Acne 101: Mild acne and OTC Treatments

I don’t know about you but my daughter and I have dealt with acne in our lives. It is a stressful skin problem and almost all of us have had one form of acne in our lifetime. Mine was pretty acute and I had to take Accutane to resolve the issue (this falls into the severe acne category which I will address in our next blog about acne). 

We can group acne into two types; general non-infectious and infectious.  Another way of grouping it is mild, medium or severe acne.

In this blog we will talk about mild, or common acnes. In future blogs I will get more technical and talk about the more severe symptoms.

As a general rule mild acne can be treated with over the counter medication and skin treatments.  Moderate and severe acne will typically need professional help since there is probably an underlying medical problem that is causing the severity of the outbreak. So, if you are suffering from moderate and severe acne don’t waste your money on OTC products and instead go and see a dermatologist.

Acne vulgaris is the medical name for common acne. Blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of pimples on the skin. The most common spots for breakouts are on the face, chest, shoulders, and back.

The main causes of acne:

  • Clogged pores
  • Skin inflammation
  • Oily Skin
  • Bacterial infection

Let’s dive in and look at the problem structurally:

A comedo, or basic acne lesion, is a hair follicle that has become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Comedones (the plural of comedo) can develop into bumps called whiteheads and blackheads. Products that may trigger comedones are called "comedogenic." Makeup and skincare products that are labeled "noncomedogenic" are less likely to clog pores or contribute to acne.

Here is what a comedo for either white or black heads looks like:

I have talked about some of them in past blogs but let’s summarize them again.

Blackheads:  Comedones that are open at the surface of the skin. They are full of excess oil and dead skins, a haven for bacteria. The oxidation of the oil is causing the black color.

Whiteheads: Comedones that stay closed at the surface of the skin are called whiteheads. This happens when oil and skin cells prevent a clogged hair follicle from opening. No oxidation happens so the pimple stays white.

Acne mechanica: is caused by heat, friction, and pressure against the skin, often the result of wearing sports gear such as a helmet or baseball cap. It is sometimes called "sports-induced acne" because it occurs frequently in athletes. Preventive measures include wearing an absorbent material under your sports equipment and showering immediately after activity.

How to treat mild acne:

The good news is that topical therapies like over-the-counter (OTC) treatments applied directly to the skin can in most cases work effectively for mild acne. They may contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

You’d also be amazed how a good skin care routine can also do wonders in preventing acne in the first place!

Choose ingredients or a skin care routine that can address the underlying causes. For example, effective exfoliation can get rid of the dead cells that fall into the pore and are one of the main culprits in the formation of acne. We think BOA exfoliant along with a Beta Hydroxy Acid (about 2% Salicylic acid) are a  perfect combination for addressing clogged pores and oily skin. By removing these two issues you are removing the major causes of acne. BOA works on the outside and Salicylic acid works on the inside of the pores and together they create a very effective treatment without aggravating your skin. They both work as an excellent preventative method as well. I barely have any form of acne since I started using them both on my skin. Alpha Hydroxy Acids  (Glycolic, citric and lactic acids) are also effective but they can sensitize the skin so you need to try them and see if they work for you.

Other treatments:

  • Retinoids are the go-to chemistry for dermatologists. They hit all 4 main causes of acne formation. They are Vitamin A derivatives. Retinyl Palmitate is the mildest version of Retinoids and is good for pregnant women or people with very sensitive skin. Retinol is milder than Retin A or Tretinon which is used in some of the severe cases of acne. The issue is that people with sensitive skin find them too harsh, so you need to work your way up to the higher concentrations.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide fights the bacterial infection and can dry out the pore. They can be used as a wash, cream or spot treatment depending on their concentrations.
  • Azelaic acid is one of the best ingredients for people with sensitive skin. It deals with three of the causes, reduces inflammation, kills bacteria and normalizes the oil gland.

In a future blog I will talk about other forms of severe acnes and what are the current treatment options for them.