Acne treatment Acne treatment

Acne Topical Medications

Acne Topical Medications

While acne typically is not a serious condition, it can cause emotional and physical scarring, report doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Acne, also referred to as pimples or zits, is common among adults but also is prevalent among adults, especially women going through hormonal changes. There are a number of effective acne topical medications on the market in prescription form and over-the-counter. The sooner acne treatment is started, the better chance you have of avoiding permanent scarring from the blemishes.

OTC Lotions

Over-the-counter lotions, creams and ointments that contain sulfur, benzoyl peroxide or resorcinol are effective for killing the bacteria that causes acne. They also help dry and shed dead skin cells and dry up excess oil. Other OTC lotions that work well for treating acne include those that contain salicylic or lactic acid. Often, acne gets worse before it gets better with OTC medications, but they are generally effective after continual use in about a month, report Mayo Clinic doctors. Mild side effects of over-the-counter topical acne creams include itching and redness, flaking and dry skin.

Prescription Creams

A family doctor or dermatologist can prescribe topical medication that's stronger for more severe acne breakouts that don't respond to over-the-counter treatments. Commonly used prescription medications contain adapalene, tazarotene or tretinoin, materials that are derived from vitamin A. Prescription topical acne medications promote cell regeneration and prevent pores from becoming plugged up. Topical antibiotics often are prescribed to kill the bacteria on the skin that causes acne. Products used in combination often work best.

Treatments that are most effective combine antibiotic creams with benzoyl peroxide. Common side effects of prescription topical ointments for acne include skin irritation, burning, redness or peeling. Side effects can be minimized by gradually increasing the dosage to allow patients to become accustomed to the treatments or washing off the cream after a short period of time.


Doctors at the American Academy of Dermatology report that some alternative medicine using natural products instead of chemicals can be effective for treating zits. Products that contain about 3 percent tea tree oil can be effective alternatives for people with mild to moderate acne. Results may take longer than harsher chemical medications, but the side effects typically are less severe. Some people do experience mild skin irritations from using tee tree oil. Other alternative products that claim to fight acne such as those that contain coconut or avocado oil actually can cause acne breakouts and should be avoided.

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