Skip to Content

Medications for Acne

Other names: Acne Vulgaris; Blackheads; Breakouts; Cystic acne; Pimples; Whiteheads; Zits

What is Acne?

Acne is a skin condition caused by dead skin cells sticking together and clogging up pores. Bacteria can play a role, too. A big trigger for the onset of acne is puberty.

Better nutrition and living standards have seen the age of puberty, especially in girls, decrease significantly over the past 40 years. It is now not uncommon for girls as young as 7 to develop acne. Acne is also affecting more adults later in life and doctors are not sure why. A growing number of women have acne in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.

What Causes Acne?

Our body constantly makes and sheds skin. Normally, dead skin cells rise to the surface of the pore and just flake off our body. At puberty, hormones trigger the production of sebum - an oily substance that helps moisturize our skin.

Sebum sticks dead skin cells together, increasing their chances of becoming trapped inside a pore. Clogged pores become blackheads, whiteheads or pimples. If bacteria are also present, redness and swelling can occur resulting in the progression of the pimple into a cyst or nodule.

Who is More at Risk of Acne?

Unfortunately, some people suffer from acne worse than others. Bad acne tends to run in families - your mother, father, aunt or uncle probably had severe breakouts when they were a teenager.

Some people also have naturally higher hormone levels and make more sebum, so their skin pores are always clogging up.

If you live in an area that gets very humid or have a job which exposes you to moist heat (such as in a food kitchen) or grease or tar (a mechanic or road worker) then you are more likely to get acne.

Chin straps, headbands, and even hair products applied too close to the skin can precipitate a break out as several different medicines - most notably prednisone, phenytoin, and certain hormonal contraceptives that are high in androgens (for example, Microgestin 1.5/30 and the Depo-Provera shot).

What are the Symptoms of Acne?

Acne may appear on the face, forehead, chest, upper back or shoulders.  The symptoms and severity of acne vary from person to person but may include:

  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Papules (small, red, tender bumps)
  • Pimples (papules with pus at their tips)
  • Nodules (large solid painful lumps beneath the skin surface
  • Cystic lesions (painful pus-filled lumps beneath the skin’s surface).

How is Acne Diagnosed?

If your acne makes you shy or embarrassed, if you have a lot of acne, cysts or nodules on your face or back, or if over the counter products do not seem to work, see your doctor or a dermatologist as soon as you can. They can prescribe stronger topical or oral treatments that are much more effective than products you can buy at a drug store.

Your doctor will look at your skin and ask about the history of your acne. It is a myth that you have to let acne run its course. Treatment helps prevent dark spots and permanent scars from forming as the acne clears.

How is Acne Treated?

The most important thing you can do to reduce the chance of breakouts is to take good care of your skin.

This doesn't mean scrubbing it raw several times a day with soap. It means gently cleansing it with a mild soap-free wash twice a day, every day. If you play a lot of sport or work in a greasy or humid environment, cleanse your skin as soon as you finish training or right after work.

Be gentle. You aim to cleanse away excess sebum and dead skin cells so they don't clog up your pores - not to irritate your skin even further.

The first step to clear skin is clean skin. Look for a cleanser that is soap-free and does not contain any harsh detergents such as sodium lauryl or laureth sulfates, which can cause redness, irritation, and inflammation. Avoid pore-clogging ingredients as well, such as algae extract, carrageenan, lanolin, myristyl myristate, octyl palmitate, octyl stearate-5, and oleth-3.

Anti-acne ingredients work by removing dead skin cells, unclogging pores, or reducing bacteria numbers on the skin.

Acne treatments usually contain one of the following ingredients (some of which are only available on prescription):

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Salicyclic acid
  • Resorcinol
  • Azelaic acid
  • Dapsone gel
  • Retinoids and retinoid-like creams, gels, and lotions
  • Topical antibiotics
  • Oral antibiotics (eg, tetracyclines,
  • Combined oral contraceptives
  • Oral isotretinoin
  • Spironolactone
  • Lasers and photodynamic therapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Steroid injections.

