Nelson Lee Novick, M.D.

Acne
Acne - Mild
Health Tips from Nelson Lee Novick, M.D.

Treating Acne with Over-the-Counter Medications

by Nelson Lee Novick, MD

Over the counter (OTC) anti-acne therapies do have their place in acne control.

Typically containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or astringent -- ingredients which have proven safe and effective through the years -- nonprescription acne medications can be especially useful for those suffering from minor, scattered acne breakouts.

On the other hand, for those plagued by persistent and widespread flares or deep, cystic, painful, and potentially scarring outbreaks, there can be no substitute for a consultation with a dermatologist to tailor the use of prescription medications in order to treat the specific problems of the patient.

Fortunately, we have the relatively recent introduction of a variety of topical prescription preparations that have proven quite effective for controlling and suppressing acne. These include combinations of topical antibiotics and retinoids, topical antibiotics and benzoyl peroxides, as well as new delivery systems to increase the penetration and efficacy of the individual ingredients while minimizing their potential for causing skin dryness or irritation.

There is also a next generation set of oral antibiotics that offer the advantages of potentially fewer side effects and even the convenience of once-per-day dosing.

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Mild acne describes cases of acne with minimal or no inflammation of the skin and no signs of acne scars.

Mild acne appears as superficial lesions on the surface of the skin, such as blackheads, or whiteheads. (These are also referred to as “comedones”)

Mild Acne on the Nose Mild Acne on the NoseMild acne can sometimes be controlled at home by gently washing the affected area (usually the face) with warm water and a mild soap twice daily to remove dead skin cells and excess oil. An over-the-counter acne medicine containing benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid may also be used.

At-home treatment of mild acne requires 6-8 weeks to see improvement. Once the mild acne clears, treatment must be continued to prevent new lesions from forming.

Stronger and more effective prescription acne medications may be required if the mild acne does not respond to at-home treatment. These may include medications applied to the skin, such as topical antibiotics or topical retinoids. These may be used alone or in combination with other medications, such as antibiotics for acne.

Oral acne medications, such as oral antibiotics (doxycycline, minocyline) or isotretinoin, are not usually recommended for the initial treatment of mild acne.

Talk to your doctor about an acne treatment best suited to your acne severity and skin type.

Whatever acne medication you use, it is important that you give it enough time to work. This may require waiting 6 to 8 weeks to see results. While the older acne lesions are healing, the medicine is hard at work keeping new acne lesions from forming. Staying on your acne medication is the most important step to getting your acne under control.