Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash: PanOxyl 4 Acne Creamy Wash
“This is a good benzoyl peroxide wash that many patients really like,” says Dr. Sivendran. It contains 4 percent benzoyl peroxide to kill pimple-producing bacteria. The lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide in this wash (you can buy products that have almost 10 percent) is often less drying on skin, too.
Best Salicylic Acid Acne Wash: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Fighting Face Wash
The star ingredient here is salicylic acid. “This wash gently exfoliates the top layers of skin to unclog pores,” says Dr. Sivendran. Plus, it leaves skin feeling squeaky clean and supple.
Best Gentle Acne Cleanser: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser
Acne products can be irritating, so many women find that a gentle wash like this one keeps their skin in better balance. The foaming formula is more suitable for normal to oily skin types compared to creamier versions.
Best Salicylic Acid Acne Spot Treatment: Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment
This spot treatment is packed with 2 percent salicylic acid to reduce redness and help clear gunk from pores. While derms recommend it to their patients, also know that 70 percent of the reviews on Amazon are four- and five-star because it gets the job done across combination skin types.
Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Spot Treatment: Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment Vanishing Cream Formula
When you have pimple, you feel like you should throw everything you have at it—but using something that’s too strong often leaves you with a spot that’s peeling, red, and angrier than before. This spot treatment contains 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, so it’s suitable even for more sensitive skin types, says Dr. Sivendran.
Best LHA Spot Treatment: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment
The 5.5 percent benzoyl peroxide offers a stronger bacteria-killing spot treatment for normal skin types that can handle it. It also contains lipohydroxy acid (LHA), an ingredient that exfoliates skin to keep pores free of future clogs, as a study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology discovered.
Best Retinoid Acne Treatment: Differin Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment
You’d be hard-pressed to find a derm who won’t tell you to run to the drugstore to pick up this retinoid, the only one available OTC. A retinoid can treat acne by exfoliating the skin to prevent clogged pores, says Dr. Meinhardt, who recommends Differin to patients. Use a few times per week and then build up to nightly use, he says. (Once you’ve got control of your acne, check out these retinol OTC products for a complete skin overhaul. They’ll ban blemishes, reduce wrinkles, and combat aging.)
If there’s one tie that binds us, it’s the frustration of breakouts. And while you may think that you’re too old to keep dealing with acne, the constant hormonal fluctuations a woman goes through in her life are to blame for this reoccurring skin nuisance. “The majority of acne I see in my practice in women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s is hormonal,” says Meera Sivendran, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York. These hormonal shifts, such as getting your period, getting pregnant, entering perimenopause, (the transition period before menopause when ovaries gradually make less estrogen) and then menopause increase oil production, says Eric Meinhardt, MD, founder and medical director of California Dermatology Specialists. With excess oil, pores are more apt to get clogged with dead skin cells; then, the bacteria that causes pimples, Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), multiplies, causing an inflamed spot. Hello, pimple.
While a dermatologist will always tell you it’s best to visit a dermatologist—naturally—for mild to moderate acne, you may be able to clear your skin with over-the-counter products found at the drugstore first. (If you have deep, cystic acne, you should see a board-certified dermatologist as prescription oral medications may be in order.) OTCs focus on a couple of tried-and-true pimple fighters. One is benzoyl peroxide (to kill the P. acnes bacteria that causes acne) and the other is salicylic acid (to help unclog pores).
To treat your acne OTC, less is more, says Dr. Meinhardt. Layering on multiple products can create irritation and make your problem worse. Start with a cleanser (anti-acne or a basic, gentle wash) in the morning and night. Use a spot treatment when necessary and at night apply an anti-acne treatment.
Then, wait. This is one of the most important steps when getting rid of your acne (aside from never, ever popping a pimple with your hands, which will only make the infection go deeper into your skin and cause scarring). “Treating acne over-the-counter can be a somewhat slow process. You can expect to notice improvements in four to six weeks,” says Dr. Sivendran. Keep in mind it’s possible that skin will look worse before it looks better, so give your current regimen one to two months before moving on to new products. Here are seven drugstore acne products that strong-arm pimples to disappear.