If you have severe acne you need to be very proactive with skin cleansing and using acne treatment. Seeing a dermatologist early on for prescription products lessens the chances of being left with permanent scars.

How Can I Prevent Acne?

  • Gently wash your face twice a day and after sweating.
  • Shampoo your hair regularly.
  • Do not pick or squeeze your acne; this increases the risk of scars.
  • Keep your hands off your face. Wash your hands before applying make-up.
  • Be careful what you put on your face, and avoid ingredients that promote acne.
  • Stay out of the sun and off tanning beds; excess tanning can damage your skin.
  • See a dermatologist if you feel shy or products don't work.

Drugs Used to Treat Acne

The following list of medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of this condition.

Drug name Rx / OTC Pregnancy CSA Alcohol Reviews Rating Popularity
doxycycline D N X 724 reviews
6.8

Generic name: doxycycline systemic

Brand names:  Doryx, Vibramycin, Acticlate, Doxy 100, Monodox, Doryx MPC, Targadox, Adoxa, Adoxa CK, Adoxa Pak, Adoxa TT, Avidoxy, Morgidox, Oraxyl …show all

Drug class: tetracyclines, miscellaneous antimalarials

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

spironolactone Off Label C N X 364 reviews
7.5

Generic name: spironolactone systemic

Brand name:  Aldactone

Drug class: potassium-sparing diuretics, aldosterone receptor antagonists

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

minocycline D N 454 reviews
5.9

Generic name: minocycline systemic

Brand names:  Solodyn, Minocin, Dynacin, Minolira, Ximino …show all

Drug class: tetracyclines

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Aldactone Off Label C N X 7 reviews
8.7

Generic name: spironolactone systemic

Drug class: potassium-sparing diuretics, aldosterone receptor antagonists

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

clindamycin B N 131 reviews
7.5

Generic name: clindamycin topical

Brand names:  Cleocin T, Clindagel, Clinda-Derm, Clindacin ETZ, Clindacin P, Clindacin PAC, ClindaReach Pledget, Clindets, Evoclin …show all

Drug class: topical acne agents, vaginal anti-infectives

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

tretinoin C N 413 reviews
7.8

Generic name: tretinoin topical

Brand names:  Retin-A, Atralin, Avita, Altreno …show all

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Bactrim Off Label D N X 87 reviews
8.7

Generic name: sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim systemic

Drug class: sulfonamides

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

isotretinoin X N X 925 reviews
8.1

Generic name: isotretinoin systemic

Brand names:  Claravis, Absorica, Amnesteem, Myorisan, Absorica LD, Sotret, Zenatane …show all

Drug class: miscellaneous antineoplastics, miscellaneous uncategorized agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Retin-A C N 78 reviews
8.1

Generic name: tretinoin topical

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Epiduo C N 640 reviews
7.4

Generic name: adapalene / benzoyl peroxide topical

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Aczone C N 218 reviews
7.5

Generic name: dapsone topical

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Differin C N 287 reviews
6.3

Generic name: adapalene topical

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

benzoyl peroxide C N 46 reviews
8.1

Generic name: benzoyl peroxide topical

Brand names:  Acne Treatment, BenzEFoam, PanOxyl, Acetoxyl, Acne-10, Acne-Clear, Acnomel BP 5, Alquam-X Acne Therapy Gel, Benprox, Benzac, Benzac AC, Benzac AC Wash, Benzac W, Benzagel, Benzagel Wash, Benzashave, BenzEFoam Ultra, BenzePro, Benziq, Benziq Wash, Binora, BP Foaming Wash, BPO-5 Wash, BPO-10 Wash, BPO 3 Foaming Cloths, BPO 6 Foaming Cloths, BPO 9 Foaming Cloths, BPO Gel, BP Wash, Brevoxyl, Brevoxyl Acne Wash Kit, Brevoxyl Creamy Wash, Clearskin, Clinac BPO, Delos, Desquam-X Wash, Enzoclear Foam, Fostex Wash 10%, Inova, Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser / Mask, Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne, Oscion, Oxy-10, Oxy Daily Wash, PanOxyl 4% Acne Creamy Wash, PanOxyl 10% Acne Foaming Wash, Peroderm 7 Wash, Persa-Gel, PR Benzoyl Peroxide Wash, Riax, SE BPO, SoluCLENZ Rx …show all

