In case you don't know, the most common acne treatments currently available on the OTC market are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Everything from Proactiv to Neutrogena uses one or both of these ingredients, and for good reason, they both work very well. Other than prescription strength retinoids, these chemicals applied topically to acne work for a lot of people. 

However, both of these ingredients can cause a lot of problems as well. Benzoyl peroxide can be pretty harsh on the skin, and cause redness, irritation, itching, flakiness, and dryness. People with sensitive skin normally have problems with it, and for a lot of people, when they discontinue use, their acne comes back.

Benzoyl peroxide also bleaches clothing and towels which seems... a little concerning. Salicylic acid can also lead to irritation, redness, and dryness. You have to stay out of the sun after using it, and it can also cause headaches, dizziness, and confusion. 

If these products work for you, that's great! But for a lot of people, a gentler alternative is appealing. Before we get into replacements, let's consider what BPO and SA actually do

Benzoyl peroxide works mainly by killing the bacteria that causes acne. It also dries out pimples, unclogs pores, and fighting inflammation. Salicylic acid works as a chemical exfoliant, it helps shed the top layer of skin, which helps unclog pores. 

Au Naturel 

Sulfur has become a popular treatment for acne. Well, technically it's been used for thousands of years, but modern day beauty companies are currently reaping the benefits. Sulfur not only kills the acne bacteria, it also peels off the top layers of skin. This helps dry out the pimples, making it a great replacement for salicylic acid. 

In my experience, no spot treatment has better potential than sulfur. When I use it, it typically brings the pimple "to a head" overnight, which is extremely useful, as it accelerates the healing process. For the ones already at the surface, they typically disappear. 

You can use sulfur acne washes to prevent acne, but for the breakouts you already have, a sulfur spot treatment is a miracle worker. The only downside is it smells pretty strong and can get all over your pillow cases, but you should change those pretty frequently, anyway. 

This next product is truly a game changer because tea tree oil can be used for way more than just acne. Use it on all of your bumps, cuts, fungi, sunburns, anything you can think of.

Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is an antiseptic, antibacterial, antimicrobial essential oil that everyone needs a bottle of. For acne, tea tree oil kills acne-causing bacteria, penetrates the pore to dry it out, and is the best possible replacement for benzoyl peroxide.

You can directly use the oil on the skin, but if you have sensitive skin, you'll want to dilute it with your favorite carrier oil, such as olive oil, argan oil, or coconut oil. I use tea tree oil for everything weird that shows up on my skin and it works amazingly, clearing up whatever the ailment is in a few days.

It's also pretty cheap, and a bottle lasts me forever, even from using it practically every day. It even cleared up the keloid (an ugly type of scar tissue) I developed from my nose piercing. 

Final Thoughts 

Everyone's skin is different, so maybe these treatments will work for you, or maybe their OTC counterparts will work better. For people who just get an occasional pimple or breakout, these products work great, but if none of these options help your acne, consider seeing a professional.

A dermatologist is an obvious option, but for girls, you can also see a gynecologist. Getting on birth control can help get the hormones that cause acne and inflammation under control, and is typically a lot cheaper than prescription acne medications. Whatever it takes, don't get discouraged! You might have to shop around for a perfect treatment, but there's something out there for everyone.