Are You Using Effective Ingredients for Acne-Prone Skin?
When it comes totreating acne, there are several ingredients that can help get breakouts under control (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid). But how do these ingredients work and which acne-fighting treatments are most effective? To help answer these questions, we asked board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ted Lain to share some tips for finding effective over-the-counter skincare for acne-prone skin.
If you struggle with clogged pores or acne blemishes, you’ve likely spent time searching for the right acne treatment products—and you’re certainly not alone. Acne is a common skin condition that affects up to 50 million Americans each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).1 Acne skincare products come in many forms, including acne creams, cleansers, spot treatments, gels, face masks, and more. These products can feature different active ingredients for acne (with various concentrations of these ingredients). For example, while one person might benefit most from using a 4% benzoyl peroxide cleanser, another may benefit from using a 2% salicylic acid cleanser. Ahead, we’re helping you learn about effective over-the-counter acne-clearing ingredients for your skin with the help of Dr. Ted Lain. Read on to learn how to treat acne with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid and explore some of CeraVe’s products for acne-prone skin.
CeraVe Ingredients for Acne-Prone Skin
- Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO): Benzoyl peroxide can help clear existing acne blemishes and help prevent new acne breakouts from forming.
- How Benzoyl Peroxide Works: This ingredient works by reducing a type of acne-causing bacteria known as P. acnes.
- Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps promote the natural shedding of dead skin cells.
- How Salicylic Acid Works: Salicylic acid can be beneficial for unclogging pores and reducing the appearance of comedonal acne (whiteheads and blackheads).
- Additional Ingredients for Healthy-Looking Skin: CeraVe products for acne-prone skin are formulated with carefully-selected ingredients (including retinol, glycolic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide), do not disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, and help support comfortable, radiant-looking skin
Which Ingredients Are Best for Treating Acne?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States.1 However, despite its prevalence, acne can differ between individuals—from the type of acne blemishes you experience to how, why, and when you break out. Managing acne breakouts is not a one-size-fits-all approach and, therefore, the ideal acne-fighting ingredients can vary from person to person. “The best ingredient for your skin really depends on your age, gender, skin type, and environment,” says Dr. Lain. “So the first thing I’d like to tell you is to work with your dermatologist to determine the right ingredient for you.”
With that being said, there are two anti-acne ingredients that Dr. Lain often recommends to his patients who are looking for an over-the-counter acne treatment: benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Keep reading to learn more about these two ingredients, along with a few others you might want to consider for your healthy skin routine.
Acne Ingredient #1: Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) has been used as a skincare ingredient for over 50 years and continues to be one of the most popular ingredients used in teenage and adult acne treatments. ”Benzoyl peroxide is a tried-and-true acne-fighting ingredient,” says Dr Lain. Research has found that benzoyl peroxide decreases a type of acne-causing bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).2
According to Dr. Lain, “it helps kill acne-causing bacteria, as well as exfoliate, which helps remove the debris from the skin’s surface to prevent the formation of blackheads and whiteheads.” Benzoyl peroxide has also been classified as safe and effective for the treatment of acne by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)3
Choosing a product with benzoyl peroxide
To help you get the most out of this acne-fighting ingredient, we recommend choosing benzoyl peroxide products that are gentle on skin, developed with dermatologists, and fragrance-free—like our Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser (4%) and Acne Foaming Cream Wash (10%). These acne cleansers are formulated with benzoyl peroxide to clear acne pimples and help prevent new acne breakouts from forming, while allowing the skin to heal.
Our 4% benzoyl peroxide cleanser, CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser, makes a great choice if you’re looking for a gentle, cream-based facial cleanser that helps clear acne without dryness or flaking. On the other hand, our Acne Foaming Cream Wash features the maximum amount of benzoyl peroxide available without a prescription (10%). Formulated as a face acne and body acne treatment, our 10% benzoyl peroxide wash can be an effective option for reducing body acne and persistent facial acne.
Acne Ingredient #2: Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid (SA) is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps promote the skin’s natural exfoliation process. This shedding of dead skin cells can help to prevent pores from becoming clogged with acne-causing materials and help to prevent new acne breakouts as a result. Salicylic acid can also promote a smoother skin texture with pores that appear smaller.
Choosing a product with salicylic acid
We recommend look ing for salicylic acid products that are formulated to be gentle enough for daily use, such as CeraVe Acne Control Cleanser and CeraVe Acne Control Gel. This acne duo features 2% salicylic acid and is formulated to clear acne, reduce blackheads, and improve the appearance of pores. Our Acne Control Cleanser also features purifying clay to help absorb excess oil , while our Acne Control Gel includes alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid and lactic acid) to support smoother-looking skin. For best results, we recommend using these two salicylic acid products together as part of your daily skincare routine for clear, healthy-looking skin.
Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid: What’s the Difference?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can both be used to help treat acne, but the way that they function is different. As we learned above, salicylic acid works primarily as a chemical exfoliant, meaning it helps promote the elimination of dead skin cells. Because it can penetrate pores, salicylic acid may be an effective option for anyone dealing with acne caused by clogged pores or excess sebum. Salicylic acid products are often used to treat and help prevent comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads) and can also help improve the appearance of pores.
On the other hand, because benzoyl peroxide helps reduce acne-causing bacteria, it’s considered an ideal ingredient for treating existing acne blemishes. The highest strength of benzoyl peroxide available in over-the-counter acne products is 10%. “If you have too much benzoyl peroxide, it can cause irritation,” explains Dr. Lain. “If you have too little, you may not see results. ” It’s all about finding what works best for your skin’s unique needs. A board-certified dermatologist can help you pinpoint the ideal concentration and ingredient for your skin.
Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid?
This depends on the product's you choose and the specific instructions for each product. Always read the product packaging carefully and apply acne products as instructed on the label. When in doubt, consult a board-certified dermatologist. In some cases, your dermatologist may recommend an acne treatment plan that includes a combination of benzoyl peroxide products and salicylic acid products. Always follow the advice of your dermatologist and avoid over-using benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid products, as this may increase the likelihood of skin irritation or side effects such as dryness, redness, or flaking.
What Are Some Other Ingredients for Healthy-Looking Skin ?
If you have blemish-prone skin, it’s important to remember that a daily skincare routine is essential. To help support you with this, we’ve formulated our acne products to be gentle enough for daily use. As the #1 dermatologist-recommended acne brand,* CeraVe products feature carefully-selected ingredients that can help maintain your skin’s protective barrier and promote hydrated, healthy-looking skin.
Here are a few beneficial CeraVe ingredients to look out for when build ing your healthy skin routine.
Individuals with acne may have a deficiency in ceramides—the lipids that make up a large portion of your skin ’s protective barrier. According to research, applying a topical face product with ceramides can help improve skin’s moisture barrier function4 You can find ceramides in all CeraVe products, like our Moisturizing Cream and AM Facial Moisturizer With Sunscreen—a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic face moisturizer formulated with broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen and three essential ceramides. To learn more about CeraVe’s ceramides, visit The Ceramides Difference.
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that can help encourage the shedding of dead skin cells. This ingredient can help visibly refine your skin’s surface and improve the appearance of uneven texture and tone. For acne-prone skin, retinol is sometimes used to help minimize the look of post-acne marks (skin discoloration s left behind after acne blemishes have healed).
Dr. Lain often recommends CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum to his patients. “It contains microencapsulated retinol, which is a tried-and-true ingredient to help reduce the appearance of discoloration,” he says. “Retinol can be irritating to the skin, so we have to find ways to make it easier, and that’s what the encapsulated retinol does.” He also adds that using gentle retinol products may help support consistent use, explaining that, ”you’ll use it more frequently and frequent use leads to better outcomes and better success.”
Lactic acid and glycolic acid are two of the most popular alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) used in skincare. Similar to beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), they offer exfoliation benefits that can be used to help soften and smooth your skin by removing dead skin cells. Using AHAs in your skincare routine can help promote brighter-looking skin, minimize the appearance of pores, and smooth skin texture.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that’s needed by your body to help maintain healthy-looking skin. According to Dr. Lain, “Niacinamide is an ingredient used for decades in skincare products to help soothe the skin.” You can find niacinamide in CeraVe products like our Ultra-Light Moisturizing Gel . This hydrating facial gel features a non-comedogenic, water-based formula and a refreshing, weightless texture that makes it a great pick for all skin types (especially as a daily moisturizer for acne-prone skin).
Remember: Acne treatments can take time to work and may require a bit of patience. Always consult with a board-certified dermatologist if acne breakouts are severe, painful, or don’t clear up on their own with over-the-counter acne medications.
For help choosing effective skincare products for your specific skin type and skin concerns, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.
- Skin Conditions By the NumbersAmerican Academy of Dermatology Association, 2022.
- “What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions?” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2008 Nov;1(4):48-51. PMID: 21218192; PMCID: PMC3016935.
- Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Topical Acne Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use--Revision of Labeling and Classification of Benzoyl Peroxide as Safe and EffectiveU.S. Food and Drug Administration, 17 Oct. 2019.
- Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, Gannes GD, Gulliver W, Haber R, McCuaig C, Rajan P, Skotnicki SP, Thomas R, Toole J, Vender R. “Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with BenefitsJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 Mar;7(3):18-26. PMID: 24688622; PMCID: PMC3970828.
*IQVIA, ProVoice Survey, rolling 12 months ending March 31, 2023
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