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Acne - Treatment Overview

Acne treatment depends on whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe type of acne. Sometimes your doctor will combine treatments to get the best results and to avoid developing drug-resistant bacteria. Treatment could include lotions or gels you put on blemishes or sometimes entire areas of skin, such as the chest or back (topical medicines). You might also take medicines by mouth (oral medicines).

Mild acne

Treatment for mild acne (whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples) may include:

If these treatments do not work, you may want to see your doctor. Your doctor can give you a prescription for stronger lotions or creams. You may try an antibiotic lotion. Or you may try a lotion with medicine that helps to unplug your pores.

Moderate to severe acne

Sometimes acne needs treatment with stronger medicines or a combination of therapies. Deeper blemishes, such as nodules and cysts, are more likely to leave scars. As a result, your doctor may give you oral antibiotics sooner to start the healing process. This kind of acne may need a combination of several therapies. Treatment for moderate to severe acne may include:

  • Applying benzoyl peroxide.
  • Draining of large pimples and cysts by a doctor.
  • Applying prescription antibiotic gels, creams, or lotions.
  • Applying prescription retinoids.
  • Applying azelaic acid.
  • Taking prescription oral antibiotics.
  • Taking prescription oral retinoids (such as isotretinoin).

Treatment for acne scars

There are many procedures to remove acne scars, such as laser resurfacing and dermabrasion. Some scars shrink and fade with time. But if your scars bother you, talk to your doctor. He or she may refer you to a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon.

What to think about

Most treatments for acne take time. It often takes 6 to 8 weeks for acne to improve after you start treatment. Some treatments may cause acne to get worse before it gets better.

If your acne still hasn't improved after several tries with other treatment, your doctor may recommend that you take an oral retinoid, such as isotretinoin. Doctors prescribe this medicine as a last resort, because it has some rare but serious side effects and it is expensive.

Certain low-dose birth control pills may help control acne in women who tend to have flare-ups before menstruation.

Acne: Should I See My Doctor?
Acne: Should I Take Isotretinoin for Severe Acne?

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 17, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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