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Active Ingredients to Fight Acne


Acne is a common skin condition that affects about 50 million Americans annually [1]. Dermatologists recommend using active ingredients that target the root causes of acne, such as excess oil production, inflammation, and bacteria [2]. Below are the 5 of the best active ingredients for fighting acne, according to dermatologists:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Benzoyl peroxideis a powerful acne-fighting ingredient that works by killing the bacteria that cause acne [3]. It also helps to reduce inflammation and unclog pores. Benzoyl peroxide is available over-the-counter in concentrations ranging from 2.5% to 10%. Dermatologists recommend starting with a lower concentration and gradually increasing as needed. It is important to use benzoyl peroxide as directed, as it can be drying and irritating to the skin.

  • Salicylic Acid
  • Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that exfoliates the skin and unclogs pores [4]. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce redness and swelling. Salicylic acid is available over-the-counter in concentrations ranging from 0.5% to 2%. It is often used in combination with other acne-fighting ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide.

  • Retinoids
  • Retinoids are a class of vitamin A derivatives that are known for their anti-aging benefits. However, they are also effective in treating acne. Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover and preventing the formation of new comedones (clogged pores). They also have anti-inflammatory properties. Retinoids are available by prescription in various strengths and formulations, such as tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene.

  • Azelaic Acid
  • Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid that is derived from grains. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that make it effective in treating acneAzelaic acid also helps to reduce hyperpigmentation (dark spots) that can occur after acne heals. It is available by prescription in concentrations ranging from 15% to 20%.

  • Niacinamide
  • Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a water-soluble vitamin that has anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps to regulate sebum production and improve the skin barrier function. Niacinamide is available over-the-counter in concentrations ranging from 2% to 10%. It is often used in combination withother acne-fighting ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

    When choosing an acne treatment, it is important to consider your skin type and the severity of your acne. Some active ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, can be drying and irritating to the skin. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to start with a milder treatment, such as salicylic acid or niacinamide. This list is not all encompassing; oral and topical antibiotics, hydrocolloid patches, sulfur, zinc, and over-the-counter retinoid derivatives are also very useful. It is also important to use sunscreen daily, as many acne treatments can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. In conclusion, there are many effective active ingredients for fighting acne. With the right treatment, you can achieve clear, healthy skin.


    [1] Skin conditions by the numbers.

    [2] Dréno B (2017) What is new in the pathophysiology of acne, an overview.J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 31 Suppl 5, 8–12.

    [3] Yang Z, Zhang Y, Lazic Mosler E, Hu J, Li H, Zhang Y, Liu J, Zhang Q (2020) Topical benzoyl peroxide for acne.Cochrane Database Syst Rev 3, CD011154.

    [4] Liu H, Yu H, Xia J, Liu L, Liu G, Sang H, Peinemann F (2020) Evidence-based topical treatments (azelaic acid, salicylic acid, nicotinamide, sulfur, zinc, and fruit acid) for acne: an abridged version of a Cochrane systematic review.J Evid Based Med 13, 275–283.