Counter Treatments for Acne

There are a number of over-the-counter treatments for acne. Some work better than others, depending on the active ingredient found in the mixture. The effectiveness of a given product is often based on its ability to remove dead skin, dry excess oil and reduce bacterial buildup. All three of these factors play a significant role in the development of acne. If an over-the-counter treatment fails to provide at least one of these effects, the product most likely won’t help improve the appearance of the skin.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Both the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics recommend medicated creams containing benzoyl peroxide. This antibacterial agent not only reduces the level of bacteria within the acne lesion, but it also helps remove dead skin and dry excess oil. This lessens inflammation of the follicle, which is causing the papule or pustule associated with acne. Over-the-counter creams with benzoyl peroxide are most effective on mild cases of acne, notes the Mayo Clinic. Moderate to severe acne often requires prescription-strength creams.

Salicylic Acid

Another over-the-counter treatment shown to be effective on acne is salicylic acid, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. While it isn’t as beneficial as other medications, it works much like benzoyl peroxide, helping to dry excess oil and remove dead skin that contributes to the acne lesions. It’s applied to the acne itself as well as the surrounding skin.


Sulfur is another agent found in over-the-counter acne treatments. Creams containing this active ingredient may help remove dead skin and excess oil, but the American Academy of Dermatology warns that evidence supporting its effectiveness is lacking. This means that it may not actually help to treat acne or improve the appearance of your skin.


Resorcinol is also found in over-the-counter acne creams. This active ingredient removes hardened areas of the skin, which could help to treat blackheads, whiteheads and other forms of acne lesions. But much like sulfur, the American Academy of Dermatology cautions that evidence supporting resorcinol’s effectiveness is lacking.

Lactic Acid

The Mayo Clinic also suggests the use of over-the-counter creams containing lactic acid. Lactic acid is a mild agent that promotes peeling of the skin. When applied along acne-prone areas, it can help remove dead skin and dry excess oil, reducing the chances of additional acne breakouts.

Aluminum Chloride

The American Academy of Dermatology also lists aluminum chloride as a potential over-the-counter treatment for acne. This compound, couple with anhydrous alcohol, works as an disinfectant and helps dry excess oil, according to a study provided by the National Institutes of Health. This can reduce inflammation and improve the signs of acne.