backup og meta

Common Acne Medications: How They Work for You

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 28

    Common Acne Medications: How They Work for You

    Why Your Acne Needs Medical Treatment

    Oftentimes, the initial response to acne breakouts is to use over-the-counter medicine for acne. However, if you’ve tried several products over the course of a few weeks and haven’t seen a significant change in your skin condition, you might want to talk to a dermatologist. Learn how to treat acne effectively with this article.

    A dermatologist is a medical specialist qualified to diagnose and treat skin, nail, and hair conditions4. They can help you evaluate and manage your acne with prescription medication. 

    It is important to address acne breakouts right away and with the appropriate treatment in order to prevent complications such as acne scarring. Problems with acne and acne scarring don’t just affect one’s skin — they can also affect one’s self-esteem, cause inconveniences, as well as anxiety and depression.

    Use of any medicine for acne must be weighed against the risk and good it will do to your overall health condition1. You must also consider the delay in treatment outcome with the wrong choice of medication applied.

    Medicine for Acne: Common Medication and Treatments

    There are many kinds of medicine for acne that your doctor might prescribe to help you manage your acne. A few of these methods for how to treat acne include2:


    Adapalene may come in the form of a gel or cream. It is an example of a retinoid, a retinoic acid derivative that has better tolerability and more potent anti-inflammatory activity as compared to tretinoin, another anti-acne medication.

    You may initially be recommended to use adapalene three times a week at night. After your skin becomes used to it, you may use it on a daily basis. It is also safe for long-term use to prevent future breakouts.

    Benzoyl Peroxide

    Benzoyl peroxide helps to reduce the amount of bacteria that might bring about acne. Compared to other antibiotics, it does not cause bacterial resistance3

    Azelaic Acid

    This prescription medicine for acne is a naturally occurring acid produced by a certain yeast. Azelaic acid is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. When used twice a day, it has been observed to be just as effective as other common treatments. It also helps manage discoloration that could stem from certain types of acne2


    Antibiotics are a kind of medicine for acne that is often applied topically. Other times, it is available as oral medication for acne. It is effective in eliminating bacteria. 

    Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in combination with other acne medications. For instance, your doctor may recommend that you apply a retinoid and an antibiotic for the initial acne treatment. You may also take this with benzoyl peroxide to minimize the development of antibiotic resistance.

    Examples of antibiotics are clindamycin and erythromycin, which may be paired with benzoyl peroxide and adapalene to manage your acne.

    Combination of Retinoid and Anti-Microbial

    This combination targets 3 out of the 4 factors of acne, including unplugging the pores, stopping the bacteria C. acnes, and addressing inflammation. It is the ideal treatment for mild, moderate, and severe acne. It also helps improve patient compliance because of its convenient once-daily application.

    Steroid Injection

    Steroids can help with deep-set and painful lesions, resulting in fast improvement and diminished pain. Side effects may include thinning skin and discoloration within the treated area.


    Your dermatologist may utilize devices to remove whiteheads and blackheads (also known as comedones) that haven’t cleared up with topical drugs. This method may improve the appearance of your skin, but it might also cause scarring2. Proper technique is very important to avoid scarring.

    How To Treat Acne: Talking to Your Dermatologist

    Before taking any acne medication, always inform your dermatologist about important information regarding your health, such as: 


    It’s vital to inform the dermatologist about any unusual or allergic reactions to certain medications. It is also helpful to tell your doctor if you have allergies to other things, including food or animals.


    The dosage of prescription medicine will vary based on the age of the patient.


    If you are breastfeeding, avoid using topical medications for skin concerns. The lack of studies in breastfeeding women for determining infant risk when using certain acne medications is precisely the reason why observing precaution is still recommended1. It is important to get your doctor’s advice before trying any new medication while breastfeeding.

    Preparing for Your Visit

    Visit your dermatologist as early as possible so you may learn how to treat acne and receive the correct acne medication for your needs.

    Prepare for your doctor’s appointment by preparing the following details so you can share them with your dermatologist2.

    1. When did the acne start?
    2. Medications you have tried or are currently taking
    3. Possible triggers such as stress or menstrual cycle
    4. Skincare products that you’re using
    5. Family history of having acne and acne scars

    Dealing with acne complications and acne scarring is both time consuming and expensive. The best way to manage acne concerns is to get the appropriate treatment as soon as possible by speaking with your dermatologist.

    If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

    Suffering from acne? Try our acne severity screener and our acne scarring risk screener, and get connected to a dermatologist.

    Please click here to send your questions or concerns. Foods, Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Act prohibits dispensing of ethical or prescription medicines without prescription. For suspected adverse drug reaction, report to the FDA at

    Learn more about Acne here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 28

    advertisement iconadvertisement

    Was this article helpful?

    advertisement iconadvertisement
    advertisement iconadvertisement