If washing your face twice daily with a gentle soap hasn't stopped your acne problem, you'll want to explore the acne cleansers available over-the-counter. But don't fall for promises on the front of the packaging -- take the time to turn it around and read the ingredients.
FDA regulations require companies to list their active ingredients, and one of the best things to look for in an acne cleanser is benzoyl peroxide. It's proven effective for many people because of its ability to kill P. acne, remove dead cells, and open and drain comedones. Benzoyl peroxide is available in varying concentrations, usually 2.5, 5 or 10 percent. Experts recommend starting off with low concentrations to avoid skin irritation (any of which should subside within a few weeks).
Another common ingredient is salicylic acid, which works by exfoliating the skin, or removing dead skin cells. However, some experts say that, on its own, low concentrations of salicylic acid that are available over-the-counter don't do much, but it can help the skin absorb benzoyl peroxide when they're used together.
Sulfur (historically used, but less common today) can open up clogged pores and remove P. acne, but it can also make skin dry and red. Other ingredients that work to unplug pores are resorcinol, retinol and glycolic acid. Still other ingredients may be included to reduce inflammation, such as green tea and niacinamide. And vitamin F can supposedly help regulate oil production.
But if you try these over-the-counter cleansers and find that your acne is still there, it's time to see a dermatologist. The doctor can prescribe more powerful medications, including oral medications, that are likely to work -- but they could come with notable side effects. Make sure to discuss these with your doctor before you start something new.