If you’re suffering from acne, you know that it can be one of the most persistent and embarrassing of skin problems.

Although there are no sure-fire acne cures, there are a number of treatments available that aren’t prohibitively expensive, and can be found at most local drug stores.

The best over the counter acne treatment can’t be specifically defined, because there are too many variables in skin types and conditions, but many of these products, used alone or in combination, can usually alleviate the worst of the inflammations and help prevent further acne breakouts.

Over the counter acne treatments come in a variety of forms, including cleansers, wipes, masks, creams and astringents, but they basically break down into a few categories according to their active ingredient:

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide acne treatments are considered to be the most effective over the counter remedies, because they penetrate deep into the skin and kill the bacteria associated with causing acne. Benzoyl peroxide also helps to clear pores and remove excess oil and dead skin cells. It is best used as a preventative measure for those with moderate to severe acne.

The problem with benzoyl peroxide is that it can be harsh on the skin, causing extreme dryness, redness and scaling. Those allergic to benzoyl peroxide can also experience burns, blisters, itching and swelling. Because it is a type of bleach, benzoyl peroxide may also lighten hair color and fade clothing.

Most over the counter benzoyl peroxide products range in strength from 2.5% to 10%, but there is no evidence that higher than 5% concentrations are more effective (although they do cause more side effects).

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid acne treatments, such as Obagi Clenziderm M.D. Daily Care Foaming Cleanser, are best used for those with mild acne and/or sensitive skin. Salicylic acid does not penetrate deep into the skin, but it can effectively remove dead skin cells and clear pores. Similar to benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid can cause skin irritation and is also sold in a range of concentrations, from 0.5% to 2%.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid

Alpha hydroxy acid acne products can generally be used on all types of skin. These ingredients are natural acids derived from milk and fruit. They help to clean away dead skin cells, reduce inflammation, and stimulate newer layers of skin, but the best results will usually come if used in conjunction with other treatments.

What works best for some people may not be as effective for you. It may be necessary to experiment with different acne treatments before you discover the best solution for your personal complexion.

When using non-prescription treatments for acne, it is best to start easy. Use the products as directed, but start with a lower strength and use only once every two days, then slowly build in frequency. This way, your skin can adjust to the chemical and/or acid exposure, and if you are allergic, the reactions may not be quite as severe or harmful.

Perhaps the most common mistake made by people with problem acne is to be too anxious and impatient. This is perfectly understandable, of course. It’s natural to want a quick cure, but you may unintentionally allow your acne to persist much longer if you fail to take a systematic approach.

If the product is causing too much irritation to your skin, stop using it right away, but otherwise be patient. Give it a chance to work.

You should keep in mind that it may take 4-8 weeks before you see obvious or substantial healing and improvement in your skin, but consistency will give you your best chance for success. If you either see no change after two months, or if you experience severe side effects, stop using the acne product and consult a dermatologist.