Prescription Acne Medication
Popular Prescription Strength Acne and Skin Care Medications
Due to recent advances in the field and the publicity surrounding “breakthrough” acne treatments, some relatively new prescription acne medication are nearly as well known to the general public as OTC products that have been around for decades.
Most people, however, don’t possess the foggiest notion as to how and why these drugs produce such dramatic results.
Nor do they typically understand that the effectiveness of certain presription acne medication often comes at a steep price, both in real dollars and in potential side effects. Our rule of thumb: Start mild before you go wild.
By that, we mean that you— and your dermatologist – ought to begin treatment with the gentlest prescription acne medications capable of addressing your acne problems, and progress to stronger medications only if your condition fails to improve within a reasonable amount of time.
Prescription-strength medications, by the way, take longer to work than most patients think. Depending on the drug, visible improvement may not be forthcoming for several weeks—or for several months. Along the way, dosage may need to be adjusted, and drugs may need to be added to deleted from your regimen, based on how your skin and your system react.
All of which leads to the inescapable fact that one of the most crucial ingredients in any successful treatment program is: you. So stay patient, be flexible, and most important, be faithful in following your dermatologist’s instructions regarding how and when to take the prescribed medications we are about to describe.
What: Lotions, creams, roll-ons, and pads prescribed chiefly for treatment of mild to moderate acne. Clindamycin and erythromycin are prescribed most often; tetracycline less often.
Pros: Topicals allow restriction of treatment to the problem area, so you don’t have to expose your entire system to the drug, as with oral antibiotics. Also, they usually produce visible results in three to four weeks time, which is fairly quick for a prescription acne medication.
Cons: Can cause excessive dryness of the skin, as well as burning, itching, stinging, inflammation, or flaking of treated region.
What: Drugs designed to treat moderate to severe acne by reducing inflammation of acne lesions. Often paired with topical antibiotics at the start of treatment, then gradually eliminated as topicals begin to produce positive results. Erythromycin, minocycline, tetracycline, and tetracycline derivatives are the most commonly prescribed oral antibiotics. Clindamycin is also occasionally prescribed, but only for very severe or persistent acne.
Pros: A time-tested way to successfully combat forms of acne that do not respond to topical treatment alone.
Cons: Visible results take anywhere from three to six weeks to appear. Possible side effects—which vary depending on the specific drug you take—range from stomach upset, queasiness, and diarrhea to photosensitive reactions, headaches, and vaginal yeast infections. Also, many oral antibiotics must be taken on an empty stomach.
Retin A, Avita
What: A mild, synthetic form of vitamin A acid (technically known as tretinoin) that serves as the active ingredient in various topical acne medications. These products work by penetrating plugged pores to loosen thick, gummy cells, enabling them to be shed and thereby speeding up the cellular replacement cycle. Typically found in creams, lotions, and gels.
Pros: Not only clears up existing acne bumps, when effective, but also helps prevent the formation of new ones. In addition, some researchers believe that tretinoin renders the skin smoother, clearer, and less susceptible to wrinkling.
Cons. Can be drying and/or irritating to the skin, especially in gel formulations or when used in conjunction with other acne medications. May actually worsen your acne at first, or if the prescribed formulation is too strong. Makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.
Differin Prescription Acne Medication
What: A topical retinoid product whose active ingredient (adapalene) dries and peels the skin to unclog plugged pores. Prescribed as a gel or solution.
Pros : Ixfoliates as reliably as tretinoifl, but without causing the redness that often results from using the more well-known medication. Especially effective for the treatment of pimples erupt on the back. No increase in sun sensitivity.
Cons: Dryness and itching usually occur during the first two weeks of use. Must be used in combination with antibiotics for inflamed acne
Ortho Tri-CyClen Prescription Acne Medication
What: An oral medication that acts as both a birth control pill and and acne-fighting drug. Active ingredients are norgesti-mate and ethinyl estradiol, both of which are hormone-like substances used for their contraceptive qualities.
Pros: Regulates androgen production making it ideal for breakouts linked to hormonal fluctuations. Doubles as birth control.
Cons: Prevents conception in those who want to take it solely for prevention of acne. Produces the side effects commonly associated with other oral contraceptives, such as skin discoloration, fluid retention, and spotting.
Accutafle Prescription Acne Medication
What: An extremely powerful oral medication prescribed for only the most severe, scarring types of acne. Like Retin A, its active ingredient (isotretifloin) is a vitamin A derivative.
Pros: Perhaps the closest thing we have to a true acne “cure.” Extraordinarily effective in reducing sebum production by the oil glands and halting – sometimes permanently—the development of acne in those who use it.
Cons: Many. We emphasize this because the side effects of Accutane for some patients can make even a very nasty case of acne seem like a small problem indeed.
The complete list includes: excessively dry skin; dry, scratchy eyes; dry nose lining; dry mouth; sore muscles; stiff joints; headaches; impaired night vision; heightened cholesterol levels; increased production of liver enzymes; and severe birth defects in babies born to mothers who take the drug either shortly before conception or during pregnancy.
Of course, not everyone—or even most people—will suffer the worst of these potential side effects. But you must be aware that they exist before you consider taking what amounts to a drug of last resort. One final note on Accutane: Despite its strength, this prescription acne medication typically runs a long time—4 to 5 months, on average.