woman cleansing acne skin

Treating acne without medication

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Around 70-80% of people suffer with blemishes and acne-prone skin,varying in severity and complexity. In some forms of mild to moderate acne, people do not seek out medication to manage their symptoms. However, it is advisable to consult a GP, even for early or mild symptoms, as medicinal intervention can help to prevent further aggravation and consequences such as scarring.

Non-medicinal products, such as: cleansers, toners, scrubs, moisturisers and concealers are sold by pharmacists, over the counter, with no need for a prescription. These cleanse, clear and help to care for blemish-prone skin. There are also a number of lifestyle changes sufferers can make to help to control outbreaks and minimise symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs & symptoms of blemish prone and acne-prone skin

Before deciding which non-medicinal treatment to use, it’s important to identify the symptoms that are causing concern. Treatments for blemishes and mild to moderate acne-prone skin  tend to address one or more of the four issues that contribute to the condition.

Graphic illustration of acne
Acne: what happens in skin.

They work by:


  • reducing sebum production thereby controlling seborrhoea.
  • breaking down keratin and therefore helpign to unblock the pores
  • controlling the proliferation of bacteria and reducing microbial colonisation.
  • and may help to reduce inflammation and, in turn, calm down spots, papules and pustules.

It is also important to differentiate between impure and acne-prone skin and hypersensitive skin reaction with pimples or rosacea. The papules and pustules that appear in the hypersensitive disorder Rosacea, for example, are similar in appearance to acne but there are no blocked pores, the skin is more likely to be dry than greasy and Rosacea spots don't leave scars.

Read more about Rosacea and Couperose-prone skin.

Causes & Triggers

Major causes and triggers of blemishes and acne-prone skin

Graphic illustration of Seborrhoea
Graphic illustration of Microbial colonisation
Microbial colonisation

Impure and blemish-prone skin is a very common skin condition that usually begins during puberty when both boys and girls experience major hormone changes. Hormone substances, called androgens, stimulate sebaceous glands to produce more sebum than is necessary (seborrhea). This seborrhea may itself interfere also with the normal skin shedding.

When skin produces an excess amount of sebum and does not shed dead skin cells sufficiently, the two can build up in the hair follicle and form together as a soft plug. This plug may cause the follicle wall to bulge and produce a whitehead or, the plug may be open to the surface and may darken, causing a blackhead.

Pimples (also known as papules or pustules) are raised red areas of skin with a white centre that develop when blocked hair follicles become inflamed or infected. Blockages and inflammation that develop deep inside sebaceous glands produce lumps beneath the surface of the skin called cysts.


Impure skin is most commonly found on the face, shoulders, chest and back as these are the areas that produce the most sebum.

Young woman patting her face dry with towel
Teenagers should focus on a daily skin care routine especially if they are more prone to blemishes .

Hormones. Although most common in teenagers, there are increasing numbers of adults continuing to suffer with blemishes and acne-prone skin, particularly women who experience hormonal changes during pregnancy, menstruation or as a result of a hormone-related condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Bacteria. Skin prone to blemishes and acne tends to be quite oily as a result of  excessive sebum secretion. This makes it more likely to have an over production of the bacteria that  usually live harmlessly on the skin. This increase in bacteria can cause irritation and inflammation to the enlarged sebaceous glands.
Acne bacteria
Normally harmless acne bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) can multiply due to the excessive production of sebum.

Genetics. There is some evidence that genetic predisposition plays a large part in the development of acne and blemish prone skin. If both parents suffered from acne during their adolescence, then it is more likely  that their children will also develop acne. The children of adult acne sufferers are also more likely to develop adult acne themselves.

Myths of acne-prone skin

Woman washing her face
Exaggerated washing may worsen acne symptoms.
Woman eating chocolate
Eating sweet products containing sugar can worsen your acne symptoms.

As well as the facts, there is a lot of fiction surrounding the causes of acne-prone skin. These unfounded myths unfairly blame the sufferer for their condition. For example, people with acne-prone skin are often told that they are unhygienic or do not wash their skin often enough. The truth is that over-washing is actually more damaging to acne-prone skin than under-washing as skin can become more irritated by excessive rubbing. Sufferers are also accused of having a poor diet.

While a healthy diet is always preferable, there is little evidence to show that greasy foods or chocolate exacerbate symptoms.

Read more about medicinal acne therapies

Contributing Factors

The main contributing factors of acne, blemish-prone skin

While the main causes of acne-prone skin tend to be hormonal or genetic, there are some further factors that have been shown to aggravate the symptoms. For example:

Woman drinking a glass of milk
Excessive drinking of milk can aggravate the symproms of acne.

  • a diet rich in certain carbohydrates
  • excessive drinking of milk and other dairy products 
  • cigarette smoking
  • heavy or comedogenic skin care products and make-up which is known to block pores

Whilst it is always a good idea to seek advice from a dermatologist, even for mild and early symptoms (to prevent the condition worsening), there are certain rules that make sense to be followed:

Woman touching her face
Touching pimples make things worse. Consult a professional cosmetician.

  • Use lukewarm water rather than over-hot or over-cold.
  • Use non-comedogenic make-up.
  • Only use non-comedogenic skin care.
  • Leave pimples alone – touching or squeezing them will only make things worse.

Read more about medicinal acne therapies.


Treating the symptoms of blemish prone, acne skin without medication

Man applying cream on his face
Skin tolerability and efficacy of the Eucerin DermoPURIFYER range, are clinically proven in patients with blemish prone skin .
Woman cleansing her face with cotton pad.
Regular Cleansing is recommended for blemish prone skin with acne.

Moderate to severe acne may need medical intervention from a doctor or dermatologist but mild comedonal acne can often be treated without medication.

Pharmacists can offer a range of dermo cosmetic care products. These may include:

  • Topical antibacterials, such as Decandiol, which can kill bacteria
  • Licorice extract, which can  help to reduce inflammation
  • Carnitine, which can help to decrease sebum secretion
  • Lactic acid, which acts as a keratolytic agent

These can be used on any affected area, whether it’s the face, shoulders, chest or back. They can also be used as adjunctive care to standard medication treatment to help to counteract some of the side effects such as skin dryness or sun sensitivity.

Woman using Eucerin DermoPURIFYER Cover Stick
Eucerin DermoPURIFYER Cover Stick helps to cover up spots and pimples.
Woman smiling and holding a green apple in her hand
A healthy diet and lifestyle contributes to healthy skin.

As well as the creams and gels used to treat the symptoms of acne-prone skin, there are also products available that can help

mask the physical effects. For example, non-comedogenic make-up can be used to cover up facial blemishes, although it is important to remove it with a gentle cleanser at the end of the day. Men can also use camouflage make-up to tone down redness and give complexions an even tone. Concealers can be used topically on small, affected areas.

Contrary to myth, neither toothpaste nor Aspirin masks are effective in drying up spots. There is no medication evidence to prove either help in any way. In fact, toothpaste contains substances that can irritate and damage your skin.

In addition it is a good idea to eat healthily, stay away from places where skin is exposed to smoke or dirt and, given the psychological effects of blemished skin, pursue interests that help improve self-esteem and self-confidence.

A daily cleanse, clear and care routine can take several weeks to take effect so be patient and persevere.

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