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Acne Health Center

Understanding Acne Treatment

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Prescription Treatments for Acne continued...

Other oral antibiotics often used are tetracycline, minocycline, and doxycycline, all of which are quite effective in many cases of acne.

Antibiotics do not address the other causative factors in acne and may take several weeks or months to clear it up. Antibiotics are often used in combination with other drugs that "unclog" follicles. Many oral antibiotics for acne should not be used during pregnancy. 

Retinoids or vitamin A derivatives. These drugs are available as topical or oral drugs. Topical retinoids clear up moderate-to-severe acne by normalizing the way the skin grows and sheds. They can be used in combination with other acne products, such as benzoyl peroxide and oral antibiotics. Topical retinoids don't have the severe side effects of oral retinoids; however, they aren't recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Side effects of topical retinoids include redness, dryness, and itchy skin.

For severe cystic acne, isotretinoin is the most effective therapy. This drug is the only drug that intervenes in all of the causes of acne. It can often even clear severe acne that hasn't responded to other treatments. However, the product can have side effects. It can cause severe birth defects and must NEVER be taken by a woman who is pregnant or who is not using contraception. In addition, it can't be taken by a woman who is nursing. Some studies suggest its use has been associated with an increased risk of depression, suicide, and inflammatory bowel disease. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks of this drug. 

Other side effects are dry skin and lips, muscle and joint pain, headache, elevated triglyceride levels (a type of cholesterol), and, rarely, thinning hair. For most people taking these drugs, side effects are tolerable and not a reason to discontinue therapy before the acne clears up.

Azelaic acid. Another topical is azelaic acid, which comes in a gel or cream and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is more commonly used for another type of condition called rosacea, but it may help mild acne.

Oral contraceptives. Birth control pills contain female hormones that work by counteracting the effect of male hormones (such as testosterone) on acne. Their use is limited to female patients. The maximum benefit of oral contraceptives on acne occurs in three to four months. Side effects include nausea, weight gain, spotting, breast tenderness, and blood clots.

Spironolactone. Spironolactone is an oral drug that can block the action of the body’s hormones on the skin’s oil glands. This medication is not FDA-approved for acne, but is especially helpful for women who have acne that worsens around the time of menstruation.

Another common drug your doctor may try is triamcinolone, a type of corticosteroid that is injected directly into acne nodules. 

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