How To Find the Best Drugstore Acne Products

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

If you know how to find the best drugstore and over-the-counter acne products, you can get clear skin on any budget. There’s only one rule to follow: treat your skin gently. As long as you’re using gentle products with the right ingredients, you’re on your way to clear skin 🧴.

You might think a prescription is the only way to get clear skin, but most people don’t actually need such strong products so we’ve found the best drugstore acne products that work for your skin and your budget.

Look for Ingredients, Not Brand Names

On a budget? The best way to find excellent drugstore and over-the-counter acne products is to choose ingredients based on your skin type. Different skin types have different needs, as we know, but the ideal products for each need not be absurdly expensive brands.

It can be confusing to read every bottle and jar for ingredients, so if you’re looking for something no-brainer that gets results quickly, check out a pre-made skincare kit instead.

If you are watching your budget, the drugstore can seem like the best place to get your acne products…but do so with caution. The quality of products in the drugstore can range significantly, and you’ll have to pay close attention to every product you choose. For vetted and safe products with high-quality ingredients that are proven to work, you may want to look beyond the drugstore to other over-the- counter (OTC) products.

Oily Skin

Look for an exfoliant and face wash with non-irritant ingredients, like salicylic acid, azelaic acid or sulfur. These will remove excess oil that can clog pores and cause blackheads and whiteheads. Benzoyl peroxide is also a rock-star ingredient. Ideally, you want a Facial Cleanser that fights acne while regulating oil production.

Dry Skin

Here, the top three ingredients you’re looking for in your products are green tea extract, shea butter, and glycerin. Witch hazel is good in a low concentration. The key words you need are hydrating, moisturizing and calming. Bonus points if you find an oil-free gel moisturizer that hydrates without clogging pores, like our Moisture Complex. The green tea extract controls sebum production and calms irritated skin.

Sensitive Skin

For this skin type, your main goal is to avoid ingredients like fragrances, parabens, and alcohol . These can all cause minor irritation that leads to major acne.

More Pimples Than Black or Whiteheads

A good over-the-counter (OTC) acne product for pimples will contain benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria by allowing more oxygen to penetrate below the surface of the skin. Serums and treatments that you leave on overnight can be very effective against pimples. Try the Acne Treatment Serum, which penetrates deep into pores with 3.5% benzoyl peroxide.

Combination skin is one of the most common skin types and the best skincare regime will include a combination of ingredients targeting specific areas.

Why Differin Acne Gel Really is Different

Retinoids, highly concentrated derivatives of vitamin A, are so strong that you need a doctor’s prescription for the products. Differin gel’s key ingredient, however, is a retinoid-similar compound (adapalene) that is so gentle, it is sold without a prescription.

Retinoids are like the pace car of skin cells. They work well for treating acne because they regulate the life cycle of skin cells by slowing down or speeding up cell production or cell death.

Differin gel is sold in low 1% and 3% retinoid concentrations, both of which are good options. Retinoids are effective in reducing cystic acne – large, painful, red eruptions from under your skin -but the concentration in Differin may be too gentle for this. However, if you have sensitive skin, Differin is still our top recommendation.

How Does the Nexcare Acne Patch Work?

Not all acne or spot treatments need ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Something as simple as covering up your acne so you don’t pick at it can work wonders too. Patches can also cover a sticky treatment like honey to prevent it from making a mess.

Trouble is, the adhesives in bandages are sometimes too strong for thin facial skin 🩹. Another problem is that this low-cost spot treatment can dry out the skin around that pimple. This might sound like a good thing, but acne-prone skin is easily irritated and inflamed when dry.

The Nexcare acne patch, a mix between a bandage and a spot treatment, might be a good option to consider.

The Nexcare acne patch and other acne patches like it work using a hydrocolloid gel that absorbs the pus in a pimple or cyst.

Acne patches like Nexcare work with a hydrocolloid gel that absorbs the pus in a pimple or cyst.

The patch is a hydrocolloid sticker made of a gel-like material, which is much gentler than the adhesive used in bandages. It also helps absorb moisture, meaning it can remove pus from a pimple or cyst.

Hydrocolloids can also help keep outside moisture from getting in, preventing infection from other bacteria. Simply apply the Nexcare acne patch before you go to bed and remove it in the morning before your normal skin care routine.

Getting Creative: Aspirin for Acne

Aspirin is not a typical treatment, but it is one of the most common drugstore acne products. You may have heard of people creating a DIY acne spot treatment by combining ground aspirin with some water and applying it to acne.

Why do people try this DIY treatment? Here’s the thought process: Acne is formed when the skin is inflamed and pores constrict, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Preventing inflammation can help prevent acne, and also speed up the healing process for existing acne. Aspirin can reduce acne because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

However, due to a lack of scientific data, we don’t recommend the daily use of aspirin to prevent acne, but you can take aspirin internally for one or two on days when you have a particularly large pimple or cyst, or if you have a lot of stubborn blackheads or whiteheads.

If you really want to tackle acne from the inside AND the outside, look into a great probiotic supplement that will help balance your skin using proven micronutrients.

Try Nizoral for Fungal Acne

Nizoral is a popular dandruff shampoo that controls the overgrowth of Malassezia fungi, also called pityrosporum. Those battling with fungal acne sometimes use it instead of a regular face cleanser. (Not sure if you have fungal acne? See the different types of face acne here.)

Malassezia, like many other yeasts and bacteria 🦠, can grow and get trapped in the pores, leading to minor infections that look a lot like regular acne. Nizoral is designed to reduce Malassezia growth which is the same yeast or fungus associated with dandruff .

Nizoral can be somewhat drying and irritating, so this may not be the best drugstore acne product for the skin on your face.

The Controversial Hibiclens Acne Trend

Using Hibiclens for acne is one of those trendy drugstore treatments – it’s everywhere and everyone claims it’s magical. However, you need to be careful what you put on your skin. Also – acne doesn’t have a cure. It can be managed, prevented, and treated, but it can’t be cured entirely.

Hibiclens is a medical-grade antibacterial that kills most types of bacteria, and is used in hospitals as a sanitizer. Many people have started using it to fight pimples and cysts too, which are the two main types of acne caused by bacteria. Fortunately, it is gentle and can be safely used even on sensitive skin.

Hibiclens is a medical-grade antibacterial that kills most types of bacteria, including p. acnes.

Hibiclens for acne is one of the best drugstore remedies on this list, but it still has drawbacks.

For instance, the Hibiclens website warns it should not be used on the head or face out of concern for the eyes, ears, and mouth.

You can use it for body acne, but you should make sure to use a good moisturizer afterward. If you want to focus on body acne with something designed to safely treat and eliminate breakouts all over the body without over-drying the skin, look into products specifically made for the body like this Body Wash.

The Top Noxzema Acne Treatment

There are several Noxzema acne treatments available, including a facial cleanser, cleansing pads, and a scrub. Avoid the Classic Clean formula, though, as it is likely to increase acne. This line contains linseed oil, soybean oil, and other oils, which might be too oily for acne-prone skin.

We recommend the Noxzema Anti-Blemish Scrub, which contains salicylic acid and is oil-free. The Anti-Blemish Pads also contain salicylic acid, but they are alcohol-based, which can dry out the skin👎. Too much salicylic acid can be far too harsh on skin that’s already acne-prone, so the ideal product will also have calming and anti-redness ingredients.

Protection For Prevention: The Aquaphor Acne Solution

Aquaphor doesn’t have a specific line for acne treatment, but their products contain great ingredients for ensuring that your skin gets the moisture it needs ✨.

The bisabolol in Aquaphor products is anti-inflammatory, and moreover, it is non-comedogenic.

None of the ingredients rate higher than a two on the comedogenicity scale, which is a system that ranks how likely it is for something to clog pores. Substances like algae extracts and wheat germ oil rate a five, meaning they will almost definitely clog pores. Others like glycerin, mineral oil, and petrolatum rate as a zero, meaning there is almost no chance they will clog pores.

Our Favorite Azelaic Acid Acne Product: Exposed Clearing Tonic

Azelaic acid acne products aren’t very common, but they should be. Researchers say that, like salicylic acid, this acid can combat several factors related to acne, such as bacteria, clogged pores, and hyperpigmentation. It’s almost never in drugstore products because it’s a high-quality ingredient that isn’t cheap to find and use.

Bottle of Exposed Clearing tonic
Our Clearing Tonic is one of the best over-the-counter acne products because it contains great acne-fighting ingredients, including azelaic acid.

Exposed Clearing Tonic is a favorite over-the-counter acne product because it contains great acne-fighting ingredients, including azelaic acid and salicylic acid.

Azelaic acid can break up the oil and dead skin cells clogging pores, exfoliate the skin, fight bacteria, and promote new skin cell production, which can help reduce hyperpigmentation, which appears as a dark mark after acne heals. The acid encourages skin cell turnover to get rid of the old cells and make room for new, non-hyperpigmented cells.

All our products contain a mixture of very high-quality, scientifically tested natural ingredients, such as 👇:

  • green tea extract to reduce redness and inflammation. (Studies have shown it to be a great remedy for skin disorders);
  • witch hazel to help kill bacteria; and
  • sage extract, also to reduce inflammation.

Together, these ingredients make our Clearing Tonic one of the best acne treatments on the market right now.

If the Clearing Tonic doesn’t work for you, send it back to us. We offer an industry-leading money back guarantee because we know our OTC acne treatment is more effective than drugstore products…without the high price.

Walmart Products

If you’re on a tight budget you might be wondering what your acne treatment Walmart options are. We recommend the following two products:

Equate Beauty Quick Action Daily Face Wash

This oil-free acne wash contains salicylic acid, similar to our Facial Cleanser available here at Exposed. It is cheaper, because it’s very harsh. It contains a high (2%) salicylic acid content, which is enough to irritate some skins, and doesn’t include skin-soothing ingredients that fight the root cause of acne inflammation.

Equate Beauty Gentle Skin Cream with Long-Lasting Moisture Lotion

Moisturizing can help prevent acne by preventing inflammation. Like Aquaphor, this Walmart moisturizer contains petrolatum and glycerin to help deliver and retain moisture, but that’s where the benefits stop. Instead, look for products that pack natural ingredients like our signature Moisture Complexa more comprehensive, moisturizing acne treatment that won’t clog pores.