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What Chemicals Are Involved in Acne Remedies?

What Chemicals Are Involved in Acne Remedies? What Chemicals Are Involved in Acne Remedies? What Chemicals Are Involved in Acne Remedies?

Because acne is so common, there are multiple treatment options available to help clear up the condition. For these treatments to work, they must use active chemicals that have shown the ability to fight off the causes of acne, such as the overproduction of the skin's sebum oil, or the presence of acne-causing bacteria.


Alcohol is a common chemical in acne treatment products. Alcohol is used as an antimicrobial agent. This use is due to alcohol's ability to reduce the colonies of a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). The P. acnes bacteria can be partially responsible for the progression of acne comedones--blackheads and whiteheads--into more inflammatory acne lesions, such as pustules.


Acetone is another chemical in acne treatment medications. Acetone targets the presence of excess sebum oil on the skin. Acetone is a degreasing agent, which helps remove excess oil from the skin, providing less material for acne plugs (comedones) to form in your follicles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acetone is typically combined with alcohol, as used alone it tends to be ineffective against acne.

Salicylic Acid

The chemical salicylic acid is common in acne treatments. According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, salicylic acid helps treat acne by slowing down the rate in which cells slough inside the follicles, which can help prevent plugs from forming. Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic agent, meaning it can break down and soften the keratin that makes acne's blackheads or whiteheads.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is another common acne-treatment chemical. Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent that kills the P. acnes bacteria by exposing it to lethal amounts of oxygen. The P. acnes bacteria is unable to survive in environments rich in oxygen.


Sulfur is a less common chemical in acne treatments. Although it has one of the longest histories of use against acne, its use has become less common in favor of other acne-fighting chemicals with a less potent smell. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is not known why sulfur is effective against acne, but that has not stopped its use on acne for more than 50 years.

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