But there are so many products available in pharmacies that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know which one to choose. Over-the-counter dermo-cosmetic products for topical application, topical treatments targeting the various symptoms of acne, zinc, traditional remedies, etc. Here we review the wide range of solutions that are available, from the most serious to the most outrageous.


Acne: topical dermo-cosmetic treatments

Sold over the counter, without a prescription, dermo-cosmetic treatments are essential for anyone experiencing blemishes, regardless of their severity.

They can be used alone or in combination with topical or oral medical treatments, prescribed by a doctor or purchased over the counter. This category of products includes cleansers – micellar waters, cleansing gels, make-up removing milks, toners – as well as moisturisers, masks, and make-up products, such as tinted creams, BB creams and anti-blemish foundations.

All daily treatments applied to acne-prone skin should be specifically formulated to minimise the risk of spots and blackheads and to offset the drying or irritating effects of certain medications, without creating new lesions.

A good anti-acne strategy requires that action be taken at all levels at the same time – dermo-cosmetic products, medical treatments, diet, lifestyle, etc. – since the skin is part of a total ecosystem. In order to succeed, you must leave nothing to chance!


Topical medical treatments for acne

The anti-acne creams and gels available on the market have different targets for the reduction of blemishes. Some combine several classes of active ingredients for greater efficacy.

Step 1

Keratolytic action and acne: the aim here is to combat hyperkeratinisation, which causes plugs to form in hair ducts, by accelerating cell renewal. Concretely, it involves softening the horny layer to promote desquamation. The skin peels slightly, as with a scrub or peel. While potentially irritating, these treatments are effective, especially in comedonal acne, since they reduce the formation of comedones. Examples of molecules: benzoyl peroxide, adapalene

Step 2

Antibacterial action and acne: the active ingredients aim to eliminate the bacteria found in spots, especially Cutibacterium acnes, which proliferates in acne. That is the goal of antibiotic treatments, prescribed for comedonal acne gradually becoming inflammatory due to bacterial activity. The problem, though, is that bacteria very quickly develop resistance to antibiotics. Examples of molecules: clindamycin, erythromycin, azelaic acid, etc.

Step 3

Anti-inflammatory action and acne: this type of treatment aims to reduce inflammation caused by the proliferation of Cutibacterium acnes by targeting the entire chain of reactions, from comedones to inflamed spots and lastly to cysts. Types of molecules: tretinoin, alone or in combination with the compounds listed above.

The specific case of isotretinoin

Available in topical form and as oral treatment, it reduces the size of the sebaceous glands and therefore has sebo-regulating action, which is combined with keratolytic and anti-inflammatory action. The side effects include dryness and increased sensitivity of the skin, which does not have as much sebum to protect it.


The benefits of zinc for acne (and why it’s a good idea)

An immune-system stimulant, zinc is a trace element known as being beneficial for acne blemishes.

The French Dermatology Society (SFD) reserves it for very mild to moderate inflammatory acne, in the event of contraindications or intolerance with other treatments. The anti-inflammatory action and healing properties of zinc are real: it can indeed limit bacterial growth in comedones.

But the use of zinc, especially in the form of nutritional supplements, should be supervised by a doctor since overdose can have dangerous side effects and lead to complications. It’s better to make sure to eat a diet naturally rich in zinc, which can be found in oysters, calf’s liver, meat, sesame seeds, pulses, etc.


What should you think of traditional anti-acne remedies?

Acne has a major impact on self-image and can make life difficult for people dealing with it, who want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. That’s only natural, but it’s not a reason to do anything and everything with your skin!

Be wary of home recipes which are often outlandish and ineffective and sometimes even dangerous, since they are highly likely to irritate your skin and accentuate your blemishes.


It’s okay to use clay for acne, from time to time as a mask, but the powder/water mixture isn’t always easy to measure out and not all skin types react in the same way.


Vegetable charcoal sometimes produces results in mild acne due to its absorbent and purifying properties.

Aloe Vera

Cleansing and anti-inflammatory, aloe vera is often recommended for oily skin but cannot treat acne on its own.

Ice cubes

Applying an ice cube to a spot on your nose to combat inflammation isn’t risky, but it has very limited efficacy!


The efficacy of using toothpaste for isolated spots, lemon juice, mask recipes containing eggs and miscellaneous vegetables or tea has never been scientifically demonstrated.

Essential oils

Essential oils for acne should be handled with great care. In principle, essential oils should never be directly applied to the skin, and dermatologists have reported numerous cases of intolerance and even allergic reactions. Natural does not always mean safe.

The effects of these anti-acne remedies remain very random and a wide range of over-the-counter dermo-cosmetic products, which have been tested and validated for their efficacy and safety, are currently available.