Acne Blog: Choosing the Right OTC Products for Your Skin.

There are many factors that determine which acne products are best for you, much of which was discussed in my last few blogs. Yet, knowing what you're using and why you are using it, is the most important part of purchasing the best acne treatments for your skin.
Acne blog two highlighted skin typing per individualized skin environments, which is an important recognition when searching for acne treatments.
Sensitive or dry skin individuals, will find the search for tolerable medications more tricky. Sensitive people should start slow and go low (in active ingredient percentages). For Benzoyl peroxide and Hydroxy Acid OTC's, the active ingredients are legalized at 10% or less. For a sensitive or dry skin individual, start on the lower end of the spectrum. For those who are oily or combination and have moderate to severe acne, you may be able to jump right in to stronger concoctions.
For sensitive people, supporting ingredients in your product can make all the difference. Items that contain hydrating components like Hyaluronic Acid or fruit/vegetable oils can be soothing. Additionally, this group may benefit from using brands that with herbal components like calendula (Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions), Camellia Oleifera (tea leaf, found in Murad's Clarifying Cleanser), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract (found in Dermalogica gentle cream exfoliant) or other calming additives.
When choosing the vehicle of your product (the tangible chemical form your product is carried in) note that generally, the more liquidy the product, the more alcohol it has....and the more drying and and irritating it can be. Gels and solutions are better tolerated by oily & combination skin types or thick areas like back skin. Creams, washes, or masks are better for the remainder.
The action of each active ingredient is different and some types of acne respond better to certain chemicals more than others.
1. Mild Acne: (with attention to the above tips) mild acne may respond well to washes or topicals such as glycolic or salicylic acid. A weekly sulfur mask will help to clear pores and blackheads. A cream or gel containing a mild retinol may also prove beneficial.
2. Moderate Acne: (with attention to above tips) Benzoyl Peroxide is an acne staple, which was once an RX product. This is more of a big guns OTC, and is especially helpful for back acne when in higher percentages. Another newly minted RX to OTC product is a true retinoid, Differin Gel. This is the strongest version of a retinoic acid OTC you may find. Topical or oral supplements containing Niacinamide/Nicotinamide  in the 500-700 percentage may also be helpful.
3. Severe Acne: After starting on the moderate acne regimen, this individual should seek treatment with a dermatology provider for more potent resolutions.

As mentioned previously, an important first step in shopping, is reading the ingredient label. What is the active ingredient? What percentage is it? What are the first three chemicals on the ingredient list? This analysis will help you compare apples to apples.
1. Glycolic Acid (Alpha-Hydroxy Acid): is a naturally sourced ingredient found in plants/fruits like melons, sugarcane, and pineapple. It helps open up pores and slough off dead skin cells. It can produce vibrant smooth skin with reduced pore appearance.
Note: It's not FDA approved as an acne treatment, but commonly used. It is less effective than Salicylic acid or Benzoyl peroxide, but also not as irritating, but has no antibacterial activity.
2. Salicylic Acid (Beta-Hydroxy Acid): is also known as "Willow bark extract" due to its original sourcing from the Willow tree. It is an FDA approved acne ingredient which helps sweep dead skin off the epidermis & out of pores. It can also help even out dark spots. This ingredient is a cousin to acetylsalicylic acid also know as Aspirin! Thus, it has some anti-inflammatory properties. It is lipo-philic (oil loving), which helps with de-greasing.
Note: It is not anti-bacterial and can cause some irritation or dryness. In skin of color, it may cause hyperigmentation (increased dark spots) if used at too strong a concentration,so start low.
3. Benzoyl Peroxide: is a synthetically made ingredient that kills P. Acnes bacteria, unclogs pores, helps with oil, and decreases inflammation. It is more powerful than Glycolic or Salicylic acid.
Note: In skin of color, this may also cause dark spots in sunlight, so wear sunscreen. This ingredient may be too strong for those with sensitive skin or rosacea. Grab some white towels, as this chemical can bleach cloth.
4. Sulfur: is a natural element, also called Brimstone, which has been used since ancient times for multiple skin conditions. Although its full function in acne is unknown, it is thought to have mild anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and exfoliating action.
Note: It can cause dryness and the smell is far from rosy.
5. Retinol/Retinoid: is a Vitamin A derivative that is used to unclog pores, boost collagen to decrease wrinkles, and enhance sloughing of dead skin. There are four main versions of this ingredient OTC; Retinyl Palmitate-> Retinol -> Retinaldehyde-> Retinoic Acid, from weakest to strongest respectively.
Retinoic acid is the biologically active form, which means it's ready to be used by the skin. This is typically in RX products, except for the newly transferred RX to OTC brand, Differin. The second best, would be Retinaldehyde, then Retinol. Retinyl Palmitate, along with others called Pro-Retinols ( retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate) have a multitude of conversions before presenting in active form, thus the potency is lost. In general, Retinol is 20% weaker than Retinoic Acid, requiring stronger concentrations (which would be irritating) to even come close to the strength of Retinoic Acid.
Note: The stronger versions may cause dryness, redness, peeling. This ingredient breaks down in sunlight, thus it is advised for night application. However, newest evidence debunks the myth that is causes sunburn.
These five components represent the bulk of acne OTC therapy. This knowledge, paired with the previous two blogs, should make YOU A SAVVY Shopper... to find what will be best for your skin.
Now that you have a core foundation of what you are looking for, let's explore the most popular acne brands and see how they measure against each other.....all in my next blog, Smart Shopping-Acne Product Comparisons!