Are OTC Acne Washes, Scrubs & Gels Making My Acne Worse?

Sheetal Rawal, Founder, Apsara Skin Care

Left: Sheetal Rawal, scientist (human genetics) & founder of Apsara Skin Care

By: Sheetal Rawal

Over-the-counter, or OTC, acne products use ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to help treat your acne and keep it under control. Most use these ingredients at a very high concentration or the very highest allowed.

If you have or are suffering from acne, it is natural that you will get attracted to OTC washes, ointments or lotions that have a very high percentage of these active ingredients.

Well, higher means quicker and more effective treatment. Right? Wrong.

Read on to see why and how these products can hurt your skin far more than helping it. In rare cases, dangerous and life-threatening reactions can occur.

Is My OTC Acne Product Making My Acne Worse?

Well most of us wouldn’t even think about asking this question. How can something that is supposed to treat acne make it worse?

Well, it can. Come to think of it, the process can be understood quite easily.

Why then do these products exist in the market, you ask? Well, it could be that you might see some immediate temporary relief with that angry zit looking less red the next morning.

But have you noticed how the skin around that acne spot looks and feels? Well, your clue might be right here.

As these high concentration OTC ingredients touch the skin, they dry it out. Depending upon the percentage of these ingredients in your product, the dryness might be severe.

Your skin might peel and look red and blistery. It might burn with the slightest exposure to sunlight.

When your skin is so challenged, it fights back to protect itself. The best way it knows how is to pump out huge amounts of oil.



While your skin might look and feel dry on the surface due to the usage of these OTC acne products, the fact is that there is an excessive amount of underlying oiliness.

So where does this oil go? Oh, I know you know exactly where. It simply hardens and clogs up your pores.

Any guesses on what comes next? Acne, that's right. Clogged up pores are a ready invitation to acne-causing bacteria. The result is an active infection with puss, redness, swelling, and potential of a long-term scar or blemish.

This picture is very disturbing to me. It is frustrating too because in trying to fix acne, we end up making it much worse and chronic.

This is a vicious cycle that develops and becomes stronger over long-term usage of OTC acne products with harsh ingredients in them.

So as you see, the first reason you must be wary of your OTC acne product is that it can make your acne worse while seeming to help superficially.

"I tried everything except for Accutane to control my acne. This is the first product line that has worked for me. I have no skin makeup on for the first time, and I am 34. So that is very freeing."

So What Is a Good Short & Long Term Anti-Acne Plan?

Using acne products made with natural ingredients is the key. But here too, not all that is natural is automatically great.

You must take a very close and impartial look at the ingredients and do some independent fact-finding to see if you are about to make the right choice or not.

Ingredients like turmeric, neem, clove, sandalwood, chamomile, etc. need no introduction. If used together in an acne routine, they can offer your skin natural skin-calming, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties.

These ingredients have not gone through rigorous scientific studies and therefore cannot be called medications. However, these ingredients do enjoy solid empirical evidence from thousands of years in Ayurveda.

An ingredient of special note is jojoba oil. It can work like magic to reduce the appearance of acne.

Jojoba oil is structurally very similar to your skin’s oil. It is absorbed quickly by your skin and begins to nourish it and deep clean your pores.

An undesirable reaction associated with jojoba is that in a minority it can deep clean your pores rapidly and in so doing a purging reaction can happen. For some, this can make acne look more pronounced for a short time. This clean-up reaction is also associated with other natural ingredients like castor oil. As noted earlier, we do not know exactly how these ingredients work from a scientific perspective. They cannot be called acne medications since they have not gone through scientific studies to prove or disprove their efficacy.

In my opinion and from my own experience, your acne routine is incomplete without jojoba oil in it.

"This is the only product that has ever worked on my acne. I saw results within 3-4 days."

Let’s Get to Know Other Negative Side Effects Associated with Your OTC Acne Product

1. Abnormal Peeling and Flaking of Skin: Using topical treatments for acne can turn into a nightmare for your skin. The high percentages of active ingredients in them dry up the skin and cause flaking. With regular use, many users complain of abnormal peeling of skin. You may experience this after a few days of using the product.

2. Excessive Dryness: Most OTC acne products come with a menace of excessive skin dryness. This is because acne products are loaded with harsh chemicals that tend to make your skin dry and lifeless. They strip the nourishing natural oils off your skin, and your skin will work hard to defend itself by overproducing oil and sebum, which in

turn will cause new acne to flare up. This is no less than a vicious cycle, where your skin is subjugated to sheer torture.



3. Stinging and Itching: Stinging or itching is common when you begin using a topical ointment to treat acne. But if your skin does not adjust and you continue to experience mild to extreme stinging or itching, it can be a matter of concern. "No pain, no gain" is not a motto you should apply when it comes to your skin. Constant skin irritation can be an indication that your skin is really suffering. Chronic stinging and itching can leave your skin sun-sensitive, irritated and discolored.

4. Redness of the Skin: Your OTC acne products could be behind the redness and tenderness of your skin. This is specially so if your skin is not prone to redness in general but does look flushed and hot upon the application of OTC acne products. Switching to a calming routine is your best and far friendlier option for your skin. Ingredients like chamomile and jojoba are well-known for their skin-calming properties.

"I struggled with cystic acne. For a time I had actually been on Accutane. I found Apsara through a friend. My results have been absolutely amazing."

Rare or Less Common Side Effects Include

According to a recently issued Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning, products that contain the ingredients salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can result in rare but severe irritation and serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions.

This warning from the FDA was prompted by reports of serious allergic reactions from these OTC acne treatment products, including lotions, gels, facial scrubs, facial washes, toners, and cleansing pads. These reports were obtained from manufacturers and consumers between 1969 and January 2013.

Allergy-Like Reactions

According to the FDA, the serious reactions that were reported were symptoms of severe allergy such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Wheezing
  • Fainting
  • Collapse

"I first found out about Apsara through my best friend. I had been complaining about my acne. I had tried every product on the market. Within a matter of weeks, I saw results. I feel so confident in my skin. It is such a cool feeling."

In conclusion, acne can be an issue that impacts not only your skin but your overall outlook.

Many acne sufferers feel uncomfortable in social situations and on account of this, they feel stressed, which only serves to worsen the situation.

Using maximum strength OTC acne products can leave your skin irritated and more likely to suffer further bouts of acne.

While natural ingredients like neem, turmeric, chamomile, jojoba, etc cannot be called acne treatments, they could be the right option to keep your skin calm and healthy as well as reduce the appearance of acne and excess oiliness of skin.

Ready to go natural with your skin and hair care routine? Fill out this form with any questions you might have and expert guidance is on the way.

Go natural. It is good karma!


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