5 Most Popular Over the Counter Drugs for Acne

Acne is one of the most common chronic skin disorder affecting millions of people across the globe.

It is characterized by the outbreak of pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and inflammations along with redness and marks on the skin.

It mostly stays limited to the face and neck region.

In case the inflammation reaches deep down the skin, it develops into cysts and nodules which then cause severe cystic and nodular acne respectively.

According to one survey, acne outbreaks affect 17 million people in the United States alone.

With age and over time, a lot of new medicines have been developed to prevent, if not completely cure, the problem of acne.

A lot of home and herbal remedies have also been suggested as a treatment option. Other medications include antibiotic and anti retinoid.

This article shall discuss the availability and effectiveness of over the counter drug.

What are Over the Counter Drugs?

Also known as OTC, these are drugs that you can get without any prescription from any drug store, easily.

In most countries, the decision if the drug should be classified under prescription medicine or under OTC is taken by a regulatory agency the legislator.

In the United States of America, it is the Food and Drug Administration that takes this decision.

Their easy availability does not, however, make them completely safe.

They have their own side effects and it is very important that you go through the attached pamphlet before blindly taking the medication.

You must also be careful about the dose of medication and prevent any indulgence in overdosage in order to get better and quick results as it will only alleviate the risks experiencing side effects.

What to keep in mind while buying over the counter drugs

Some important things to note before buying an over the counter drug:

Here are some suggestions for you that you can keep note of while buying the over the counter drug:

  • You must be sure of your self-diagnosis and must not leave any scope for doubt
  • Carefully read the ingredients before buying the product in order to make sure that you are not allergic to any of it.
  • Do not buy a product just because it is popular and carefully scrutinize it
  • It is advisable that you chose a product/medication that targets some and not all of the symptoms as in order to do the latter, you might get exposed to unnecessary side effects
  • You must read the pamphlet carefully to determine the correct dose and means of application
  • Please check for the expiry date before buying the product.
  • Check with your pharmacists for potential side effects of the product
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose on the pamphlet
  • Do not take it for more than the time period prescribed on the pamphlet

Popular over the counter drugs for acne

There is a long list of over the counter drugs that are known to treat acne. Enumerated below is a list of drugs popular for its treatment of acne that can also be easily attained at any drug store without the need of showing any prescription:

1. Alpha hydroxy acid

It is mostly available in forms of glycolic or lactic acid in gel or cream for having a concentration of 10% or less.

It is widely used in a number of skin care products.

This acid exhibits exfoliation properties and helps in the removal of dead skin cells thereby unclogging the pores that had trapped the excess of sebum.

This induces the natural healing process which speeds p improvement, making the skin soft and supple and preventing dryness.

The side effects that might result from its use are:

  • It might cause a stinging or burning effect on application
  • It may cause redness of the skin on application
  • It may make your skin more susceptible to sun’s rays

You must maintain the following precautions while using it:

  • Avoid exposure to Sun as much as possible
  • It is for external use only and must be kept away from the membranes

Customer review:

  • Many consumers experienced not only acne free skin but also skin that was smoother and more supple even as it evens down the tone of your skin
  • A lot of consumers were of the view that unlike other products that burn on your skin, this had a calming and soothing effect.

2. Benzoyl Peroxide

It works as a powerful antimicrobial agent and belongs to the peroxide family.

It usually comes in form of a gel, cream or wash and in concentrations ranging from 2.55% to 10%.

The popular brands in which it is available are - Benzac AC, Benzaclin, among others.

It functions as an anti microbial agent, killing the acne causing bacteria by supplying oxygen under the skin, making it difficult for the bacteria/microbe to survive and resulting usually in 99.99% eradication.

Secondly, it creates a drying effect which clears the clogged pores of the excess oil thereby preventing the breakout.

