Comedolytic is the term used to describe a product or medication that inhibits the formation of comedones, blemishes that form when oil and skin cells become trapped in the pore.
Let’s break down the word comedolytic. The first part, comedo-, means pore blockage or breakout. The second part, -lytic, in a nutshell means “destruction.” So, the word comedolytic literally means the destruction of pore blockages. And that’s exactly what we want to do to our blemishes, right?
How Comedolytic Products Work
You’ll find it on beauty products and acne treatment medications alike. Whether the term is comedolytic, comedolytic agent, or comedolytic effect, the definition is the same. Comedolytic products work by helping the skin to shed more effectively.
For those of us prone to acne, comedolytic products are exactly what the skin needs. Acne is, in part, caused by an abnormal shedding of skin cells. The technical term is retention hyperkeratosis, but all it really means is the skin cells are hanging around longer than they should, getting trapped in the pore.
Comedolytic medications get those skin cells to slough away, keeping the pores from becoming plugged and preventing comedones. So, comedolytics stop blemishes before they even start.
Comedolytic products also help get rid of comedones that have already formed. They loosen the plug of cells and oil, allowing it to break down and be expelled from the pore.
Available OTC and by Prescription
For acne-prone skin, a comedolytic medication is a good treatment choice. You can find them both over-the-counter and by prescription.
Salicylic acid is one option. You can find this comedolytic ingredient in over-the-counter acne washes and toners. Stronger salicylic acid peels are available at the day spa, medi-spa, and at your dermatologist’s office.
Benzoyl peroxide is another acne treatment that you can get over-the-counter. It has mild comedolytic effects, especially when compared to salicylic acid. But don’t think that makes it a bad choice. Benzoyl peroxide is actually the most effective OTC acne treatment available. While it’s a mild comedolytic, it has other acne-fighting qualities that make it a good treatment choice.
OTC salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are best for mild acne, minor blackheads and blemishes.
Topical retinoids are the granddaddies of comedolytic acne medications—they’re the strongest and most effective. Topical retinoid is a term for the group of medications that are derived from vitamin A.
You’ve probably heard of Retin-A (tretinoin). This comedolytic treatment has been around for ages. But there are other topical retinoids available too. Here are some of the rest:
- Retin-A Micro (tretinoin)
- Tazorac (tazarotene)
- Differin (adapalene)
Topical retinoids are prescription-only medications, so you’ll need to see your dermatologist. They’re effective for mild to moderately severe inflammatory acne, as well as for comedonal breakouts.
Just like any medication, comedolytics can cause some side effects. What you’ll notice most often when using a comedolytic medication is probably dry, flaky, or peeling skin. This is because comedolytics work by speeding up cell turnover rates. Using an oil-free moisturizer can help reduce that dry feel and flaky look.
Your dermatologist will go over the possible side effects of your specific acne medication, plus give you tips on how to manage them.