Acne treatment Acne treatment

The Best Prescription Acne Drugs

The Best Prescription Acne Drugs The Best Prescription Acne Drugs

Acne can be caused by a variety of factors including irregular skin cell shedding, colonies of bacteria, overproduction of skin oil (sebum) and inflammation. Depending on which factors are involved, acne can range in severity from mild cases of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) to seriously inflamed lesions, such as cysts or nodules. When over-the-counter remedies are no longer sufficient in treating acne, your doctor may prescribe a more powerful acne drug.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is commonly used in acne treatment. Although it is available in over-the-counter strengths, for more severe cases of acne, your dermatologist may prescribe a prescription strength salicylic acid gel. When used for acne treatment, salicylic acid works by correcting abnormal skin cell shedding. This slows down the shedding of skin cells, providing less material to clog pores.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Prescription strength benzoyl peroxide is also commonly used to treat acne. Benzoyl peroxide is an antimicrobial medication. According to the Mayo Clinic, a common factor in acne formation is a bacterial called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), which cannot survive in oxygen-rich environments. Benzoyl peroxide works by penetrating clogged pores and introducing high levels of oxygen to the bacteria, killing it in the process.


Erythromycin is a common prescription antibiotic used to treat severe acne breakouts. Similar to benzoyl peroxide, eryhtromycin works by targeting and killing the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. Like most antibiotics, there is some risk for bacterial resistance if not used correctly. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, to combat resistance, eryhtromycin is commonly prescribed with other antimicrobial medications in order to quickly kill the bacteria.


Corticosteroids are drugs that are reserved for the treatment of seriously inflamed acne lesions. As inflammation builds beneath the skin, pressure also builds up. This can cause the lesion to burst, resulting in scar tissue. To prevent bursting, corticosteroids can be injected directly into the lesion, acting as an anti-inflammatory. This relieves the inflammation of the lesion, as well as the building pressure.


Isotretinoin, a retinoid taken orally, is one of the most popularly prescribed medications available for acne. Once in the bloodstream, isotretinoin is capable of addressing all four leading causes of acne formation, including killing the P. acnes bacteria and reducing inflammation. Isotretinoin has serious side effects for pregnant women, so serious that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has designed the iPLEDGE monitoring program to ensure no women are prescribed the drug while pregnant.

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