural sources like fruit. While these acids don’t specifically target acne, they can clear up skin tone and texture, and help improve the overall look of skin. Really good for post inflammatory healing and scar tissue 

Look for: retinoids Retinoids are derived from Vitamin A, and are one of the most powerful anti-acne ingredients on the market today. They increase blood flow to the skin, increase collagen production, and increase cell differentiation to essentially re-build the top layer of skin. Retinoids are a bit of a wonder ingredient because they don’t only work to fight acne: they can also reduce signs of aging

When using any kind of retinoid, make sure to use an SPF 30+ moisturiser or sunscreen afterwards, as retinoids can increase skin’s photosensitivity (many retinoid users like to apply them at night for this reason). Retinoids can also cause mild irritation to the skin in the form of redness and dryness, but this can be managed by using a light moisturiser before application. 

What are the solutions if you've had no success wit the above? Unfortunately, maybe its been the choice in product you have tried combined together, you may be experiencing difficulty achieving results. Sometimes its best to seek help from a qualified skin therapist. We can help educate you on the best way to move forward with a multi focus on products, treatments and medical intervention if required.

If you are experiencing skin breakouts come and see Skin Nerd at her specialist Acne Clinic in Geelong. Michelle is available weekends, late nights and also via virtual consultation ensuring she provides appropriate time for all age groups whom might need to visit.

An Acne Skin Consult or Skin Therapy treatment such as Laser Genesis or HeaLite session may be the recommended way to go! You will never look back from the first consult with regret.

See you soon x




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