How To Treat Teen Acne with Over-the-Counter Products

Tips for Using Store-Bought Acne Products to Treat Teen Acne

Most kids break out at some point during their teen years.  So, if you’re dealing with acne, know that this is a completely normal part of growing up.

But acne is annoying.  Luckily, there are acne treatment products that you can buy at the store that work really well.  You’ve probably seen them, and maybe you’ve even tried a few.

The acne treatments found at the store are called over-the-counter treatments.  Sometimes over-the-counter is abbreviated OTC.  So, “over-the-counter treatments” and “OTC treatments” mean the same thing.

Some OTC treatments work really well, some don’t work so well.  But whatever product you’re using, they will only work if you’re using them right.  Let’s talk about the best way to use your OTC products, so that you'll get the best results from them.


Teen girl applying acne medication
Photo: Kid Stock / Getty Images

There are so many acne products on the store shelf, so it's easy to get confused and overwhelmed. How do you pick a good one?  Start by reading ingredient labels.

The trick to getting an over-the-counter treatment that works is to look at the active ingredient.  You’ll find this listed right on the back of the product. 

Look for a product that has an active ingredient of either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide

If you just have a few tiny bumps and blackheads, try a product with the active ingredient salicylic acid first.  If you have red pimples and whiteheads, or a lot of bumps, choose a product that has the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.

Younger teens and tweens, ask an adult to help you choose a good product.



Now that you've got your treatment product, it's time to start using it.  Read the directions on your product. 

Remember, for your treatment to work you have to use it consistently.  No skipping applications or missing days.

If your skin is getting extra dry, it's OK to use your product less often, especially for the first few weeks.  The key here is to use it as regularly and consistently as you can.

Just don't get over-excited and use your product more than directed.  It won't work any faster and you'll probably get super dry, irritated skin.



Although you'll be anxious to see your skin start to clear up, it won't happen all that fast. 

You'll probably still get new breakouts for the first month or two.  It may seem like your product isn't working, but give it time.

It can take three or four months before your skin really starts looking better.  That can feel like and eternity.  Try to be patient and keep using your OTC product, even if you're still breaking out.  Improvement comes very slowly and steadily.



Sometimes, store-bought acne products aren’t effective enough.  If you’ve used them for three or four months and you still are having problems with acne, it’s time to see your doctor.

You can talk with your regular doctor or pediatrician first.  They can prescribe acne medications that are stronger than store-bought treatments.  They can also refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in the skin).

Ask your parents to make an appointment for you.  It can be hard to bring up the subject; you might not even sure how to ask.  That’s OK.  This article will give you ideas:  Talking to Your Parents about Seeing a Doctor for Your Acne.

If you're willing to be patient and dedicated to using your treatments (either OTC or prescription) you can see big improvement of your acne.