It can have the following side effects:

  • Any allergic reaction can result into rashes, irritation and swelling
  • It may cause itching and peeling of the skin along with dryness
  • It may result in swollen and itchy bumps under the eyes
  • It can have a bleaching effect on hair or fabric

You need to maintain the following precautions while using it:

  • It may make your skin sensitive to the sun and you must avoid exposure as much as possible
  • The risk of using it during pregnancy should be discussed with the doctor

Customer review:

  • A lot of consumers exclaimed it to be extremely time effective even as it resulted in 85% improvement over a matter of few weeks
  • It is a very easily applied medication and does not create a mess or fuzz during application

Read: How Benzoyl Peroxide helps in Acne

3. Resorcinol

It is a dihydroxy benzene which is usually used in combination with sulfur or other acne medications for treatment.

It comes under brand names of R A acne or Resinol, Clerasil adult care, among others.

Its mechanism of action includes breaking down rough, scaly skin, thereby helping in doing away with the whiteheads and blackheads which is a common symptom of acne.

Apart from acne, it can also be used to eczema, psoriasis and other skin disorders.

It may cause the following side effects:

  • Application may cause redness or peeling of the skin
  • It may cause dizziness or weakness
  • It may lower the heart rate or cause restlessness, though the chances are extremely rare

The following precautions must be maintained while using it:

  • It should not be used simultaneously with astringents or alcohol based products
  • Do not apply it on burnt or wounded areas.

Customer review:

  • Many consumers said that it effectively cleared off their inflammatory zits
  • Another motivating factor for a lot of consumers was the inexpensiveness of the product. It could be attained in just 6$

4. Salicylic Acid

It is an active ingredient used in many acne treating medications and is available in the maximum strength of 2%.

It often comes as a pledget and are used in products like Stridex triple action acne pads and Neutrogena oil free acne wash among other things.

One reason which contributes towards the building up of acne is the shedding of skin cells inside the hair follicle and their accumulation which develops into pimples.

Salicylic acid prevents clogging of the pores by helping in reducing the speed of this cell breakdown. This mechanism also helps towards breaking down whiteheads and blackheads.

It might cause the following potential side effects:

  • It can cause irritation and burning on application
  • It may create dizziness and weakness
  • It may also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

The following precautions should be maintained while using salicylic acid:

  • It use should not be done simultaneously with other over the counter products
  • It is only for topical application and must not be swallowed
  • It should not be applied on broken, burnt or wounded skin
  • It should not be applied on large areas but only on areas affected by acne breakouts.

Customer review:

  • A lot of people counted its inexpensiveness as a huge asset. They believed that it was easily available and therefore did not demand a lot of efforts.
  • Many consumers found it very time effective. The difference in the skin was visible in just a couple of weeks.
  • Some consumers were of the view that it is a very favorable option as it maintained consistency in preventing the breakouts

5. Sulfur

Sulfur is another active component used in various acne treating products either individually or in combination with other products.

For instance, one product that includes sulfur is Clerasil adult care.

It is very commonly used in combination with sulfacetamide to treat acne vulagris.

Sulfur is a non specific anti bacterial and anti fungal and tends to destroy the acne causing bacteria completely, inhibiting their further growth.

It also has a drying effect on the skin which thereby devoid the microbes of the oil for their survival while at the same clearing the clogged pores.

The side effects that it may potentially cause are listed below:

  • It might cause redness or discoloration of the skin
  • It may burn or sting on application
  • It might cause a headache or nausea along with dizziness
  • Allergic reaction may cause skin rash, swelling or respiratory troubles

You must maintain the following precautions while using it:

  • Sulfur is known to have cleared off even inflammatory zits in many cases. Consumers were of the view that it helped with large as well as small pimples
  • Its easy and relatively cheap availability was a motivating factors for consumers to give it a try as it did not burden their pockets a lot.


Though there has not been enough study comparing the effectiveness of over the counter drugs to that of prescription medicines specifically anti biotic, yet it is a fact not unknown that mot only are the over the counter drugs cheaper relatively, they are also not prone to resistance that the microbes develop over time with anti biotic medications.

This therefore makes them more effective in the long run, as the effectiveness of prescription medications reduces with time due to development of resistance.

It has also been noticed that in most cases of prescription medicines, once their sale and demand become smooth over a period of 3 to 6 years and their safety is well established among the masses, it usually converts into an over the counter drug.

Therefore if you are not willing to spend time at the dermatologist’s clinic, these medications can serve your purpose and must be given at least one try.

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