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, Prescribing Information

Solodyn D N 98 reviews
6.9

Generic name: minocycline systemic

Drug class: tetracyclines

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Doryx D N X 56 reviews
7.5

Generic name: doxycycline systemic

Drug class: tetracyclines, miscellaneous antimalarials

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

adapalene C N 442 reviews
6.5

Generic name: adapalene topical

Brand name:  Differin

Drug class: topical acne agents

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Septra Off Label D N X 2 reviews
10

Generic name: sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim systemic

Drug class: sulfonamides

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

tetracycline D N 33 reviews
6.8

Generic name: tetracycline systemic

Brand names:  Achromycin V, Ala-Tet, Brodspec

Drug class: tetracyclines

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

cephalexin Off Label B N 6 reviews
8.2

Generic name: cephalexin systemic

Brand name:  Keflex

Drug class: first generation cephalosporins

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim Off Label D N X 171 reviews
7.9

Generic name: sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim systemic

Brand names:  Bactrim, Septra, Bactrim DS, Septra DS, Co-trimoxazole …show all

Drug class: sulfonamides

For consumers: dosage, interactions,

For professionals: A-Z Drug Facts, Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

Tazorac X N 25 reviews
7.7

Generic name: tazarotene topical

Drug class: topical acne agents, topical antipsoriatics

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Keflex Off Label B N 4 reviews
7.5

Generic name: cephalexin systemic

Drug class: first generation cephalosporins

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: AHFS DI Monograph, Prescribing Information

Off Label: Yes

Vibramycin D N X 4 reviews
8.3

Generic name: doxycycline systemic

Drug class: tetracyclines, miscellaneous antimalarials

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Acticlate D N X 8 reviews
5.7

Generic name: doxycycline systemic

Drug class: tetracyclines

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

For professionals: Prescribing Information

Bactrim DS Off Label D N X 26 reviews
6.8

Generic name: sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim systemic

Drug class: sulfonamides

For consumers: dosage, interactions, side effects

Off Label: Yes

Topics under Acne

Alternative treatments for Acne

The following products are considered to be alternative treatments or natural remedies for Acne. Their efficacy may not have been scientifically tested to the same degree as the drugs listed in the table above. However there may be historical, cultural or anecdotal evidence linking their use to the treatment of Acne.

Learn more about Acne

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Drugs.com Health Center

Mayo Clinic Reference

ICD-10 CM Clinical Codes (External)

Legend

Rx Prescription Only
OTC Over the Counter
Rx/OTC Prescription or Over the Counter
Off Label This medication may not be approved by the FDA for the treatment of this condition.
Pregnancy Category
A Adequate and well-controlled studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy (and there is no evidence of risk in later trimesters).
B Animal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women.
C Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use in pregnant women despite potential risks.
D There is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience or studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use in pregnant women despite potential risks.
X Studies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and/or there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience, and the risks involved in use in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits.
N FDA has not classified the drug.
Controlled Substances Act (CSA) Schedule
N Is not subject to the Controlled Substances Act.
1 Has a high potential for abuse. Has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. There is a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
2 Has a high potential for abuse. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. Abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
3 Has a potential for abuse less than those in schedules 1 and 2. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
4 Has a low potential for abuse relative to those in schedule 3. It has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to those in schedule 3.
5 Has a low potential for abuse relative to those in schedule 4. Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to those in schedule 4.
Alcohol
X Interacts with Alcohol.

Browse Treatment Options

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.