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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. 

Many teens and their parents are concerned about the possible psychological effects of isotretinoin. What’s the connection? Experts say that there have been a number of people using isotretinoin who had severe depression and attempted suicide. But no one knows whether the medicine was really the cause. The fact is that depression is more common in people with acne, regardless of the treatment.

Parents, if you notice that your son or daughter is having mood swings, seeming down or angry, or losing interest in friends or the things that he or she usually enjoys, schedule an appointment with the doctor.

Hormonal treatments. Some teen girls have acne that’s linked to hormones called androgens. To treat this sort of acne, a doctor might recommend birth control pills or spironolactone. Side effects of hormonal treatments for acne include irregular periods, tender breasts, headaches, blood clots, high blood pressure, and fatigue.

Teen Acne: Tips for Prescription Acne Treatment

Take the acne treatment as prescribed. It's important to stick to the doctor’s acne treatment. Make it a part of the daily routine. Leave the medicine out where you can see it, instead of tucking it away in a medicine cabinet. If it helps, use notes or alarms as reminders.

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Acne: You Don't Know the Half of It

We all know the side of acne you can see. But what about the acne you can't see?

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"Even if your skin looks clear, there could be acne forming underneath your skin. We call this Unseen Acne."

- Dr. Lisa Chipps,
Beverly Hills Dermatologist

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