Understanding Prescription Acne Medications

You’ve read up on all the latest skin products. You’re able to navigate the skincare aisles of any Sephora or Target as easily as your own home. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on creams, potions, and lotions that promise to deliver clear skin with no luck. Sound like you? You’re certainly not alone.


Millions of people are struggling with acne and wake up every day feeling embarrassed about their spots. Because acne is visible to everyone, you may feel the need to slather on loads of foundation and concealer. Of course, this isn’t a fix and can actually clog your pores, making the issue worse. But there’s no need to lose hope. You can combat your acne woes with the help of a certified skincare expert and their product recommendations.

When to See an Expert

While you could easily continue down the path of buying new over-the-counter solutions, you’re likely just guessing on what to try next. And not doing anything isn’t a solution either; cystic acne, where you experience painful, pus-filled pimples, isn’t going to go away on its own. Seeing an expert can be the next step in calming your acne and getting on a plan that actually works.


Getting an expert’s opinion about your skincare concerns is easier than ever. You can book an online consultation with a healthcare provider and chat with them about your needs. They can then prescribe acne medication — whether it’s topical ointments or oral antibiotics if deemed appropriate. And if the mere thought of picking up a prescription seems antiquated, they can even have it shipped directly to your home.


Before you have a consultation, it’s a good idea to have a better understanding of the different types of medication available. If you’ve been struggling with acne for a bit, you may already be quite familiar with the drugstore offerings. Prescription medications are a different category with more potent ingredients  — hence why they must be prescribed. Here’s the lowdown of prescription acne medications and what you can expect from incorporating them into your daily routine.

Topical Retinoids

To start, most healthcare providers will suggest a topical retinoid such as tretinoin (Retin-A) or clindamycin. Retinoid is a derivative of vitamin A and is well-known in the beauty industry for increasing the turnover rate of skin cells. You may have seen the word retinoid on some drugstore skincare products. However, unlike prescription retinoids, over-the-counter products boasting retinoids must convert the ingredient to retinoic acid to be bioavailable. During this process, the retinoid loses some of its strength.


Prescription topical retinoids can be used standalone or in combination with other over-the-counter or prescription acne treatments. Through consistent use, you can expect to see drastic results in about six months. You should notice clearer, brighter skin as the cream starts to tackle dead skin cells and clearing up clogged pores.


Due to their strength, topical retinoids should be used mindfully. You may notice irritation, peeling, and redness upon your first few uses. Providers may suggest starting the regimen just a few times a week and then increasing usage if your skin tolerates it. Burning or itching sensations are temporary, but they’re signs that you need to dial back on usage.

Oral Antibiotics

The next level to prescription acne treatments are oral antibiotics. These once-a-day pills are typically given to those with moderate or severe forms of acne. If you’ve been suffering with consistent cystic acne for a while, let your dermatologist or healthcare provider know. They may add an oral antibiotic on top of your current skincare regimen or in addition to a topical retinoid.


Oral antibiotics work quickly to tame acne, bringing your skin back to baseline. They work by killing off pore-clogging bacteria found on your skin’s surface. This allows good bacteria to get to work, restoring your skin and taming inflammation. Similar to antibiotics prescribed for strep throat and urinary tract infections, oral antibiotics for acne should be a short-term treatment.


There aren’t many known side effects to taking oral antibiotics for acne, however it’s important to remember they are a more intense treatment option. You may notice gastrointestinal discomfort, including diarrhea, either during your regimen or afterward. Adding a probiotic supplement or eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi can help. Also, be diligent with your sunscreen with this treatment as antibiotics increase your skin’s sensitivity to light.

Hormonal Therapies

After topicals and oral antibiotics, a provider may offer hormonal therapy, commonly referred to as birth control, for your stubborn acne. Many women see more pimples appear just before their period begins. This is due to an unbalanced relationship between three hormones: testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Testosterone is at a higher level than estrogen and progesterone before menstruation begins. This increases oil production, which can clog pores.


A combination birth control pill decreases the amount of testosterone in the body. After two to three months, you may notice less hormonal acne. Your skin may be less inflamed and calmer. That said, you’ll want to continue to have a consistent skincare routine while on birth control. Dirt, bacteria, and oils just from everyday living can still contribute to breakouts.


Taking birth control is a very personal decision. The main use for birth control is to prevent pregnancy, so if you are looking to start a family soon then this isn’t the answer for you. Also, being on birth control can alter your hormones. Talk to your provider if you experience nausea, headaches, weight gain, or mood changes as these are all common side effects.

Acne Prescriptions: What to Consider

Acne is a troubling dilemma for millions of people. While society has depicted teenage acne as part of life, acne in your twenties, thirties, and beyond can be frustrating. Even the most elaborate skincare regimen may not be able to tame the flare ups without a prescription.


What’s available on the shelves isn’t usually formulated for your unique skin. While you may have success with a few products, talking with a dermatologist or medical professional about prescription options may be more beneficial. They can create a tailored treatment plan that works for your needs and provide expert support through the process.





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