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Dermatology: Prescription Medicine List for Acne

Dermatology: Prescription Medicine List for Acne Dermatology: Prescription Medicine List for Acne Dermatology: Prescription Medicine List for Acne

Acne, or frequent outbreaks of pimples, is a skin condition commonly experienced during puberty. Although it is unsightly and can be embarrassing, acne is not usually painful or harmful unless it is unduly severe. Severe acne carries the risk of permanent scarring of the skin. Fortunately, there are medications available to treat severe cases.

Oral Antibiotics

Pimples are formed when a skin pore becomes clogged by excess oil; unable to drain, bacteria begins to grow within the pore. If acne is persistent and severe, an oral antibiotic agent can be prescribed to fight off the bacterial infection that leads to acne. In addition to destroying bacteria, antibiotics also help reduce inflammation of the skin. Erythromycin and tetracycline, along with tetracycline's derivatives, doxycycline and minocycline, are examples of oral antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat acne. All antibiotics carry potential side effects. Be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Topical Antimicrobials

Topical antimicrobials are medications that are applied directly to the skin. Like their oral antibiotic counterparts, these medications also fight off bacterial infection and reduce inflammation of the skin. Azelaic acid, Clindamycin and topical erythromycin are examples of topical antimicrobial treatments. For maximum effectiveness, you need to follow your doctor's instructions exactly. Be aware that all three of these antimicrobial agents carry the risks of skin dryness and irritation. There are other possible side effects as well. Talk them over with your doctor so you will know what symptoms to watch for and under what circumstances you should discontinue the use of a product.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids differ from antimicrobials in that they do not treat bacterial infection. Instead, according to Skin Care Physicians, a website of the American Academy of Dermatology, topical retinoids are used to "unclog pores and prevent whiteheads and blackheads from forming." Adapalene, tazarotene and Tretinoin are examples of topical retinoid medications. You might experience some slight discomfort with these treatments. Side effects include skin irritation and dryness. Tretinoin might also cause redness, itching and burning. Talk to your doctor if you experience a reaction that seems unduly painful.


Some types of acne are so severe that topical treatments and antibiotics are not effective. In these cases, an oral retinoid called isotretinoin, or Accutane, is available. Skin Care Physicians calls it "the most effective acne treatment available." Accutane fights bacterial infection and reduces inflammation like an antibiotic, but it also unclogs pores and reduces excess oil production like a retinoid. As effective as it may be, though, the Mayo Clinic warns that the potential side effects of Accutane can be quite serious. They include birth defects and elevated cholesterol, liver enzymes and triglycerides. Accutane may also be associated with a risk for increased depression and suicidal ideation. For this reason, Accutane should only be used under the close supervision of a dermatologist.

Oral Contraceptives

Oral contraceptives are an acne treatment option for women. They are useful in suppressing the production of excess oil. The Mayo Clinic warns that the potential side effects of oral contraceptives range from fairly mild, such as nausea and headaches, to moderate, such as depression, to severe, such as heart disease and blood clots. Consult your doctor for information on the risks and benefits associated with oral contraceptives.

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