Medicines can help manage the severity
and frequency of
acne outbreaks. A number of medicines are available.
Your treatment will depend on the type of acne you have (pimples,
whiteheads, blackheads, or
cystic lesions). These medicines improve acne
- Unplugging skin pores and stopping them from
getting plugged with oil (tretinoin, which is sold as
- Killing bacteria (antibiotics).
- Reducing the
amount of skin oil (isotretinoin).
- Reducing the effects of hormones
in producing acne (certain oral contraceptive pills for women).
The best medical treatment for acne often is a combination
of medicines. These could include medicine that you put on your skin (topical)
and medicine that you take by mouth (oral). Or you may take medicines such as clindamycin/benzoyl peroxide, a gel that contains two topical medicines.
Treatment of acne depends on whether
inflammation or bacteria are present. Some acne
consists only of red bumps on the skin with no open sores (comedonal acne).
Topical creams and lotions work best for this type of acne. But if bacteria or
inflammation is present with open sores, oral antibiotics or isotretinoin may
The most common types of medicines that doctors use
to treat acne include:
- Benzoyl peroxide, such as Brevoxyl or
- Salicylic acid, such as Propa pH or Stridex.
- Topical and oral antibiotics, such as clindamycin, doxycycline, erythromycin,
- Topical retinoid medicines, such as tretinoin
(Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac).
- Azelaic acid, such as Azelex, a topical
- Isotretinoin, an oral retinoid.
- Low-dose birth control pills that contain
estrogen (such as Estrostep, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, or
Yaz), which work well on moderate acne in women and for premenstrual flare-ups.
- Androgen blockers, such as spironolactone. Androgen
blockers can be useful in treating acne. These medicines decrease the amount of
sebum (oil) made in your pores.
What to think about
If you are pregnant, talk to
your doctor about whether you should take antibiotics for acne. Some
antibiotics aren't safe to take during pregnancy.
bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, which means that the antibiotics
are no longer effective at killing or controlling the bacteria causing the
acne. This is called
drug resistance. When this occurs, a different
antibiotic may be used.
After acne is under control, you often
need ongoing treatment to keep it from returning. This is the maintenance phase
of treatment. Your doctor may suggest treatments other than antibiotics for
long-term use, to avoid the risk of drug resistance.
medicines usually have fewer and less serious side effects than oral medicines.
But topical medicines may not work as well as oral medicines for severe
Isotretinoin (such as Sotret) and tazarotene
(Tazorac) can have serious side effects. Women who take isotretinoin or
tazarotene need to use an effective birth control method, to avoid having a
baby with serious birth defects.
- Acne: Should I Take Isotretinoin for Severe Acne?