Medically reviewed by Aimee Paik, MD
Written by Apostrophe Team
Last updated 1/3/2023
Every time you wake up with a particularly large blemish, the urge to throw your hairbrush at the mirror grows. One too many angry, red cysts will have you ready to call in the big guns. Thinking of visiting the dermatologist? In the past, you’d have to brave traffic and patient waiting rooms to get an appropriate prescription medication for your acne.
Now, you can receive a customized treatment plan crafted by an online dermatologist from the comfort of your own home. If you’re considering using an online dermatologist, read on to learn more about dermatology, acne, the benefits of an online dermatologist, and what kind of prescription acne medication you might receive.
With the vast amount and variety of cosmetic products on the market, acne is still a complex medical condition. Your skin is your largest organ, and dermatologists are trained to protect it. They specialize in all things hair, skin, and nails and can identify and treat more than 3,000 conditions, including acne.
When your pores get clogged with oil and bacteria, the result is acne. Multiple factors can increase the likelihood and severity of acne including:
The internal mechanisms behind acne are complex and numerous. That’s why it’s essential to seek medical treatment from a dermatologist rather than trying to fight your acne alone. With their years of experience and training, dermatologists can decipher not only what might be causing your acne but which of many treatment options will deliver you the best results.
While you might have traditionally gone to see a dermatologist in person, now you can access one online. In fact, since the COVID19 pandemic, telehealth usage is 38 times higher, with telemedicine projected to continue growing due to its many benefits.
If you’re used to going to see medical providers in person, you might imagine that there will be a bit of a learning curve for online care services. However, the fact is that the advantages of an online dermatologist are significant. Let’s focus on four key benefits:
With a traditional in-person appointment, you might spend barely 10 minutes with your doctor but 30 minutes in traffic, another 30 minutes sitting in the waiting room, and another 30 minutes going to your preferred pharmacy to pick up your prescriptions.
What’s the solution? Get advice from a dermatologist from the comfort of your home, in your car during your lunch break, or wherever else your busy schedule takes you and have your prescriptions sent straight to your door.
It’s important to visit the dermatologist with a fresh, makeup-free face so that the doctor can get a full understanding of the condition of your skin. Due to the countless forms and causes of acne, the dermatologist needs a clear view of what you're experiencing to help you achieve the best results
Many people with acne cover it up with foundation or concealer, so the prospect of venturing out in public with a bare face can be daunting. While no one should ever feel ashamed of their skin, an online dermatologist can be more comfortable because you don’t need to sit in a crowded waiting room feeling self-conscious.
An online visit to dermatologists can save you money in a lot of ways. Indirectly, you won’t need to pay for gas, parking, or the other little costs that can add up quickly. Don’t forget that time is money as well, and an online visit certainly saves you time.
Patients without an insurance plan can access an online dermatology provider at a much lower price than a traditional dermatologist visit. For patients with insurance plans, the copay may be more expensive to see a specialist.
It’s important to have an open line of communication with your dermatologist for several reasons:
1. Skincare is a long-term journey that isn't always linear. You may need adjustments in your personalized treatment plan to receive the best results.
2. Your dermatologist will need updates on how your skin is responding to your treatment and to ensure your personalized treatment plan is working.
Frequent evaluations every eight to 12 weeks are recommended for acne patients. Luckily, an online dermatologist visit makes it significantly easier for both the doctor and patient to stay in communication and to receive quick, reliable responses.
Whether you’re planning to meet with a dermatology provider in an online consultation or in person visit, it’s helpful to understand the forms of treatment they might prescribe. There are two types of prescription acne medications that a board certified dermatologist could prescribe:
Topical – Topical treatments are best for mild acne or are used in combination with oral treatments.
Oral – Oral treatments are best for moderate to severe acne or acne that fails to respond to topical treatments. They are usually prescribed in addition to topical treatments.
We’ll look at three types of topical prescription acne treatments:
Then, we’ll look at three types of oral medicine for acne treatment:
You’ve likely used a topical treatment before. Maybe you spot treated a pimple with toothpaste (spoiler alert: don't do this), or you purchased a fancy mud mask to slather across the blackheads on your nose.
