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Acne Medications

Acne is caused when skin cells shed too quickly in hair follicles. This clogs the follicle, producing comedones, more commonly known as whiteheads and blackheads. These can then become inflamed, producing pimples.

Acne medicines may contain ingredients that remove the top layer of dead skin (such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur) and ingredients that have antibacterial action. Some ingredients reduce sebum production; others reduce inflammation.

Sulfur used to be quite common in acne medications, but while it was effective at reducing inflammatory lesions, it caused more whiteheads and blackheads, from which the inflammatory lesions form. For this reason, it is usually combined with something like salicylic acid, or resorcinol, to eliminate the comedones.


Resorcinol unclogs pores by causing dead skin cells to slough off. It also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial effects.

Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide prevents the pores from clogging up by removing dead skin cells. It also kills the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes that causes acne. It has anti-inflammatory effects and reduces oxygen free radicals and fatty acids on the skin.

Salicylic acid
Salicylic acid unclogs the pores, and reduces inflammation. It is also somewhat effective at killing bacteria.

Hydroxy Acids
Salicylic acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid. Glycolic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid, as are lactic acid, citric acid, among many others. Hydroxy acids are compounds that are both alcohols and acids at the same time. Hydroxy acids are used as chemical peeling agents. Alpha hydroxy acids can make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light by removing the protective outer layers of the skin.

Some Alpha hydroxy acids:

By Simon Quellen Field
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