Active ingredients in acne-range skin care such as cleansers, exfoliators and toners which have been proven to be beneficial for acne include benzoyl peroxide (BP) and the family of hydroxy acids, of which there are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), and polyhydroxy acids (PHA) such as lactobionic acid and gluconolactone.
BP has keratolytic, comedolytic and antibacterial properties – it has a mild drying and peeling effect which is thought to help prevent breakouts and can also kill P. acnes bacteria. It is available in various concentrations. It may be used as an ingredient in acne cleansers, or as a spot treatment for certain acne lesions.
Hydroxy Acids (AHA, BHA, PHA)
The hydroxy acids chemically exfoliate the surface of the skin, improving skin texture and tone by removing dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. This signals the skin to increase cell turnover, which can help existing acne lesions heal faster and can prevent pores from becoming clogged. The exfoliation also helps alleviate dry, flaky skin.
They may be incorporated into cleansers and skincare in a low concentration, or as a chemical peel in a higher concentration.
Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common AHAs used in skin care formulations, in creams and gels in 10% or lower strength. Salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA.
PHAs are also known as the new generation of AHAs – they provide similar effects of traditional AHAs without the associated sensory side effects of irritation and stinging. Due to their larger molecule size, they are less penetrative and are able to break down the protein which binds dead skin cells to your face. Additionally, PHAs such as gluconolactone have strong moisturizing and humectant properties. This makes them suitable to be used on sensitive or inflamed skin, and less likely to cause skin irritation and dryness.
Zinc, Niacinamide, B3 & Tea Tree Oil
Other over-the-counter (OTC) ingredients which have been incorporated into acne skincare include zinc, nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide and vitamin B3) and tea tree oil. Both zinc and nicotinamide can be used in inflammatory acne as it has anti-inflammatory properties and the potential to decrease the release of inflammatory cytokines. Tea tree oil has broad antimicrobial and antifungal properties and some anti-inflammatory activity as well.