Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to go to a dermatologist for top of the line acne solutions. And not eveyone wants to turn to cosmetic surgeries like Kylie Jenner. The good news for you is that not everyone needs prescription strength products to get clear skin. Here is the complete list of the best over the counter acne medicine.

Before you jump into acne medicine, let’s discuss what acne is.

What is Acne?

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million American’s annually. Almost everyone will have acne at some point during puberty.

Acne is characterized by ‘pimples’, ‘zits’, and even blackheads are considered a type of acne.

What Causes Acne?

Acne has a multifactorial pathogensis, meaning there are several different factors which can cause acne.

Cause #1: Follicular Keratinization

Follicular Keratinization is a disorder of dead skin cells building up inside the hair follicle.

Naturally your skin sheds millions of dead cells everyday through a process known as desquemation. However, in hyperkeratiniziation, this process becomes disrupted, and the dead skin cells build up inside the follicle because of keratin (a protein found in the skin).

The excess amount of keratin causes dead skin cells to bond together. This bond eventually blocks the hair follicle, which traps in sebum (oil). When the follicle becomes inflamed, it turns into a pimple (Lomholt & Kilian, 2010).

Cause #2: Excess Sebum Production

Acne is most common in teenagers due to puberty. When teenagers go through puberty, their body produces a hormone known as ‘androgen’. Androgen has shown to make your skin produce more oil.

The oil on the surface layer of the skin is known as ‘sebum’, and is produced by your sebaceous glands. Sebum is good for the skin because it helps to protect, and keep the skin moisturized.

However, when a layer of dead cells build up, the sebum will become trapped inside the pore. This trapped sebum will eventually develop into a blackhead. If this becomes inflamed, it will turn into a pimple. This process explains acne is more common in teenagers, however not every teen gets acne. Thus supporting the theory that acne has a multifactorial pathogensis.

Have you ever wondered why acne is more common on the face, back, shoulders and chest? This is because those areas have more sebaceous glands than other areas of the body.

Cause #3: Bacteria

Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is a bacteria that grows deep inside the pores.

The p. acnes bacteria use sebum (oil) found inside the skin as an energy source.

The reason P. acnes can lead to acne is because they secrete a biofilm known as glycoclyx. Because the biofilm acts as a glue, it will form a bond between skin cells. This bond can block the pore, as a result blackheads form. Additionally, if the lesion becomes inflamed, it will turn into a pimple (Selak, 2013).

How to Get Rid of Acne the Easy Way

Now that you have a better understanding of what causes acne, let’s look over ingredients that are found in the best over the counter acne medicine.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an important ingredient in many skincare products – and for good reasons!

Firstly, it’s a beta hydroxy acid, and it is the only kind that is used in dermatological practice. It is used in a wide variety of cleansers, toners and leave on exfoliants. Due to it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and desmolytic properties, it is considered a gold standard for treating acne.

In summary, salicylic acid works by loosening the bonds of ‘glue’ between dead cells, and the healthy skin cells beneath. For this reason, it will prevent blockage in the pores, revealing the healthy skin beneath (Decker & Graber, 2012).

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has been recognized as an important component in the treatment of acne for more than six decades.

It’s most notable properties include it’s ability to remove and prevent comedones, as well as it’s antibacterial properties (which include the reduction of P.acnes on the skin). By reducing the amount of P. acnes on the skin, it prevents them from colonizing, thus reducing the chance of breaking out (Decker & Graber, 2012).

Why Should You Use Over The Counter Acne Medicine?

There are many reasons to use over the counter acne medicine. The first being, is it’s affordable. However, not all products are created equally. So it is important to do your research, and carefully select the best over the counter products. Secondly, they can give you the same results as the luxury versions of the products. It’s critical to select a product that is well formatted and has a good reputation.

Lucky for you, we’ve tested them all. This is how we created the list of the best over the counter products.

Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine Products

Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine

#1: Stridex Maximum Strength Pads (Salicylic Acid)

  • 2% Salicylic Acid
  • Clears up existing pimples and helps eliminate blackheads
  • Each pad is specially textured for great cleansing with a great feel
  • Alcohol free

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Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine

#2: Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (Salicylic Acid)

  • 2% Salicylic Acid
  • Unclogs & diminishes enlarged pores
  • Dramatically improves skin’s texture for radiant, even-toned skin
  • Clinically proven to hydrate, brighten, & smooth fine lines

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Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine


#3: Paula’s Choice CLEAR Acne Treatment Regular Strength (Benzoyl Peroxide)

  • 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Fights acne and prevents breakouts
  • No harsh ingredients that can cause dry flaky skin
  • Ultra-light lotion sets to a soft matte finish

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Best Over the Counter Acne Medicine?

  • Products that contain salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide


Decker, A., & Graber, E. M. (2012). Over-the-counter acne treatments. , 5(5), . Retrieved from

Selak, S. (2013, May 25). Origimm biotechnology. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from

Lomholt, H. B., & Kilian, M. (2010). Population genetic analysis of Propionibacterium acnes identifies a Subpopulation and epidemic clones associated with acne. , 5(8), . Retrieved from