Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review

Decker A, Graber EM
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 2012


Acne is a common dermatological disorder that most frequently affects adolescents; however, individuals may be affected at all ages. Many people who suffer from acne seek treatment from both prescription and over-the-counter acne medications. Due to convenience, lower cost, and difficulty getting an appointment with a dermatologist, the use of over-the-counter acne treatments is on the rise. As the plethora of over-the-counter acne treatment options can be overwhelming, it is important that dermatologists are well-versed on this subject to provide appropriate information about treatment regimens and potential drug interactions and that their patients see them as well-informed. This article reviews the efficacy of various over-the-counter acne treatments based on the current literature. A thorough literature review revealed there are many types of over-the-counter acne treatments and each are designed to target at least one of the pathogenic pathways that are reported to be involved in the development of acne lesions. Many of the key over-the-counter ingredients are incorporated in different formulations to broaden the spectrum and consumer appeal of available products. Unfortunately, many over-the-counter products are not well-supported by clinical studies, with a conspicuous absence of double-blind or investigator-blind, randomized, vehicle-controlled studies. Most studies that do exist on over-the-counter acne products are often funded by the manufacturer. Use of over-the-counter acne treatments is a mainstay in our society and it is important that dermatologists are knowledgeable about the different options, including potential benefits and limitations. Overall, over-the-counter acne therapies can be classified into the following five major groups: cleansers, leave-on products, mechanical treatments, essential oils, and vitamins.


Decker A, Graber EM.Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32-40.

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