Medically reviewed by Aimee Paik, MD
Written by Apostrophe Team
Last updated 7/5/2022
If you’re dealing with mild, moderate, or severe acne, there are tons of treatments out there that promise help - everything from over-the-counter creams and serums, to more heavy-hitting prescription acne medication. Some work better than others.
When it comes to prescription acne medication, you’ll find both topical and oral acne medication to choose from, and that choice will always come with the guidance and assistance of a board-certified dermatologist or other healthcare provider.
But what causes acne to begin with? Is the answer really going the prescription acne medication route? Are there some other tips, tricks, or other treatment for acne you can try to stop it at the source?
Let’s take a look.
Acne vulgaris (the medical term for acne) forms when a combination of sebum and dead skin cells build up in your pores and hair follicles, creating a blockage.
Your sebaceous glands create sebum to lubricate your skin and hair. Under normal circumstances, this is a good thing because this sebum also forms a barrier on your skin, protecting it from things like bacteria and other harmful environmental factors.
However, certain things can cause your body to kick its sebum production into high gear, which can lead to blocked pores, pimples, blemishes, and acne.
Hormonal imbalances are one thing that can lead to more sebum being produced. During your period, these hormonal shifts are normal.
You can also inherit oily skin (thanks Mom and Dad!).
Certain habits - like overwashing your face, smoking cigarettes, and leaving your makeup on overnight - can also lead to breakouts.
Then, there are dead skin cells. Our bodies shed them every 40 to 56 days to renew and replace the skin.
It sounds a little iffy, but it’s actually completely normal and good for your skin. But if excess sebum mixes with these skin cells, it can block pores.
So, you’ve tried the over-the-counter products at your local drugstore, you’ve read every “acne hacks” blog you could get your eyes on, and you even whipped up one of those ultra-hydrating-organic-oatmeal-cucumber-whatever-the-heck masks that one celebrity raved about on TikTok - and nothing worked.
It may be time to call in the pros.
Prescription acne medications can be extremely helpful - especially if you’re dealing with moderate acne and severe acne.
A board-certified dermatologist will assess your acne and determine which acne treatment may be the best fit for you. Until then, here are some of the medications they may suggest.
Clindamycin: As a prescription topical antibiotic, clindamycin can reduce redness and inflammation. It also diminishes bacteria. Clindamycin is sometimes used in conjunction with other topicals (like benzoyl peroxide and hyaluronic acid) to be even more effective.
Tretinoin: Prescription retinoids like tretinoin remove dead skin cells and increase skin cell turnover. Topical retinoids are an active ingredient for long-term treatment. If you have sensitive skin, you should make your derm aware of it before using any kind of retinoic acid, because they can cause initial irritation when starting out. Starting slowly and building up as tolerated will help minimize potential sensitivity. Bonus: It’s also a popular anti-aging treatment!
Oral antibiotics: An oral antibiotic (such as doxycycline) may be prescribed for the short-term (taking it long-term can lead to antibiotic resistance). This can soothe inflammation and help acne begin to clear up.
Oral spironolactone: Spironolactone is an antiandrogen that can help control body acne in women (as well as those awful menstrual cycle-related breakouts that typically occur along the jawline) by treating the hormonal causes of acne. This oral medication is commonly used to treat hormonal breakouts in women.
While you may need to call in the big guns to help you get the clear, glowing skin you’ve always dreamed of, there’re plenty of other real-life tips you can utilize to help keep your skin happy.
🚿 Wash your skin twice a day, as well as after you work out. This will remove dirt, excess sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria - all of which can lead to breakouts.
💧 Keep your skin hydrated. If you have an oily or acne-prone skin type, you may think you can skip moisturizer. Wrong. If you have dry skin, your body will work overtime to lubricate skin by producing more oil, which can contribute to your acne woes. In other words, skin dryness is something to avoid at all costs.
👋 Hands off your face. Your fingertips may be dirty or carry bacteria, which can make acne worse. If you absolutely must touch your face, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly first.
💋 Switch to non-comedogenic makeup - this is a fancy word that means it won’t clog pores.
Apostrophe offers prescription medication that works to treat facial acne and body breakouts.
Through the board-certified dermatologists on our platform, we can help with the management of acne - including hormonal acne, adult acne, cystic acne, persistent acne, and more.
Just complete our virtual consultation form with information on your skin condition, medical history, and photos of your skin.
After that, you'll get a customized treatment plan (including prescription products) crafted by a board-certified dermatologist.
Acne (2012). Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/acne
Physiology, Sebaceous Glands, (2021). Stat Pearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499819/
Makrantonaki, E, Ganceviciene, Zouboulis, C (2011, Jan-March). An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermato Endocrinology. 3(1), 41-49. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051853/
Zeichner, J. A., Baldwin, H. E., Cook-Bolden, F. E., Eichenfield, L. F., Fallon-Friedlander, S., & Rodriguez, D. A. (2017). Emerging Issues in Adult Female Acne. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(1), 37–46.retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5300732/
Koster, M.I. (2009, July). Making an epidermis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1170, 7-10. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861991/
Acne: Tips for Managing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/tips
Moisturizer: Why You May Need It If You Have Acne. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/moisturizer
10 Skin Care Habits That Can Worsen Acne. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/habits-stop
Clindamycin Topical. (2016, October 15). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a609005.html
Tretinoin Topical. (2019, March 15). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682437.html
Baldwin, H. (2020). Oral Antibiotic Treatment Options for Acne Vulgaris. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 13 (9), 26–32. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7577330/
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