How to Create an OTC Acne Treatment Regimen

Develop an At-Home Skin Care Routine That Works for You

Some of the most popular over-the-counter acne products are three-step acne treatment kits. These all-inclusive acne regimens contain everything you need – a cleanser, toner, and treatment lotion. Some even come with a bonus mask. Proactiv is probably the most well-known (and arguably most widely used) OTC acne treatment kit, but there are plenty of others available as well.

Your 3-Step Acne Treatment with OTC Acne Products

But you can put together your own three-step treatment routine, with whatever products you like. Incorporating several OTC products together into a complete treatment routine will give you better results than using one just product alone.

Inexpensive brands can work as well as the more pricey products, so if saving money is the motivating factor, it's completely fine to use bargain brands. You can even use some of the OTC acne products you already have on hand.

Remember, though, OTC acne treatments really only work for mild acne. If you have moderate acne to severe acne, or if you've already used OTC treatments with no results, you should see a dermatologist instead. On the flip side, if you're already seeing a dermatologist for your acne, don't add this to your treatment routine unless you get approval from your doctor first.

Ready to build your own customized three-step acne program? Head to the skin care aisle (or your skin care stash in the bathroom cabinet) and look for these products.

Start with a Cleanser

The woman is washing her face.
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Look for a cleanser that contains the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide (look on the back under the ingredient listing). Bonus points if you get one that contains salicylic acid too.

Other than the active ingredient, it really doesn't matter what type of cleanser you choose. If you have oily skin, you'll most likely want a foaming cleanser. A non-foaming cleansing lotion will be a better choice for you if your skin tends to be on the dry side.

What about those cleansers with exfoliating beads? They're great too, so long as your skin isn’t super sensitive and your acne isn't too inflamed. If those beads seem to irritate your skin, skip them and use a cleanser without instead.

Use your cleanser twice daily, morning and night.

Pick a Toner

Young woman doing her beauty routine
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Choose a toner that contains salicylic acid and/or glycolic acid. These ingredients help exfoliate the skin and unclog pores.

Alcohol-free toners are much less likely to sting or burn, and they aren't as drying either. Dry or sensitive skin? Definitely get an alcohol-free brand.

Another option -- those treatment pads. (Think Stridex, Oxy, and the like). They deliver blemish-fighting medication as well, and you don't have to pre-moisten your cotton ball. Watch for skin irritation, though.

Whichever product you choose, use twice daily after cleansing, morning and night.

Finish with a Treatment Lotion

Woman applying face cream in front of mirror
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This is the backbone of your OTC treatment regimen. Acne treatment lotions give you the most bang for your buck.

Look for a benzoyl peroxide lotion or cream. Some of the most common brands are Clearasil, Oxy, AcneFree, etc. You'll probably want to start with a 2.5 to 5 percent strength. You can move up to a 10 percent strength later, if needed.

Acne treatment lotions aren't moisturizers, and they actually can dry your skin. If you need, you can use an oil-free moisturizer under your treatment lotion. Apply it first, let it absorb completely, and then put your benzoyl peroxide lotion over it.

You will use your treatment lotion once or twice daily, after cleansing and toning. Don't wash the treatment lotion off.

Bonus: Add a Mask (Optional, But a Great Idea)

Girl applying facial mask in bathroom
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A bonus treatment, and one that can help speed things along, is a medicated mask. Some of the most helpful: glycolic acid, sulfur, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide.

Masks can help exfoliate (a necessity for keeping pores from becoming clogged), reduce oiliness, deep cleanse, and make the skin feel softer and smoother. Think of it as intensive therapy for your skin.

Don't go overboard with facial masks and scrubs though, or you can make things worse by irritating your skin. A few times a week is good; every day is probably overkill.

Use your mask one to three times per week, according to the directions on your product.

Your At-Home Acne Routine

That's all there is to it! Remember, don't worry about the brand name; focus on the active ingredients. You can use whatever brand you like, and you can even mix-and-match products from different brands to create your own personal acne skin care line. The main thing is to use your OTC treatment routine consistently. Do see a dermatologist if your treatment isn't working after 3-4 months, but with luck your OTC acne treatment routine will be just what your skin needed.

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