Acne medication

Acne medication - What are the most common treatments?

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There is a wide range of acne medication options available: from topical treatments for mild symptoms through to drugs of varying strengths to treat more severe cases. The right medicine, when used according to prescription, will help to reduce blemishes and decrease the risk of permanent damage to skin. This article outlines the most common acne medications.

How do I know if medical treatment is the right option for my skin?

Doctor examining patient
A doctor will begin by examining your skin

If you have acne, and your blemishes are bothering you, then you might want to  consult your doctor

Acne treatment follows strict national and international guidelines1 and, after a close examination of your skin, your doctor or dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin) will be able to advise on which treatment is best for you and most likely to address the causes and symptoms of your acne. You can read more about what causes acne in causes and triggers of acne and find out about how blemishes develop in the development of acne.

Medical professionals generally agree that, in moderate to severe cases of acne, the timely use of drugs can help to prevent symptoms from worsening and reduce the risk of scarring.

1 - Nast, A., Dréno, B., Degitz, K. et al. (2012), European Evidence-based (S3) Guidelines for the Treatment of Acne, Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 26, S. 1–29.

What acne medication options are there?

The following list outlines the most common acne medications. You can find out more about how they work and their possible side effects in Acne treatments: how they work and their possible side effects:

Contributing Factors

Benzoyl Peroxide

If your acne is mild to moderate your doctor may well recommend Benzoyl Peroxide in the first instance. It comes as a cream or a gel which you apply to your affected skin and, in many countries, is available without a prescription.

Topical retinoids

As an alternative to Benzoyl Peroxide, your doctor may prescribe a topical retinoid. A topical product is a cream or gel that you apply to your affected skin. A retinoid is a retinol, or Vitamin A, derivative. 

Azelaic acid

Recommended when Benzoyl Peroxide and topical retinoids have not delivered results or if someone has experienced negative side effects using them. Also recommended for skin that is particularly sensitive to sunlight as does not exacerbate the condition).

Topical and oral antibiotics

These are only prescribed for use in combination with another medical acne treatment to prevent bacterial resistance, reduce the growth of P.acnes bacteria and help to prevent skin infections.  Topical antibiotics are applied externally to the affected area, oral antibiotics come in tablet or liquid form.

Combined oral contraceptive pill

Acne is directly related to fluctuations in our hormones and for women who experience hormone-related flare-ups, dermatologists may recommend certain oral contraceptives proven to be effective against acne. 


For severe, stubborn and persistent acne, the most common and effective medication is a drug called Isotretinoin. It is only prescribed when other medications have not worked. 

When should I expect to see results?

Medical treatments for the symptoms of acne

Prescribed acne medication
Your doctor will prescribe the best acne medication for you and your skin

Sadly, no acne medicine promises instant results and treatment needs to be applied or taken consistently for the recommended period of time. Most people start to notice results between four to eight weeks after starting treatment but it can sometimes take up to three months.

Dermatologists say that one of the main reasons for medication not working is that patients do not follow the correct prescription or stop taking the drug before the end of the course. You can find out more about the possible reasons for this is in Acne treatments: how they work and their possible side effects

“Acne treatment - whether medical or not - takes time to have a noticeable effect. Don’t give up!” Dr med. Markus Reinholz, Dermatologist

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