What are the Differences between Over-the-Counter Acne Face Washes?

(Guest Post)
The cosmetic isle in a drugstore is often filled with a wide selection of face washes designed specifically for treating acne. Most of these acne fighting washes contain one, or a mix, of the same three ingredients. The three that are used most commonly are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid. These 3 acne fighters all have similar mechanisms of action, but differ in their side effect profile. Each one can benefits certain types of skin and may work better for you depending on the type of acne that you have.

Author: Obli

Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide has been the most popular over-the-counter (OTC) acne fighter for decades. It helps to reduce breakouts by bringing oxygen into the skin’s pores and killing the P. acnes bacteria. It can also clear dead skin cells from the from the hair follicle, reducing the possibility that the pore will become clogged. Acne forms when pores become obstructed with a comedo, or blemish. Whether the skin is able to excrete the comedo to its surface, determines whether it will become a whitehead, blackhead, or acne cyst.
Benzoyl peroxide has 2 distinct mechanisms of action. Both clearing the pores of dead skin that can lead to a comedo, while also killing any bacteria that may reside in the blocked pore. This non-prescription acne treatment is still one of the best ways to reduce breakouts. The main thing that sets it apart from salicylic acid and glycolic acid is that it is more harsh on the skin and is very effective at killing bacteria. If used in higher concentration such as 5%-10% it can cause redness, increased sensitivity to sunlight, skin peeling, and dryness.

Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is extracted from willow tree bark. It, along with benzoyl peroxide can be found in most over the counter acne fighting products. Salicylic acid may be more effective on people that have oily skin because it can help break down these oils. It also helps remove dead skin cells from inside the pores and prevent them from clogging. This is very important because blockages inside of pores are one of the root causes of acne. Salicylic acid doesn’t kill acne causing bacteria like benzoyl peroxide but may be more effective at removing sebum and dead skin cells.

Salicylic acid may not be as harsh on the skin and benzoyl peroxide, but it still can cause redness and skin irritation. Any dryness that comes with treatment, can be treated with a non-oil based moisturizer.

Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is a newer type of acne treatment that has been showing up in over-the-counter treatments. It is known as an alpha hydroxy acid and may not be as effective on oily skin, but still works very well at exfoliating dead skin cells. Glycolic acid is the least harsh on the skin, but has the least amount of data that backs up its effectiveness. Still, many dermatologists are recommending it as their first choice for certain types of breakouts, like cystic acne.

At higher concentrations, glycolic acid may be used as a chemical peel. Dermatologists use these peels to lessen the appearance of acne scars or wrinkles. It causes the outer-most layer of skin to be removed while bringing live skin cells to the surface. There are also different strengths of glycolic peels which go deeper into the skin, but require a longer recovery time.

These 3 common ingredients that power OTC face washes are all effective, but may be useful on certain type of skin or acne. If you are trying to figure out which one will work for your type of skin, consult a dermatologist. If the washes are not completely effective on their own, you dermatologist may add a retinoid or antibiotic into your regimen. In 2011 acne is a completely treatable disorder, there are a wide range of products available for clearing blemishes and preventing breakouts.

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