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Facing Facts About Acne

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"It is best to read the labels or talk to your health care professional before you use any of these products, so that you know which is right for you, what if any side effects may occur, and when you can expect to see results," says Liedtka.

Types of prescription topical medicines used to treat acne include antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, dapsone, and vitamin A derivatives known as retinoids.

People with moderate to severe inflammatory acne may be treated with prescription topical or oral medicines, alone or in combination. And people with nodules or cysts should be treated by a dermatologist.

Caution with Isotretinoin

Patients with severe nodular acne that does not improve with the use of other treatments may be prescribed isotretinoin, which is sold under the brand names Accutane, Sotret, Claravis, and Amnesteem.

Isotretinoin is a vitamin A derivative that is taken orally once or twice a day with food for 15 to 20 weeks. It reduces the size of the oil glands so that less oil is produced.

Although effective, isotretinoin is associated with serious side effects, especially for pregnant women. According to the medication guides for these products, isotretinoin can cause serious birth defects in the developing fetus of a pregnant woman. It is vital that women of childbearing age are not pregnant and do not get pregnant while they take isotretinoin, or for 30 days after completion of treatment.

Because isotretinoin can cause birth defects, it is only for patients who can understand and agree to carry out all of the instructions in iPLEDGE, a mandatory distribution program intended to prevent the use of the drug during pregnancy due to the high risk of birth defects.

Products containing isotretinoin may cause serious mental health problems in persons taking the drug. Other side effects include dry eyes, mouth, lips, nose, or skin; itching; nosebleeds; muscle aches; sensitivity to the sun; poor night vision; changes in the blood, such as an increase in fats in the blood; and changes in liver function.

Keeping Acne in Check

Meanwhile, it helps to know what can cause or worsen an outbreak. According to the National Institutes of Health, these factors can make acne worse:

  • changes in hormone levels in adolescent girls and adult women 2 to 7 days before their menstrual period starts
  • oil from skin products (moisturizers or cosmetics) or grease encountered in the work environment (for example, a kitchen with fry vats)
  • pressure from sports helmets or equipment, backpacks, tight collars, or tight sports uniforms
  • environmental irritants, such as pollution and high humidity
  • squeezing or picking at blemishes
  • hard scrubbing of the skin
  • stress