Drugstore Skin-Care Products for Acne, Recommended By Dermatologists

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

In the midst of a breakout, it can feel tempting to throw anything at the problem (or the pimple, as it were.) Money, prayer, six pimple patches stacked on top of one another — whatever it takes to reduce redness and shrink zits. But, as I continually remind myself every time I feel the telltale dull ache of a burgeoning zit, clear skin doesn't have to cost an entire paycheck. In fact, there are tried-and-true acne treatments available right in the drugstore.

There's a time and a place for prescription acne treatments, and your dermatologist can help you determine when it's spironolactone o'clock. But until then — or often, in conjunction with prescribed treatments — over-the-counter_products/article.htm' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >over-the-counter acne fighters can do some heavy lifting in your skin-care routine.

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"When it comes to over-the-counter acne treatment, it is all about the ingredients, and the three ingredients to look for are retinol, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid," board-certified dermatologist Michele Green tells ishonest. Retinols, she explains, "are essential as they promote exfoliation and cell turnover which unclogs the pores." As for benzoyl peroxide, it "kills bacteria which causes acne," while "salicylic acid unclogs the pores by breaking up dead skin cells."

Those hero ingredients show up again and again in dermatologist-recommended acne products. We asked physicians to tell us exactly which ones they prefer. Ahead, see their picks for acne products that are effective, affordable, and available right around the corner.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

"It's a common misconception that oily and acne prone skin doesn't need moisturizer, but it does," says board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson. She recommends the hyaluronic acid-based Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel. It's oil-free and lightweight to keep skin nourished without clogging pores.

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash

The PanOxyl Acne Foaming Face Wash contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, which Robinson describes as "a longstanding leader in the acne battle." This cleanser is safe to use on both face and body, so it can even double as an all-over wash for back breakouts.

Arm & Hammer Invisible Spray Powder

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Robinson recommends Arm & Hammer's Invisible Spray Powder to her patients with acne that goes beyond the face. "It's great for body acne, for example on the buttox and back," she says. "Baking soda helps soothe irritation and inflammation associated with acne and also has antiseptic benefits to reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin." She recommends patients spray the area before a sweaty workout.

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

It wouldn't be a drugstore haul without CeraVe. This exfoliating cleanser contains one of our key ingredients — salicylic acid. "[CeraVe's Renewing SA Cleanser] can de-clog pores and help prevent comedones and whiteheads," says Claire Chang, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. She chose this cleanser because "it contains hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and antioxidants to help moisturize and soothe the skin."

Cetaphil Pro Oil Removing Foam Wash

"The Cetaphil Pro Oil Removing Foam Wash is one of my favorites to recommend to acne-prone patients, because it is gentle enough to remove excess oil without over-drying or stripping the skin of its natural oils," says Tiffany J. Libby, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University. "It also helps reduce the appearance of shine and oil on the skin's surface." Plus, the foamy texture makes you look just like you're in a face wash commercial.

Differin Gel

"My favorite drugstore acne product is Differin Gel," says Chang. Differin is the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription-strength retinoid acne treatment available over the counter; it was a big deal when this hit the market in 2016. "Differin works by normalizing skin cell turnover and decreasing inflammation, thereby treating both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne," Chang explains. It looks like a spot treatment, but don't stop there — apply it to the entire face twice daily.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment

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The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment contains 5.5 percent micronized benzoyl peroxide, says Green. Not only does the ingredient work to kill the bacteria that caused the zit in the first place, but it will also scratch the itch to do something about a zit. Apply a small dollop to the affected area in the morning and evening.

Cetaphil Pro Dermacontrol Purifying Clay Mask

In conjunction with her go-to cleanser, Libby recommends Cetaphil's Pro Dermacontrol Purifying Clay Mask — one of the few she'll allow her acne patients to use. "Most acne patients are already using multiple topical treatments, so when it comes to masking, I recommend keeping it simple to minimize any further irritation," she says. “This mask is formulated specifically for sensitive skin types."

Bioré Charcoal Acne Face Scrub

Green advises her acne patients to pick up the Bioré Charcoal Acne Face Scrub, which combines the bacteria-killing power of salicylic acid with charcoal's ability to draw impurities out of the skin. It's designed for use two or three times a week, so only pick it up when your skin is in need of exfoliation.

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