Overview of acne medication in the treatment of moderate to severe acne
Stronger acne medication can be prescribed by a health care provider if OTC cream treatments are not working. Acne medication comes in two forms:
- topical antibiotics which are strong medication applied to the skin; and
- oral antibiotics that are taken orally.
Acne medication: topical antibiotics
Common topical antibiotics include:
- Vitamin A derivatives such as retinoic acid cream or gel (tretinoin, Retin-A);
- Stronger forms of benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid which must be prescribed by the health care provider or doctor;
- Topical azelaic acid.
Acne medication: oral antibiotics
Oral antibiotics are acne medication which is usually prescribed for more severe forms of acne. They include:
- Trimethoprim; and
Acne medication for hormone-related acne
Acne medication for acne caused by hormonal changes particularly in women include:
- Birth control pills;
- Antiandrogen drugs such as spironolactone, which reduces the production of aldosterone, a naturally occurring hormone in the body and oil production in the sebum; and
- Low-dose corticosteroid drugs, which help suppress androgen production.
Acne medication for severe cystic acne
Teens with severe cystic acne or acne with nodules or cysts should be seen and treated by a dermatologist. A common acne medication used as a treatment for severe cystic acne is isotretinoin (or better known as Accutane).
Accutane is very effective and can prevent acne scarring. However, Accutane has some risks of severe side effects and the dermatologist will monitor very closely symptoms of any side effects in the teen. Possible side effects include:
- dry skin
- dry eyes, mouth, lips or nose
- sun sensitivity
- muscle aches
- poor vision at night
- liver toxicity
- blood toxicity.
Accutane may also affect the teen’s moods although the link between Accutane and teen depression or teen suicide is unknown.
Pregnant women cannot take Accutane as it will cause severe birth defects in the fetus.