Cheap, Efficient Acne Treatments Reviewed
Fighting acne on a budget is not an impossible task. In fact, the most expensive treatments for acne usually are not as good as moderately priced products. It’s all a matter of knowing what to buy.
- The best acne treatments are not free, but they are usually moderately priced.
- Very expensive acne treatments usually include unnecessary (but important-sounding) ingredients that either do not do anything for acne or even irritate the skin.
- The best cheap skin cleansers contain just a few ingredients, with no alcohol or fragrances.
- The best cheap pimple fighters are used as spot treatments.
- The best cheap treatments for blackheads contain green tea extract to be applied to the skin.
Good Values in Cleansers
There is simply no way you can beat acne without cleansing your skin1. The problem with many skin cleansers is they cause as more problems than they correct.
Your objective in using a skin cleanser is to not wash the acne off your face. Acne is a problem in the skin2. You can’t wash it away.
What you want to do when cleansing your skin for fighting acne is to remove excess oil and makeup as well as tiny flakes of matted skin that can clog pores. Cleansing your skin is about preventing acne, not about treating it. If you keep excess oil and the slimier ingredients in makeup out of your pores, then they won’t mix with flakes of dead skin and form clogs. So you need to be especially careful not to use any product that makes your skin dry and flaky3 in the process of cleansing of your skin.
Some good values in skin cleansers include:
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Makeup Removing Cleanser for Acne Prone Skin. At US $5.99 for a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle, this product won’t force you apply for new credit cards. It gives a good clean rinse to your skin, lifting cellular debris out of your pores and washing your skin without any irritant chemicals. Using this product twice a day helps keep acne from coming back.
- Paula’s Choice CLEAR Normalizing Cleanser Pore Clarifying Gel. At US $10.95 for a 5 oz/150 ml bottle, this product is actually less expensive than Neutrogena, and it adds triclosan for fighting acne bacteria. Containing no perfumes or irritant ingredients, it is safe for use by people who have allergies and by people who have sensitive skin.
- Exposed Skin Care’s Acne Cleanser. At US $14.95 for 5 oz/150 ml, this cleanser is pricier than some of the alternatives, but it contains a chemical called betaine that breaks up blackheads and stimulate the growth of collagen underneath indented acne scars. The secret to successful use is to wait an extra minute before rinsing it away to give the betaine and botanical acne-fighters a chance to work.
Why not just use bar soap? The problem with any kind of sudsy soap is that it can clog pores. If you have to use bar soap, try to buy Neutrogena, and make a lather of suds you apply to your skin rather than rubbing the soap across your skin with a washcloth.
Good Values in Pimple Treatments
Lots of companies try to sell you “natural” treatments for pimples. The problem with the selection of natural, botanical products used in treatments for pimples is that they either have no effect at all on pimples (although they may help with other skin issues) and some of them can actually make blemishes worse.
If you are shopping for budget treatments for pimples, you have basically three choices:
- Benzoyl peroxide,
- Tea tree oil, or
Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical that releases hydrogen peroxide inside pores. It does most of its work in the first half hour after you use it, stunning acne bacteria so that about 97.5% of them live out their life cycle and die4 in 15 days.
The drawback to benzoyl peroxide is that it doesn’t just kill acne bacteria. It also dries out the skin5. It will clear up almost all of your blemishes in about 2 or 3 weeks, and then new blemishes will break out (although about 1/3 as many) where dry skin has accumulated.
The way to get around this problem is to use benzoyl peroxide as a treatment just for pimples, not for all the skin of your face. And some of the most effective benzoyl peroxide products are also the least expensive:
- Zapzyt 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Gel. Costing US $5.29 for 1 fluid oz (30 ml), this gel is actually too strong to apply to healthy skin. It will definitely cause flaking and peeling. But it’s also potent enough to treat pimples. Use at night only, and make sure you don’t bleach your hair or pillowcases.
- Oxy Maximum Vanishing Oxy Spot Treatment. Costing US $5.79 for 0.65 fluid oz (21 ml), this treatment also contains 10% benzoyl peroxide and also should be used just on pimples, not all over your skin. The Oxy product is a little more expensive because it contains ingredients that stop oil production around the pimple.
- Clearasil DailyClear Vanishing Acne Treatment Cream. Costing US $6.99 for 1 fluid oz (30 ml), this is the old, familiar Clearasil minus the peach-colored tint (which never really looked good unless you happened to have peach-colored skin). This product also contains 10% benzoyl peroxide and also should be used only as a spot treatment, but it is good for blackheads as well as pimples.
Products that contain enough tea tree oil actually to do anything more than smell nice, however, are rare. Here’s the only one on the market in the USA right now:
- Serious Skin Care Clearz-It Acne Medication. At $18.95 for 2 fluid oz (60 ml), this product isn’t a lot more expensive than benzoyl peroxide products that don’t do as much to clear up the skin. It contains both 10% tea tree oil and 5% benzoyl peroxide, the lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide making it safe7 for some people to use as a full-facial treatment every morning. Make sure you try just a dot of the product on your skin to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions before applying it all over your face.
The best place to find triclosan is in cleansers (listed above). It’s not as effective for fighting pimples as benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil.
Good Values in Skin Treatment Serums
If you have oily skin, it also helps to use products that reduce excess production of sebum in your pores. It’s still dry skin that triggers acne, but the size of a whitehead or blackhead is proportional to oil production. Less is better.
The best product for reducing production of sebum in the skin is green tea extract8. Creams and lotions that contain about 3% green tea extract are applied to the skin. The green tea extract gets inside pores where it reduces oil production.
The best green tea products for the skin include:
- Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel Lotion. Costing US $14.50 for 0.5 fluid oz (15 ml), this product is a good of example of how less can be better than more. It contains just 5% benzoyl peroxide. That is enough benzoyl peroxide to fight acne in pores, but not so much that it is quite as likely to irritate the skin. The gel also provides green tea that reduces sebum production. This product can be used on both blackheads and pimples on oily skin.
- Exposed Skin Care Clear Pore Serum. At US $19.95 for 1.7 fluid oz (51 ml), this product is actually less expensive than most. It’s best for keeping pores open on oily skin rather than for treating whiteheads and blackheads. It contains both green tea extract to slow down sebum production and witch hazel extract to seal the green tea into pores—not something you want to do before they are open.
- Pediatr Dermatol. 2006 Sep-Oct;23(5):421-7. A single-blinded, randomized, controlled clnical trial evaluating the effect of face washing on acne vulgaris.
- Aydemir EH. Acne vulgaris. Turk Pediatri Ars. 2014;49(1):13–16. Published 2014 Mar 1.
- Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Skin care for acne-prone skin
- What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions?. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2008;1(4):48–51.
- Dermatologica. 1985;170(4):165-9. Sebum suppression by benzoylperoxide.
- Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50–62.
- Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. J Dermatol. 2017;44(11):1212–1218.
- Saric S, Notay M, Sivamani RK. Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris. Antioxidants (Basel). 2016;6(1):2. Published 2016 Dec 29.
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