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Role of Nonprescription Acne Treatments


Expert dermatologists discuss the impact of nonprescription acne treatment on quality of life and function.

Joshua Zeichner, MD: Despite our role as dermatologists giving out prescription medications, we can’t underestimate the power of the over-the-counter products, including moisturizers, cleansers, and over-the-counter therapeutics. There was a study published in 2020 looking at improvement in the skin in patients with acne who used over-the-counter products. Evaluated measures were comedonal lesions, inflammatory lesions, erythema, dark spots, and all other residual marks. All the patients in the study showed improvement across the board using over-the-counter products. What do you think about that?

Mona Gohara, MD: In general, the patients who end up in our office are the ones for whom the over-the-counter products didn’t work. Most of the patients look at acne and say, “What can I get over the counter? What products are available with some active ingredients that can be therapeutic, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or even over-the-counter retinoids?” Oftentimes it works. That’s enough. But the ones in our office are the ones for whom it usually doesn’t work. I’m not surprised that this is the case. I’m pleasantly surprised that these numbers are as high as they are. There are no questions asked about continuing to emphasize the importance of how over-the-counter products can be exceptionally important and a healthy skin routine.

Joshua Zeichner, MD: Nonmedicated over-the-counter products don’t take the place of medicated options or prescription options. But you’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it. Even good skin care in some cases can help improve acne. That may be because of the effect on skin-barrier function. We even see it in our vehicle arms or placebo arms in clinical trials. There are improvements by taking good care of your skin.

Mona, here are more data from that same study showing that quality of life improved in patients just using over-the-counter products. It’s nice to see that the quality-of-life data are in line with the objective data in terms of improvement of the lesions themselves.

Transcript edited for clarity

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