Good Cleansers for Acne
Acne cleansers generally work in one of two ways: they reduce dead skin cells and help unclog pores through exfoliation, or they have antimicrobial properties that kill P. acnes, the bacteria partially responsible for acne breakouts. Choosing the optimal cleansing ingredient for your acne is important, as is using the best form of cleanser. The American Academy of Family Physicians explains that creams are best suited for dry, sensitive skin, gels and solutions are good for oily skin and lotions are versatile and well-suited to hairy skin.
Salicylic acid, often used for acne in lotions and creams as well as medicated pads, is sold in 0.5 or 2 percent concentrations and typically used once or twice a day. Besides unclogging pores, it reduces redness and swelling. Drying and irritating effects are common, particularly at the beginning of use, and you can build up a tolerance with gradually increasing amounts.
Alpha hydroxy acids are generally found in creams and solutions to promote the shedding of dead skin cells. Burning sensations are the most common source of complaints, followed by dermatitis or rash, swelling, skin coloration changes, blisters, peeling, itching and irritation. These cleansers can also increase sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet radiation.
Sulfur is a long-used exfoliant in acne cleansers, particularly in combination with sulfacetamide for inflammatory acne. It is also combined with a number of other active ingredients in washes and cleansing bars. Sulfur's unpleasant odor is its primary drawback.
Most exfoliating prescription cleansers for acne are a type of medication derived from vitamin A known as topical retinoids. Tretinoin, adalpene and tazarotene are the three topical retinoids used to fight acne in the United States.
Found in creams, gels and lotions, topical retinoids treat mild to moderately severe acne, usually taking up to six weeks to show results. Skin irritation, redness, peeling and blistering may occur. Regimens should generally be started on an every-other-night basis, recommends the New Zealand Dermatological Society, which also cautions that sun protection is important on treated skin.
Benzoyl peroxide is the most widely-used antibacterial agent for acne cleansers, particularly effective because it also acts as an exfoliant. Available over the counter or by prescription, the American Academy of Family Physicians identifies it as the most effective antibacterial acne cleanser. It typically comes in water-based or alcohol-based gels to be applied one or two times a day. This cleanser is likely to cause skin irritation, at least in the beginning of treatment.
Azeliac acid is a prescription antimicrobial agent approved by the FDA for treatment of inflammatory, mild to moderate acne in 1996. This cleanser is used in creams that are generally applied twice a day.
Clindamycin and erythromycin, used in several different forms of cleansers, are also commonly used antibacterial agents for the treatment of acne. Some skin irritation is likely with use. Sodium sulfacetamide is another effective antimicrobial cleanser for use with inflammatory acne.
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