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Acne Product

Countless acne products line store shelves, offering you a wide array of choices. Not only must you pick among brands and regular strength or maximum strength, but you also have to decide whether a gel, lotion or cleansing bar would best suit your needs. Sorting through all these options can be confusing.

So before you grab whatever package is closest, find out how acne products differ, what main ingredients to look for and how to use these products for best results.

Uses of Acne Products

To choose the acne product that's most likely to work for you, it helps to understand the cause of acne.

Your hair follicles are connected to sebaceous glands, which secrete an oily substance known as sebum to lubricate the hair and skin. Sebum normally travels up along the hair shafts and then out through the opening of the hair follicle onto the surface of your skin.

When your body produces an excess amount of sebum and dead skin cells, they accumulate in the hair follicle and form a soft plug. As the plug enlarges, the follicle wall can rupture, allowing more oil and skin cells to accumulate. Bacteria can trigger inflammation and infection resulting in acne.

Some over-the-counter (OTC) acne products work by killing Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacteria that causes acne inflammation. Other products remove excess oils from the skin or speed up the growth of new skin cells and the removal of dead skin cells. And in some cases, an acne product works by doing several of these things.

Types of any acne products and how they work

Acne products work in different ways, depending on their active ingredient. Here are common active ingredients found in acne products and how they work to treat acne.

Medicated Products

Medicated products contain a chemical that dries up the pimple while acting as an exfoliant. The most common ingredients used for this purpose are benzoyl peroxide and salycic acid. People with sensitive skin should choose a product that contains salycic acid over one containing benzoyl peroxide. The amount of drying chemical added to a product is measured in terms of percentage, with the stronger creams having a higher percentage (or concentration) of the active ingredient. Contrary to the "more is better" instinct, the highest concentration is not always the most effective, it all depends on your skin type and the sort of acne you are dealing with. Some acne will not respond well to OTC products and must be treated by a doctor or dermatologist (skin specialist).

Benzoyl peroxide: Probably the most effective active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide kills P. acnes, helps remove excess oils from the skin and removes dead skin cells that clog pores. Available in strengths from 2.5 percent to 10 percent, benzoyl peroxide can cause excessive dryness, scaling, redness and minor swelling. It can also make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) exposure.

Salicylic acid: This ingredient slows shedding of cells inside the hair follicles, which prevents the pores from clogging. It may also break down whiteheads (clogged pores that have no opening) and blackheads (pores that are open and have a dark surface). Salicylic acid can cause mild stinging and skin irritation. OTC acne products are available with 0.5 percent to 2 percent salicylic acid

Sulfur and resorcinol: Rarely used alone, sulfur and resorcinol are often found together in products. These ingredients remove dead skin cells that clog pores and help remove excess oil. They may also break down whiteheads and blackheads. Sulfur and resorcinol can cause redness and peeling, which may occur several days after using the product.

Alcohol and acetone: Often available in astringents and other cleansing washes, alcohol and acetone remove dirt and oils from the skin. Products that contain these ingredients can cause a mild burning or stinging sensation.

Natural Products

Natural products contain various naturally occurring ingredients, usually plant extracts, that work to dry up the pimple and sooth the effected area. Most of these products are blends of natural ingredients like Vitamin E, grapeseed oil, calendula, aloe vera or witch hazel and essential oils, but there are a few essential oils that work well in treating acne when used alone or with a single carrier oil. Natural treatments contain ingredients to dry the blemish, sooth the redness and add moisture to the irritated area. It is important to note that just because a product is natural doesn't mean that it is mild. People with sensitive skin should be every bit as careful when using a natural treatment as they are when using one that is medicated. Natural products can be very irritating to sensitive skin and can even cause reactions in people with allergies like hay fever. As with medicated treatments, if a natural treatment makes the acne worse or causes a painful reaction you should stop using the product and see a doctor right away.

What to see when you buy acne products

To minimize redness, excessive dryness and other skin problems, start out with lower strength acne products. If needed, gradually increase the strength and frequency of your applications so that your skin can adjust to the treatments. In addition, don't combine products with different active ingredients. For example, don't use both a lotion containing benzoyl peroxide and a gel containing salicylic acid. This can cause serious skin irritations.

Acne products are just one step in your skin care regimen. For best control of acne:

  • Avoid oily cosmetics, sunscreens and hair products. Instead use products labeled "oil-free" or "noncomedogenic," which means it won't clog pores.
  • Wash problem areas twice daily with a non-medicated soap or mild cleanser. But don't overdo it. Excessive washing and scrubbing can worsen acne.
  • Apply just enough acne products to cover the problem areas.
  • Use an oil-free, water-based moisturizer to help alleviate dry, peeling skin.

It may take four to six weeks of daily use of acne products to see results, and acne may look worse before it gets better. If your acne doesn't improve after two months of treatment, you may want to see your doctor or dermatologist for a prescription lotion or medication.