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What to Know at the Drugstore Skincare Aisle

We're going to act like we are in the drug store. So Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and we are going down the house. So when you go to find an acne wash or acne product, that's over the counter they're only going to be a few ingredients in them: benzoyl, peroxide, salicylic acid. Sometimes you can find some glycolic acid and then even more rare, you can find some lactic acid. So what we're talking about are alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, AHAs are going to be glycolic acid and lactic acid and you can use these while you're pregnant (in low percentages). The BHA is going to just be salicylic acid, which one cannot use while you're pregnant. 

So the other product benzyl peroxide is different. It's not an acid. It is a product that is going to help with acne because it decreases oil and also is bacteriostatic, meaning it's not going to kill bacteria, but it will inhibit it from growing.

I'm going to show you some of my favorite cleansers over the counter that I've tried, but when you go to that aisle and you take a product and you flip it around and look at the back that's going to give you a lot of information about what they're advertising on the front. I'm going to start with one of my favorite products. This is Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser. I recommend it all the time to patients. It has benzoyl peroxide 3.5%. It's a good place to start, especially on the face because it's more sensitive than our chest and back. Benzoyl peroxide will go up to 10%.

I went to the store, got all of the benzoyl peroxide cleansers to try them out so I could recommend the best one for patients. There are some other brands that have a 10% benzyl peroxide, but it is not as potent as this one. So you're going to see, I really like Neutrogena products, they're not watered down. I really think that they're good quality. This is one that I also like, because you can put it on and it can turn into a mask. I typically will use this in the shower just because it's pretty thick and creamy. Benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothes so it can bleach a pillowcase. For this reason I like it as a cleanser versus a cream. I do prescribe some cream, sometimes mixed with other ingredients, but I really like benzoyl peroxide as a cleanser and I like to use it in the shower. 

Next up, you're going to see most products for acne have salycilic acid in them. This is one of my favorite ones. It's a Neutrogena grapefruit scrub. It has salicylic acid. And it also has these beads in it that are going to help exfoliate.

When we're talking about exfoliators, there are chemical exfoliators and they're physical exfoliators. Chemical exfoliators are going to be these AHAs and BHAs like acid glycolic, acid, lactic acid, (and salicylic acid).

Physical exfoliators, I tell patients to think of that sand that is at the beach, right by the water. When you pick it up, this is awesome for our skin.

I have something called keratosis pilaris on the back of my arms, which is also common on the cheeks and the thighs and sometimes the buttocks. So I recommend this for acne, but it's also great for Keratosis Pilaris, which is like dry skin, like chicken skin. Because it has the chemical exfoliator salicylic acid and the physical exfoliator of the beads. 

Another cleanser is glycolic acid. So this is a Neutrogena Pore Refining Exfoliating cleanser. You can see it says glycolic acid with exfoliator. So this one (Neutrogena Grapefruit Scrub) is a little bit more fine. The beads in this are kind of large. I don't even know if they really do that much, but this one (Neutrogena Pore Refining) is more fine, like a grainy, not as thick as straight exfoliators you're going to pay more money for, but I think it's a really good option.

So glycolic acid, salicylic acid, they're also going to brighten the skin by exfoliating the skin. That means that they're also getting to help with any dark spots you have. They can help with sun damage and also some fine lines and wrinkles. They're going to help exfoliate the pores and help with blackheads and decrease oil in general on the skin. 

They're, especially glycolic acid with a finer exfoliator in it, is going to be really great for brightening the skin. 

 I also wanted to show you this Pond's cold cream that I've been using to take off my makeup at night. I really, really like it. And when I was looking for this because a lot of patients use it, I found this. It caught my eye because it says Pond's rejuveness anti-wrinkle cream, firmer looking skin in two weeks. So I thought, Oh, it must have retinol in it. And when I turned it around, the first ingredient is water and the second ingredient is lactic acid. So as I looked down the ingredient list, there's actually no retinol in here at all. And I've used this for a few weeks and I use it at night and it actually did make some dry, flaky skin, which I like. I'm like, okay, it's exfoliating. So this is exfoliating and anti-wrinkle just because it is bringing those new skin cells to the surface with the lactic acid. 

So in general salicylic acid is going to be a little bit stronger, you could say a little harsher on the skin. Glycolic acid, not so much and then lactic acid would be the most gentle one. 

The last thing I want to share with you is the Skinceuticals glycolic 10. This is a liquid that you would put on at night, after cleansing, before moisturizing.  This is going to be more expensive. This is $80. Honestly, probably wouldn't have bought this if I didn't have the discount. 

So what I think about it is I think it's a great product, but I like to spend my money with esthetician and get chemical peels every few months or a few times a year, and the chemical peels that you're going to get will have a combination of glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, and with some other ingredients. So if you just don't want to see an esthetician, don't want to put money towards that, then I think this is a really good option to have in your routine. Treatments by the aesthetician, just for a chemical peel where I live and where I work are about $65 to start, when I've traveled and, at some more fancy places, they have been more like $80 to$100. So in that case, this is something that you could use at home. I do think it's a great product. It's not as irritating as Tretinoin. When I use this, I typically only use my Tretinoin around the eyes and forehead, and I don't use it everywhere unless I am breaking out. Then I will just mix everything together and try to draw that up. 

So the other thing with cleansers is that there are some cleansers by Skinceuticals, La Roche-Posay, I mean, there are several cleansers that I've always thought of as being more expensive and didn't want to spend my money on them. But to be honest, these are going to be more about the $10 range and the cleansers that we saw that it was Skinceuticals, they're about $40. There's a La Roche-Posay Effaclar that's really great for dry skin. It has salicylic acid in it. I've just heard great reviews and kind of write things off and they are expensive, but it is only $15. And so I don't have it to show you, but I'm kind of changing my opinion on cleansers. 

I typically like to keep it cheap and put them in the shower and exfoliate in the shower and wash it all off. And then you use like a foaming cleanser out of the shower that doesn't have any active ingredients or any medicine in it, but I think there's a place for everything just depending on what your skin needs. 

I hope that this is helpful and next time you go shopping, I hope that you feel less overwhelmed because all that they can really put in these products is glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and lactic acid. 

The opinions and content on sydneygivens.com or Skincare by Sydney are stated by a Dermatology Physician Assistant and are from a medical background, but are not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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