There are a number of acne medications available through your doctor or pharmacist that can help treat and prevent acne. It can take several weeks of treatment to see noticeable improvements, but you should seek further advice from your doctor or pharmacist if the acne has not improved within 4 to 8 weeks.
Salicylic acid preparations (e.g. DermaVeen Acne Cleansing Bar) and sulphur-based treatments (e.g. Clearasil Acne Treatment Cream) can help improve acne. These preparations are keratolytics (peeling agents) that can unblock pores by removing keratin plugs. Sulphur can also help suppress bacteria that may make the acne worse, but if you have a sulphur allergy, do not use these products.
Benzoyl peroxide, which increases the rate of removal of skin cells and suppresses the bacteria that contribute to acne, is very effective if used regularly. Benzoyl peroxide treatments include such products as Benzac AC Gel and Wash, Brevoxyl, Oxy and PanOxyl. These products come in varying strengths (2.5 to 10 per cent) but, if too strong (greater than 5 per cent), the skin may become dry or rough. For this reason it is better to start with a lower strength, as stinging and skin redness may occur initially. If applied at night, much of the redness caused by the treatment will have gone by morning.
Azelaic acid (e.g. Acnederm medicated lotion, Finacea) is another acne preparation that has antibacterial and keratolytic properties. Like benzoyl peroxide, it can cause skin dryness and redness at first.
Topical antibiotic preparations that can be used to control acne include clindamycin (Dalacin T Topical Lotion and ClindaTech solution) and erythromycin (Eryacne 2% gel). These medications have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, and are the least irritating topical agents commonly used for acne. They are often used in combination with benzoyl peroxide. In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend you take a course of antibiotics by mouth (e.g. erythromycin, doxycycline, tetracycline or minocycline).
Topical antiseptic washes such as Acnederm Foaming Wash, Oxy Skin Wash and Sapoderm may also be helpful.
Oral contraceptives — ‘the pill’ (e.g. Diane-35 ED and Juliet-35 ED) can be an effective treatment for women with acne.
Retinoids are the most effective treatment for acne, but they can also irritate the skin more than other acne treatments. They are available in topical skin preparations, such as tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin Topical Cream or Gel) and isotretinoin (Isotrex Gel), or as oral medicine (isotretinoin – brand name Roaccutane).
People taking retinoids may need non-oily moisturisers for their lips and face, as well as eye lubricant drops, as they can cause dry skin and eyes. Retinoids can cause severe birth defects, so cannot be taken by pregnant women, those planning pregnancy or women who are not using appropriate contraceptive measures.
Last Reviewed: 18 April 2009