Effective Cleansers for Acne
With a nearly endless array of acne-fighting cleansers available over the counter and by prescription, it's important to understand how specific active ingredients work. Different products combat acne in different ways, and using the right cleanser for your particular acne is the key to successful treatment. Acne cleansers work by killing bacteria, exfoliating dead skin cells, reducing oil in the skin or soothing inflammation, or some combination of these methods.
Benzoyl peroxide cleansers, which kill bacteria and exfoliate, are one of the oldest acne treatments still in use, points out the Skin Care Physicians website. They come in bar or liquid form, or in other forms of topical acne products. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, suggests starting with benzoyl peroxide once a day and moving up to twice a day, if necessary. Because this cleanser can cause irritation, stinging, or dry and peeling skin, test it on a small area of skin before using it on your acne.
Salicylic acid cleansers, which come as medicated skin wipes and in a variety of topical rubs, work by exfoliating and unclogging pores. Particular product directions vary, but generally salicylic acid cleansers can be used several times daily, according to MedlinePlus. Some skin irritation or stinging is common initially.
While these are the two primary nonprescription cleansers for acne, others may prove effective for you. Alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate and reduce inflammation, the combination of alcohol and acetone kills bacteria and removes oil from the skin, and the combination of resorcinol and sulfur helps reduce excess oil and slough off dead skin cells.
Prescription Antimicrobial Cleansers
When buildup of the P. acnes bacteria is a serious problem, antimicrobial cleansers can be prescribed, explains Skin Care Physicians. Azelaic acid is useful for mild to moderate inflammatory or noninflammatory acne, and it also helps regulate skin cell shedding to further prevent clogged pores. Dry skin and faded pigmentation are the most common side effects.
Clindamycin cleansers treat inflammatory acne and are one of the longest-used topical prescriptions for killing P. acnes bacteria. Side effects are rare and are typically limited to dry or irritated skin.
Erythromycin cleansers are best suited for inflammatory acne and are often made with benzoyl peroxide. Skin Care Physicians notes that this combination is particularly effective at killing bacteria and offers exfoliating benefits. Dry skin and irritation are the most common side effects.
Sodium sulfacetamide cleansers, useful for inflammatory acne, kill bacteria and help unclog pores. They often include sulfur for exfoliation benefits, and some products have a potent, unpleasant odor due to the sulfur content. Sodium sulfacetamide is a sulfite, which may prohibit people with asthma or sensitivity to sulfites from using it, and some people are allergic to sulfites, cautions Drugs.com.
Prescription Topical Retinoids
Retinoids, derived from vitamin A, are best suited to treating mild to moderately severe acne, according to Skin Care Physicians. They can cause dry skin, irritation and sensitivity to sunlight, and are used to unclog pores and suppress the formation of whiteheads and blackheads. There are three topical retinoid cleansers available by prescription in the United States for treating acne.
Tretinoin, the first topical retinoid developed, effectively unclogs pores but can have additional side effects, including redness, burning sensations, scaling skin and itchiness. Adalpene cleansers, available as a gel or cream, are useful for inflammatory acne and typically show results in two to three months. Tazarotene cleansers are for noninflammatory acne and are not safe for use by pregnant women.
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