Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 10 March 2021
Table of contents
What Are the Treatments for Acne?
It's possible to hide a pimple every once in a while. Water-based cover-up creams and makeup can be used if at all necessary. But if acne outbreaks cannot be completely eliminated, conventional treatment may benefit.
The best treatments block male hormones in the skin, suppress sebum development, reduce bacterial growth, promote skin cell shedding to unclog pores, or a newer treatment that prevents sebum production. Because certain treatments have potential side effects, any acne patient should proceed with caution while trying a new treatment. A dermatologist should be consulted by someone that has acne that affects their self-esteem or makes them miserable, as well as others that have acne that leaves scars or who have serious, chronic acne.
Nonprescription Treatment for Acne
Water and soap. Acne can be treated by gently washing the skin with soap and water no more than twice a day. Acne that is already present is not cleared by this process. Scrubbing too hard will harm the skin and lead to other issues.
Cleansers. Acne-fighting cleansers and soaps are widely available. Benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and sulphur are common ingredients.
Benzoyl peroxide. Treatment with a nonprescription drug containing benzoyl peroxide can be used, or the doctor can recommend it, for mild acne. This substance is thought to act by destroying the harmful bacteria that causes acne. It takes at least four weeks to work and must be used on a regular basis to keep acne at bay. It doesn't change sebum formation or the way skin follicle cells are shed, like certain over-the-counter and pharmaceutical drugs, and when you avoid using it, the acne returns. It comes in a variety of types, including creams, lotions, washes, foams, cleansing pads, and gels. Take caution when using benzoyl peroxide because it can cause dry skin and bleach fabrics. If you're adding it to your back or chest overnight, consider wearing an old T-shirt to bed.
Salicylic acid. Salicylic acid helps to resolve abnormal cell shedding on the skin. Salicylic acid aids in the recovery and prevention of milder acne lesions by unclogging pores. It has little impact on the formation of sebum and does not destroy bacteria. It, like benzoyl peroxide, must be used constantly and if you miss using it, your pores clog up again and your acne returns. Some acne products, such as lotions, creams, and towels, contain salicylic acid.
Sulfur. Many over-the-counter acne drugs contain sulphur in combination with other ingredients such as alcohol, sodium sulfacetamide (a prescription medication), and salicylic acid. Because of its irritating odour and transient skin discoloration, it is seldom used on its own. Sulfur prevents clogging of pores and inhibits the growth of bacteria. However, in most situations, it is only marginally beneficial..
Topical retinol gel or creams. Retinol acts to prevent pimples from forming. It has an effect on cell formation, causing an increase in cell turnover to unblock pores. Since it works on the pimples that have already begun to develop under your skin, your acne may begin to worsen until it improves. It must be used on a regular basis to yield results, which may take up to 8 weeks. Retinoids were previously only available with a prescription. Differin Gel is the only topical retinoid that has been approved for use as an over-the-counter acne treatment.
Alcohol and acetone. Alcohol is a moderate antibacterial, and acetone can be used to clear oils from the skin's surface. Any over-the-counter acne medications use a combination of these ingredients. Dermatologists should not prescribe these products because they dry out the skin and have little to no effect on acne.
Herbal, organic, and “natural" medications. Many medicinal, organic, and natural acne treatments and prevention drugs are available on the market. Ses agents' efficacy hasn't been confirmed, and they're unlikely to be of much use.
Note: Apply a hot towel to pus-filled pimples for a few minutes before they're about to burst to promote the natural bursting stage. Only a nurse or doctor can release inflamed pimples with surgical equipment and antiseptic procedures. Squeezing pimples on your own will cause more irritation and possibly permanent scarring.
Prescription Treatments for Acne
Antibiotics may be applied topically to the skin or taken orally (systemic). Antibiotics function by removing acne-causing bacteria from the skin and reducing inflammation. Creams, gels, liquids, wraps, foams, and lotions are among the topical items available. Topical antibiotics have a small ability to penetrate the skin and clear more severe acne, while systemic antibiotics circulate throughout the body and into the sebaceous glands. Systemic antibiotics, on the other hand, have more side effects than topicals, although they can be used to treat more serious acne. Topical antibiotics aren't usually recommended as an acne treatment on their own because they can increase the chance of skin bacteria developing antibiotic resistance. Using benzoyl peroxide in conjunction with a topical antibiotic, on the other hand, can reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
Topical clindamycin and erythromycin are antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications that work against a variety of bacteria. They can only be added to the skin in conjunction with benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid. Oral erythromycin is also available, although it may cause you to develop resistance to its effectiveness, reducing its utility.
Doxycycline, minocycline, and tetracycline are three other anti-inflammatory antibiotics that are often used and are selective in many cases of acne.
Antibiotics do not fix the other causes that cause acne, and clearing it up will take weeks or months. Antibiotics are sometimes used in conjunction with other follicle-unclogging medications. Many acne-fighting antibiotics should be avoided during pregnancy.
