Four main ingredients are commonly found in most nonprescription anti-acne medications: sulfur, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide. These active ingredients are used either alone or in combination in the various commercially available formulations. Most products for acne treatment are sold as creams, gels, or lotions.
Anti-acne products containing sulfur and sulfur combined with resorcinol have been used for generations. These ingredients are primarily keratolytic and antibacterial agents. Their most important function, however, is not in preventing new pimples, but in dealing with those blemishes already present by speeding healing. Sulfur and resorcinol frequently come in flesh-tinted creams and lotions that can serve as a cover-up cosmetic. This particular function is usually more important for men who have reservations about using conventional cosmetic foundation makeups.
If you choose to use a flesh-tinted product, be sure to “feather” the edges of the preparation after you apply it in order to blend it better with the surrounding skin. On the down side, flesh-tinted topicals often do not precisely match your skin color. You also may occasionally find them difficult to completely wash off in the morning. Furthermore, they have a tendency to make dark skin look somewhat whitish and flaky.
Vlemasque, a sulfur-containing mask, deserves special note. This product, which is intended to be applied thickly to the skin, left on as a mask for twenty to thirty minutes, and completely rinsed off, is usually used for treating the pustules, abscesses, and acne cysts of moderately severe and severe inflammatory acne. Most patients not only find the mask soothing, but enjoy the fact that they do not need to keep a medication on their faces overnight.
Another traditional acne medication, salicylic acid, is usually reserved for mild cases of acne and those in which blackheads are a particular problem.