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Prescription Topical Drugs for Acne

Prescription Topical Medicines

Patients with moderate to severe inflammatory acne may be treated with prescription topical or oral medications, alone or in combination.
Several types of prescription topical medications are used for acne treatment, including:
  • Antibiotics
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Tretinoin
  • Adapalene
  • Azelaic acid.
Antibiotics and azelaic acid help stop or slow the growth of bacteria and reduce inflammation. Tretinoin, a type of drug called a retinoid that contains an altered form of vitamin A, is an effective topical acne medication for stopping the development of new comedones (basic acne lesions). It works by unplugging existing comedones, thereby allowing other topical acne medications, such as antibiotics, to enter the follicles. The doctor may also prescribe newer retinoids or retinoid-like drugs, such as tazarotene or adapalene, which help decrease comedo formation.
Like OTC topical medications, prescription topical medications for acne come as creams, lotions, solutions, or gels. The doctor will consider the patient's skin type when prescribing a product. Creams and lotions provide moisture and tend to be good for people with sensitive skin. Gels and solutions are generally alcohol based and tend to dry the skin. Therefore, patients with very oily skin or those who live in hot, humid climates may prefer them. The doctor will tell the patient how to apply the medication and how often to use it.
Some people develop side effects from using prescription topical acne medications. Initially, the skin may look worse before improving. Common side effects include:
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Peeling
  • Scaling
  • Discoloration of the skin.
With some medications for acne, like retinoids, these side effects usually decrease or go away after the medicine is used for a period of time. Patients should report prolonged or severe side effects to their doctor. Between four and eight weeks will most likely pass before patients see their skin improve.

Getting Rid of Acne

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