Retinoids or vitamin A derivatives
These medications are available as topical or oral drugs. Topical retinoids help to clear moderate-to-severe acne by influencing how the skin develops and sheds. They should be combined with other acne remedies including benzoyl peroxide and oral antibiotics. While topical retinoids do not have the same serious side effects as oral retinoids, they are not approved for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. Redness, dryness, and itchy skin are all side effects of topical retinoids.
Isotretinoin is the most effective treatment for extreme cystic acne. This is the first treatment on the market that treats all three types of acne. It will also clear serious acne that has failed to respond to other therapies. This medication, however, may have negative side effects. It can never be used by a woman who is pregnant or who is not using contraceptives because it can induce serious birth defects. Furthermore, it should not be taken by a pregnant mother. Its use has been related to an elevated risk of depression, suicide, and inflammatory bowel disease in several studies. Consult your doctor on the drug's possible adverse effects.
Dry skin and lips, muscle and joint discomfort, headache, elevated triglyceride levels (a form of cholesterol), elevated liver enzymes, reduced night vision, and, in extreme instances, temporary hair loss are also potential side effects. For the most part, adverse effects are tolerable and are not a reason to stop treatment until the acne clears up.
Azelaic acid, which comes as a gel, cream, or foam that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, is another topical treatment. It's most widely used with rosacea, although it could assist with moderate acne.
Dapsone is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory topical gel.
Female hormones in birth control drugs work to reverse the acne-causing effects of male hormones (such as testosterone). Female patients are the only ones that can use them. Oral contraceptives had the biggest effect on acne after three to four months. Nausea, spotting, breast tenderness, and blood clots are also possible side effects.
Spironolactone is an oral medicine that inhibits the production of the body's hormones on the oil glands in the skin. This drug isn't licenced by the FDA for acne, but it can benefit people with acne that gets worse during menstruation and menopause.
Clascoterone is a recently approved topical medication for mild to extreme acne that can be used instead of spironolactone. It targets the acne-causing hormones. It's unknown how it functions, but it's been seen to suppress acne in both males and females over the age of 12.
Triamcinolone, a form of corticosteroid solution that is injected directly into acne nodules, is another popular medicine your doctor may try.
Warning About Acne Treatments
Patients on acne treatments should be mindful of potential adverse effects and reactions with other medicines and herbal remedies.
Topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can cause skin to become reddened, oily, and sun sensitive.
Antibiotics taken orally can cause sun exposure and stomach upset.
Since certain topical retinoids can be blocked by benzoyl peroxide, never use them at the same time.
Women who take oral antibiotics for longer than a few weeks are more likely to contract yeast infections.
Any over-the-counter acne drugs may cause serious inflammation or allergic reactions in some people. If you have signs including a sore throat, trouble breathing, faintness, or swelling of the face or tongue, get emergency medical treatment right away. If you get hives or itching, you should stop using the medication. Symptoms usually develop minutes, hours, days, or even weeks after use.
Acne Scar Treatments
Acne scars can be seen in some adults. Scars can be improved for some relatively aggressive surgical operations. Dermabrasion, different types of lasers, and chemical peeling are among the procedures available. These treatments expose the unblemished skin layers under the scarred surface. Dermatologists may also use the following techniques:
- Microneedling increases collagen development and decreases scarring.
- Subcision is the process of incising scars with a needle.
- Fillers are injections that are injected under scars to lift them up to the level of the underlying tissue.
To release whiteheads and blackheads and reduce pimples, dermatologists may use more superficial peels like glycolic or salicylic acid.
Microdermabrasion has no effect on acne on its own, but it works well when used in conjunction with lasers. Before undergoing any treatment, it is important to consult with a doctor about the treatments, appropriate precautions, and expected outcomes.
How Can I Prevent Acne?
Many physicians believe there is no way to prevent acne because of its relation to fluctuating hormone levels and potential genetic influences. According to conventional thinking, neither good hygiene nor a healthy diet can prevent outbreaks. Acne treatments will help you keep the acne under control and avoid further breakouts. Skin should be treated with care, particularly during adolescence.
Regular showers, as well as washing the face and hands with unscented or antibacterial soap, are important.
Some steps to take to stop potential outbreaks include:
- To minimise the risk of new lesions and skin inflammation, use non-comedogenic or allergic skin products.
- Using a gentle cleanser twice a day to keep the face clean.
- Cleansers and materials with scrubbing particles or a coarse texture should be avoided. These ingredients have the ability to irritate the skin and cause breakouts.
- Using a non-comedogenic moisturiser and broad-spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis (SPF 30 with zinc oxide).
- Make sure you're wearing non-comedogenic cosmetics.
- Do not pick, squeeze, or pop pimples. Scarring and skin infections may occur as a result of this.
Referenced on 2.3.2021:
- Acne. (n.d.).
- Acne: Overview. (2016).
- Kraft J, et al. (2011). Management of acne.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Acne.
- American Academy of Dermatology.
- The Merck Manual, Seventeenth Edition.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.