Over-the-Counter Acne Treatment for Teens

How to Use Store-Bought Acne Products to Treat Teen Acne

Most people break out during their teen years. So, if you have 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.

(Just FYI: 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.)

Over-the-counter acne treatments, in the right situations, can work really well. But they will only work if you use them right.

Here's how to use your OTC products so that you'll get the best results from them.


Pick the Right Product with the Right Active Ingredients

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 prominently on the back of the product. 

Look for a product that has an active ingredient of either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These are the most effective acne-fighting ingredients available over the counter. If the product doesn't contain either of these, it's unlikely to work well.

If you just have a few tiny bumps and blackheads, try a product with the active ingredient salicylic acid first. You'll find this ingredient in acne-fighting cleansers, toners, and pads.

For red pimples and whiteheads, or a lot of bumps, choose a product that has the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide comes in cleansers, pads, and leave-on lotions and creams. 

Brand name isn't very important as long as it contains one of these active ingredients. Just choose something you like, in your price range, that makes your skin feel good.


Use Your Product Every Day, Exactly As Directed

Now that you've got your treatment product, it's time to start using it.  Even though you already know how to use a cleanser or toner, read the directions on your product anyway. They will tell you how often you need to use the product in order for it to work.

The most important thing is 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.


Keep Using Your Product for At Least 3 Months

Although you'll be anxious to see your skin start to clear up, it won't happen all that fast. In fact, improvement can happen so slowly at first it will seem like your acne isn't getting better at all.

Expect to get new pimples for the first month or two, even while using your acne treatment. It will seem like your product isn't working, but give it time.

It can take three or four months using a product before your skin really starts looking better. That feels like an eternity.

Resist the urge to switch around to different products! You'll not get good results that way.

Try to be patient and keep using your OTC product, even if you're still breaking out. Improvement comes very slowly and steadily.


Make an Appointment with Your Doctor If Your Acne Isn't Getting Any Better

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 family doctor or pediatrician first. They can prescribe acne medications that are stronger than store-bought treatments. If needed, 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.

What you don't want to do is simply switch to another over-the-counter acne product. If you didn't get good results with one brand, switching brands won't change much.

Some types of acne, especially more severe forms, just won't get better without a prescription medication. Although this seems like an inconvenience, you'll be happier in the long run getting professional treatment.

A Word from Verywell

Acne is frustrating and may make you feel embarrassed. It's normal to feel that way.

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. So don't be afraid to ask your parents or your doctor for help.

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