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 by:
- Unplugging skin pores and stopping them from getting plugged with oil (tretinoin, which is sold as Retin-A).
- 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 Reference inflammation Opens New Window 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 work better.
The most common types of medicines that doctors use to treat acne include:
- Reference Benzoyl peroxide, such as Brevoxyl or Triaz.
- Reference Salicylic acid, such as Propa pH or Stridex.
- Reference Topical and oral antibiotics, such as clindamycin, doxycycline, erythromycin, and tetracycline.
- Reference Topical retinoid medicines, such as tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac).
- Reference Azelaic acid, such as Azelex, a topical cream.
- Reference Isotretinoin, an oral retinoid.
- Low-dose birth control pills that contain Reference estrogen Opens New Window (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.
Over time, 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 Reference drug resistance Opens New Window. 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.
Topical 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 acne.
Reference 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. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that the companies that make isotretinoin have a program to register doctors who prescribe isotretinoin and the people who take it. The program is to ensure that women taking this medicine understand the risk of birth defects, take precautions to avoid pregnancy, and know what to do if they become pregnant. If your doctor suggests that you take isotretinoin, you must be registered with iPLEDGE in order to get the drug. You can get more information and register at www.ipledgeprogram.com or by telephone at 1-866-495-0654 (toll-free).
Using isotretinoin may be linked with depression, psychosis, and, in rare cases, suicidal thoughts or attempts. The link between this medicine and depression is not clear and is being watched very closely. Talk to your doctor about the side effects of isotretinoin to decide whether it is right for you. If you are taking isotretinoin and feel depressed, see your doctor for treatment.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference February 3, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology