Acne treatment Acne treatment

The Best Acne Medicines

The Best Acne Medicines The Best Acne Medicines The Best Acne Medicines

Acne is a skin problem that affects people starting in their teens, and for some, continues through adulthood. Acne can vary in severity from mild whiteheads or blackheads (comedones) to more serious inflammatory acne such as pustules or nodes. Depending on the severity of the acne, several prescription and over-the-counter products may be used for treatment.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is one of the first medicines people turn to for treating and preventing acne. It can be found in over-the-counter and prescription products, and is typically used for noninflammatory acne. According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, salicylic acid treats acne by breaking down the keratin in a plugged follicle. Keratin is a protein that makes up your skin. Because acne plugs are made up of dead skin cells, breaking down keratin also breaks up the plug. Salicylic acid prevents acne by slowing down the shedding of skin cells inside the follicle. The fewer dead skin cells in the follicle, the less material there is to form plugs.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter forms. Benzyol peroxide penetrates acne-clogged pores and introduces oxygen. This kills a bacteria widely associated with acne called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acne). P. acne is unable to survive in environments with high levels of oxygen. Killing the P. acne bacteria helps prevent the infection and inflammation that can occur when the bacteria burst from the lesion into the surrounding skin.


Prescription retinoids--such as adapalene (Differin), isotretinoin (Accutane) and tazarotene (Tazorac)--are also well-known medications used to treat acne. Retinoids work by promoting healthy cell turnover on the skin and by keeping the follicles on the skin from forming plugs. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the oral retinoid isotretinoin is the most effective treatment available for acne, as it is the only drug to address all four contributing factors to acne formation, including irregular skin-cell shedding, excess sebum production, bacteria and inflammation. Because of serious risks for birth defects, isotretinoin is highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the iPLEDGE program to ensure the medication is used safely.


Antibiotics are also commonly used to treat more inflammatory cases of acne, such as acne nodules or cysts. Antibiotics kill the P. acnes bacteria on the skin, and some, such as erythromycin, have added anti-inflammatory properties when used topically. Because bacterial resistance can occur with excessive antibiotic use, antibiotic treatments are typically limited to up to six months, and are often combined with other antimicrobials, such as benzoyl peroxide. Other antibiotics used for acne include clindamycin and tetracycline.


In severe cases of inflammatory acne, in which there is a risk of acne lesions bursting from built-up pressure, corticosteroid injections may be used. Corticosteroids are injected directly into inflamed acne lesions, which reduces inflammation and pressure and keeps the lesions from bursting and resulting in scar tissue. Corticosteroid injections can cause side effects such as depigmentation of the skin at the injection site and bruising. Corticosteroid injections can also elevate blood sugar levels, so they should be used with caution in those with diabetes.

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