Acne is a barrier-deficient disorder, and good skin care with over-the-counter products can improve this barrier and increase adherence to prescription medications, Hilary E. Baldwin, MD, of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, New Brunswick, N.J., said in a presentation at Medscape Live’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

In some cases, the use of good-quality over-the -counter skin care products can improve acne without prescription treatment, said Dr. Baldwin, who is medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center, New York. Good skin care can enhance the effects of prescription medication by decreasing side effects such as inflammation, pain, and erythema, and improving compliance; and use of OTC products has not been shown to interfere with the efficacy of prescription products, she noted.

However, patient education about OTC products is key, she said. In particular, “cleansers are a double-edged sword,” Dr. Baldwin emphasized.

Cleansing is important to preserve barrier function, but “there is a risk of skin damage” if cleansers are too harsh, she said. The goal is to remove dirt, oils, and bacteria without disrupting the lipids, proteins, and normal flora that keep skin healthy, and to avoid altering pH, she added.

Key considerations for OTC cleansers include surfactants, pH, and patient preferences, Dr. Baldwin said.

Surfactants, the main components of OTC cleansers, can do more harm than good in some cases. Surfactants break down impurities on the skin surface, but not all are created equal, and some may cause skin irritation, she explained.

Surfactants fall into four categories: nonionic (no charge), anionic (negative charge), cationic (positive charge), and amphoteric (dual charge). Of these, cationic surfactants have the highest level of antimicrobial activity.

Many patients with acne seek out antibacterial cleansers, but many of these products have a high pH, which can inhibit healthy skin function and promote inflammation, Dr. Baldwin noted.

The right OTC skin care products can normalize pH, which promotes repair of the skin barrier and reduces inflammation, she said. While some products are labeled as “gentle,” they may have a high pH, and many products don’t list a pH, Dr. Baldwin pointed out. Many antibacterial products have pH levels in the 10-12 range, while true soaps fall in the 9-10 range, and hydrating liquid cleansers often land in the 5-7 range, she said.

“Most of our patients don’t know what ingredients to look for” in a cleanser, she noted. However, data show that a majority of patients prefer a foaming cleanser, enjoy the face-washing experience – and wash their faces at least twice a day, with a range of products including bath soap, said Dr. Baldwin. Consequently, “educate your patient about moisturizing,” she advised.

For patients with greasy or oily skin, Dr. Baldwin recommends lipid-free foaming cleansers, such as those with ceramides or glycerin. For patients with dry, irritated acne, she advises once-daily washing only, without cleansing devices, which includes washcloths, she said. Look for hydrating cleansers that are nonfoaming or slightly foaming for these patients, she added.

Another tip for patients is to remind them that “sebum is not a moisturizer,” said Dr. Baldwin. Acne patients may still need moisturizers, especially if they experience dry skin as a side effect of their acne medication, but finding the right fit can be a challenge requiring some trial and error, she noted.

OTC products for rosacea

Dr. Baldwin also addressed the use of OTC products for patients with rosacea. For cleansers, she recommends the same hydrating, nonfoaming categories as for her acne patients, with a once-daily, no-device regimen. She advises rosacea patients to avoid pure humectants for moisturizing and noted that silicone-based products are often the least irritating.

Seek moisturizers with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or niacinamide, she said. Data have shown that effective moisturization improves the ability of patients with rosacea to use and adhere to their prescription medications, Dr. Baldwin emphasized. Moisturizers also can make the medication more effective by enhancing the penetration of products such as azelaic acid, she added.

No acne or rosacea visit is complete until overall skin care has been discussed, Dr. Baldwin said.

Dr. Baldwin disclosed serving as a consultant or adviser for Almirall, EPI Health, Galderma, La Roche Posay, Ortho Dermatologics, Sun, and Vyne; and serving as a speaker or member of the speakers’ bureau for Almirall, Galderma, La Roche Posay, Ortho Dermatologics, and Sun. MedscapeLive and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.