I think one of the easiest ways to save healthcare dollars is at the drugstore (including online stores).
There are so many over-the-counter products for every mundane ailment, and it can get really expensive if you buy and toss items until you find what works.
Information is power! Know the ingredients that work best for your problem, and then find the products with the best price.
Acne is such a common problem, and not only among teenagers. I suffered from acne as a teenager and an adult. Shopping for acne products was stressful. I spent a lot of time reading labels and researching ingredients.
What I learned shouldn’t have surprised me: there are only a few really effective ingredients, and they’re inexpensive.
The best ingredients to treat acne
Mild soap and water
Dermatologists recommend using a mild liquid soap because bar soaps contain ingredients that can clog pores and make acne worse.
Common, gentle cleansing agents include ammonium laureth sulfate, lauric acid, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, lauryl glucoside, and cocamidopropyl betaine. Choose a soap that’s designed to be used on the face.
Two inexpensive products that are gentle enough to use the recommended two times a day are Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser and Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin.
Salicylic acid, aka beta hydroxy acid (BHA)
Salicylic acid is a cousin of aspirin, and like aspirin, salicylic acid is a good anti-inflammatory. Regular use will decrease the redness and inflammation associated with acne.
It’s also an exfoliator; because it’s oil soluble, it gets deep into pores to unclog them, which prevents future breakouts.
Salicylic acid products work best for treating whiteheads, blackheads, and large pores.
While the strength ranges from less than 1.0% to more than 2%, start with a lower strength. Salicylic acid can dry skin, and in higher concentrations may increase redness and irritation.
Salicylic acid solutions should be applied twice a day, right after the face wash. Only a thin layer is necessary. Because salicylic acid can be drying, I like the products that combine it with a moisturizer, such as Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer with 0.5% salicylic acid.
Benzoyl peroxide is probably the most effective treatment for moderate acne. Like salicylic acid, it penetrates into poors and helps exfoliate dead cells. But it’s also a mild antibacterial, and kills the bacteria responsible for zits.
So if your acne is more zits than blackheads, opt for a product that contains benzoyl peroxide. Start with a lower concentration (2.5%) to prevent irritation, and save the high concentration (10%) for spot treatments.
Many acne cleansers contain benzoyl peroxide, but I’ve never understood this. It will just be rinsed off before it can dig into your pores and kill any acne-causing bacteria. That’s why I recommend a leave-on product instead.
For more moderate acne, you can use both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Try using them on alternate days.
All these products are useful for mild to moderate acne. It’s important to know that acne treatments don’t work overnight, no matter what a label or commercial says. Stick to a routine for 4-8 weeks before trying something else or seeing a physician.
More tips to treat acne
Don’t over dry your skin
In general when treating acne, don’t over dry or irritate the skin. Of course if you have oily skin it seems reasonable to scrub your face until it’s tight and shiny, but that just makes your skin signal your pores to release more oil.
Some product lines have toners or astringents to use in between the face wash and the actual acne treatment. These products often contain alcohol or witch hazel, sometimes charcoal. These can make your skin too dry; you don’t need them. Save your money.
Avoid harsh ingredients
One key to treating acne is being gentle on your skin. Irritated skin not only looks more red, but is more prone to breakouts. (I remember thinking sandpaper was the only way to get rid of my acne. Luckily I never acted on it!)
One popular (and expensive) line of products uses sulfur. Although it’s a disinfectant, it’s also very irritating. Benzoyl peroxide is a better first choice.
Some cleaners use a harsher form of soap, which is very alkaline (as in lye or sodium/potassium hydroxide) and drying. Avoid these ingredients.
I love using skin care guru Paula Begoine’s cosmetic ingredient dictionary when I’m unsure about the benefits of a particular ingredient. She rates them from poor (like sulfur) to best (benzoyl peroxide), so it’s easy to immediately know what’s good and what’s not.
Use a sunscreen, too
Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can make you more sensitive to the sun, so always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen after applying the acne medication.
Watch your diet
When I was a teen, fatty foods were blamed for acne. Now we know a high-glycemic diet is worse for your face. Avoid high-glycemic foods like white breads, pastries, potatoes (fries or chips), white rice, ice cream, and sugary drinks.
That’s good advice for overall health, as well 🙂