If you’ve tried the acne regimen that cleared up your friend’s skin, the cleansing brush that every celeb swears by, and that extra strength zit cream that promises to get rid of pimples overnight, and you’re still breaking out, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to just having bad skin. You might be using the wrong acne treatment. Just like facial cleansers and moisturizers, acne medicines aren’t one size fits all. To get rid of breakouts for good, start by finding the right treatment for your skin type and acne. Here’s a guide to the most effective medications for treating acne and how to find the best one for your acne and skin type. As always, it’s best to consult a doctor before using anything new on your face.
1. Benzoyl peroxide works by fighting the bacteria that causes acne. It causes an exfoliating effect that might cause some slight peeling and can dry out your skin. It’s great for mild cases of acne, and you can get it without a prescription — many drugstore acne washes, creams and gels contain benzoyl peroxide. Prescriptions creams that contain higher doses of benzoyl peroxides such can also be prescribed by a doctor for more severe cases.
2. Salicylic acid dries out the skin and helps exfoliate it to make dead skin cells fall away faster. It’s good for mild cases of acne, and is available without a prescription. Many drugstore acne creams, washes, and gels contain salicylic acid, but stronger versions are also available in prescription form.It can dry up your skin and cause redness and peeling.
3. Birth control pills are sometimes prescribed to help treat hormonal acne. Birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone have been shown to lower the amount of androgens in your body (a group of hormones that causes your body to produce sebum; excess sebum triggers acne) and therefore, help treat hormonal acne. It can take a few months to see results and initially your acne may get worse. There are risks associated with taking birth control pills, and some types can actually make your acne worse. Talk to your doctor to see if taking birth control pills will help the kind of acne you have.
4. Topical antibiotics work by killing the bacteria on your skin that cause acne, and by reducing inflammation. Topical antibiotics are often used along with oral antibiotics. Some examples of topical antibiotics are erythromycin and clindamycin. Antibiotics are available only with a prescription. Your doctor may prescribe you them in conjunction with another topical treatment such as one containing benzoyl peroxide or a retinoid such as Retin-A.
5. Oral antibiotics are usually used for moderate to severe acne, especially on the back or chest. Oral antibiotics kill bacteria in your skin pores. Antibiotics are available only with a prescription, and your doctor may prescribe them along with a topical treatment such as a benzoyl peroxide gel. The ones most commonly used are tetracycline and erythromycin. Like all antibiotics, they can cause yeast infections as well as more severe side effects and can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills. If you are taking birth control pills and antibiotics at the same time, you will need to use another form of birth control while you’re taking the antibiotics. They can also cause increased sun sensitivity, so you’ll need to be extra careful in the sun.
6. Topical retinoids are made from vitamin A and are used to help unblock pores and reduce the bacteria that cause acne. Common brands include Retin-A, Differin, and Tazorac. Topical retinoids work best on blackheads and whiteheads, and are available only with a prescription.
7. Isotretinoin (Accutane) is used in moderate to severe cases of acne when nothing else works. Isotretinoin reduces the amount of oil you produce, and reduces inflammation and clogged hair follicles. It cannot be combined with other acne treatments and can takes months to work. It has been shown to clear most cases of acne, but it also has many side effects, including dry lips, eyes, and skin as well as nosebleeds, achiness, diminished night vision, sun sensitivity, and changes in triglyceride levels and liver function. It’s unclear whether taking isotretinoin can cause severe depression and even suicidal thoughts and behavior, but it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks and other side effects before starting treatment.It causes severe birth defects, so you have to use birth control while you take it. It’s available only with a prescription and you may be required to take periodic blood tests during treatment.