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What Are the Different Types of Prescription Acne Treatments?

By Christina Edwards
Updated May 17, 2024
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For many people, the use of an over-the-counter acne treatment may be all that's necessary to clear up acne blemishes. Other people may need to use prescription acne treatments. There are two main types of prescription acne treatment, which can either be rubbed on the skin or taken orally. More serious cases may benefit from corticosteroid injections.

Topical products are one common type of prescription acne treatment. These usually come in to form of face washes, creams, or gels. They are applied to the affected area, usually daily. Ingredients in these products can help get rid of bacteria that can cause acne.

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common ingredients found in topical prescription acne treatments. While many over-the-counter acne treatments also contain this ingredient, these prescription products are typically much stronger. Since it is an antimicrobial, benzoyl peroxide can help kill harmful bacteria. It also causes the dead layers of skin to peel much more often, resulting in less clogged pores. Because of this, however, it can lead to dry skin and redness for the first week or two of use.

Another common ingredient found in prescription acne treatments is azelaic acid. Like benzoyl peroxide, it can also help kill the harmful bacteria that can cause acne in some people. Since it is an anti-inflammatory as well, it can also help eliminate some of the redness and puffiness that is associated with severe acne.

Retinoids can either be applied to the skin directly or taken orally. These chemical compounds are vitamin A derivatives, and they can help keep pores from becoming clogged with excess oil. Oral retinoids can help slow excessive oil production as well, and they can cause the top layer of dead skin to shed more quickly as well.

Dry skin, however, is a common side effect of these types of prescription acne treatment. Additionally, there may be some risks associated with oral retinoids. Some studies have shown that these prescription acne treatments may cause liver damage or birth defects, if not used properly.

Certain antibiotics may also be prescribed for acne. One example is tetracycline. These drugs work by killing harmful bacteria, and they are available as topical solutions or oral medications.

Dermatologists may also recommend other kinds of prescription acne treatments for women. Research suggests, for instance, that some contraceptives may help slow oil production in some people. This can lead to less clogged pores, and therefore less pimples.

For severe acne cases, dermatologists may recommend corticosteroid injections. By using a tiny needle, a dermatologist can inject these steroids directly into severe blemishes. Typically, within a week, the blemishes will heal. Side effects of this treatment, however, can includes pits or indentations on the skin. Many times these will go away, but it can take months.

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