Acne treatment Acne treatment

List of Rx Acne Medications

List of Rx Acne Medications List of Rx Acne Medications

Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when a mixture of sebum and dead skin cells form clogs, called comedones (blackheads or whiteheads), in the follicles of your skin. Comedones typically can be treated with over-the-counter products, but as bacteria and inflammation become involved, mild acne comedones can quickly progress into more serious forms of acne, such as pustules, cysts or nodules. When dealing with moderate-to-severe cases of acne, a prescription medication may be needed for treatment.

Topical Antimicrobials

Topical antimicrobials, such as azelaic acid and prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, are used to inhibit the growth of a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). The P. acnes bacterium is associated with more severe forms of inflammatory acne, such as pustules, cysts and nodules.


Antibiotics, including erythromycin, clindamycin and tetracycline, work by targeting the P. acnes bacteria and can be used both topically and orally. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some antibiotics, when used topically, may also help relieve inflammation. Because of possible problems with bacterial resistance forming, antibiotics are generally used only short term and are often accompanied by the use of other antimicrobials to lower the risks of resistance.


Prescription contraceptives can be used for acne treatment in women. Although contraceptives are designed to alter hormone levels in the body to prevent pregnancy, these hormonal changes also cause the sebaceous glands to produce less sebum. The reduction in sebum production leaves less material available for the formation of acne comedones.


Prescription corticosteroids are reserved for more inflammatory cases, such as cysts and nodules. As inflammation grows behind an acne lesion, the chances of the lesion bursting increase. If the lesion bursts, acne scar tissue can develop. To prevent this from occurring, corticosteroids can be injected directly into the acne cyst or nodule, forcing the inflammation to subside.


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, isotretinoin is one of the most popular prescriptions available for treating acne, largely because it is the only medication capable of addressing all four main causes of acne: sebum production, skin cell shedding, P. acne bacteria growth and inflammation. Because of potentially serious side effects, isotretinoin is strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration through the iPLEDGE Program.

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