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Teen Acne: Topical Medicines continued...

Some prescription creams include two or more active ingredients.

The typical side effects from these treatments are mild and confined to the skin. They include stinging, redness, irritation, and peeling.

Retinoid creams can make skin more sensitive to sunlight. So when using these treatments, it’s important to limit sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and apply sunscreen regularly. Protect exposed skin with a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a large-brimmed hat. Make sure not to get any topical retinoids in your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Teen Acne Treatment: Oral Medications

For moderate to severe cases, a dermatologist might recommend prescription acne medications taken by mouth instead of -- or in addition to -- topical treatments. Here are some of the types used.

Oral antibiotics. For more severe teen acne, daily antibiotics can help kill bacteria and reduce swelling. These drugs are typically prescribed for periods of six months or less. Over time, the bacteria may become resistant to a specific antibiotic. When that happens, the doctor may switch to a different drug.

The side effects of oral antibiotics depend on the medication, but they can cause problems like upset stomach, dizziness, skin color changes, and sun sensitivity. Tetracycline can yellow the teeth and affect bone formation, so it’s not recommended for children under 14 or pregnant women. Doxycycline and minocycline are also not recommended for children under 14 or pregnant women.

Isotretinoin. This is a powerful drug in the retinoid group. It's used for severe or moderate acne that can’t be controlled with other treatments. It reduces the amount of oil made by glands in the skin. It also curbs inflammation and reduces clogged hair follicles.  Taking it for several months, once or twice a day, can clear most cases of acne. 

The most common side effects are dryness of the skin, eyes, mouth, lips, and nose. Other side effects include nosebleeds, achiness, diminished night vision, sun sensitivity, and changes in triglyceride levels and liver function. Severe side effects of isotretinoin are very rare. Since it can cause serious birth defects, women should use two different forms of birth control when taking isotretinoin. People using isotretinoin might need periodic blood tests.