There are a lot of over-the-counter treatment options, but topical prescriptions are stronger and more effective for keeping acne under control long term. Here are the three most commonly prescribed topical treatments:
Topical Retinoids – Scientists derive retinoids such as tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene from Vitamin A. Retinoids can treat all types of acne, but a board certified dermatologist typically prescribes them for mild to moderate comedonal acne. Their effects on your skin are unbeatable. They help to unclog your pores while also decreasing pigmentation, inflammation, and collagen loss.
Topical Spironolactone – Regardless of your gender, your body is full of male sex hormones called androgens. Among their many duties, androgens control your oil glands. Spironolactone blocks androgens, which decreases acne by decreasing the size and activity of your oil glands. Spironolactone was originally only available in oral form (more on that later), but the new topical form has fewer systemic side effects and is appropriate for all genders.
Topical Antibiotics – Some antibiotics such as erythromycin and clindamycin are also available in a topical form that is formulated specifically to target acne. Generally, a dermatologist will prescribe topical antibiotics alongside benzoyl peroxide to avoid antibiotic resistance. These topical antibiotics have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, which means they can fight acne-causing bacteria and stop inflammation. The result? Fewer breakouts.
Maybe your acne is moderate to severe or maybe topical treatments haven’t been completely effective. In these cases, a dermatologist may prescribe oral treatments to better control your acne. Typically, you will utilize a topical treatment alongside the best oral medication for acne.
Some are short-term treatments, such as antibiotics and isotretinoin, while others are long-term, such as hormonal medications. If you’re ready to take your acne-fighting routine to the next level, a doctor might prescribe any of these three types of medications:
Antibiotics – Like topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics can kill the bacteria behind acne and reduce inflammation. Typically, a dermatologist will prescribe oral antibiotics to patients who suffer from moderate to severe inflammatory acne. Patients will take these antibiotics, usually along with a topical treatment, for several months. Once their acne is under control, they will discontinue the antibiotics but keep using the topical treatment. The most commonly prescribed oral antibiotics for acne are in the tetracycline family. This includes doxycycline and minocycline. For patients who can’t take these antibiotics, such as pregnant women, a dermatologist might instead prescribe an antibiotic.
Hormonal Medications – There are two main types of hormonal oral medications for acne: oral contraceptives (birth control) and oral spironolactone. Both are only safe for AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals. The estrogen in oral contraceptives reduces the free testosterone in your body. In turn, you will experience less acne, especially hormonal acne. The oral form of spironolactone works the same as the topical form, by decreasing androgens. As a result, you’ll have less oil and then less acne. It is particularly effective for women with hormonal acne and can be prescribed by itself or alongside oral contraceptives.
Isotretinoin – You’ve already learned about the power of topical retinoids such as tretinoin, but there is also an oral form. Dermatologists will prescribe isotretinoin for the most serious cases, including patients with severe nodulocystic acne. Usually, they will try oral antibiotics or hormonal treatments first. Patients take isotretinoin for a period of 16 to 30 weeks. It banishes breakouts by decreasing oil, bacteria, and inflammation. Isotretinoin can cause dryness all across the face. It also has the potential for serious side effects, so doctors do not prescribe it to pregnant women and keep a careful eye on the patients who take it.
Acne is a journey. You won’t magically wake up one morning breakout-free, but you can treat your acne and achieve clear skin with time under the guidance of a dermatologist.
In fact, with Apostrophe, it’s never been easier to get a professional treatment with a board certified online dermatologist. One of the dermatologists on our platform can create a custom skin care plan that addresses the root causes of your acne. We’re your one-way ticket towards happier, healthier skin.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. What is a dermatologist?
National Center for Biotechnology Information. Acne: more than skin deep.
McKinsey & Company. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?
National Center for Biotechnology Information. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986265/
National Center for Biotechnology Information. Management of acne.
Hilary E. Baldwin, et al. 40 Years of Topical Tretinoin Use in Review.
Nicola I. Espinosa and Philip R. Cohen. Acne Vulgaris: A Patient and Physician’s Experience.
Wiley Online Library. Efficacy and safety of topical spironolactone 5% cream in the treatment of acne: A pilot study. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hsr2.317
National Center for Biotechnology Information. Oral Doxycycline in the Management of Acne Vulgaris: Current Perspectives on Clinical Use and Recent Findings with a New Double-scored Small Tablet Formulation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445892/
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