Many people assume prescription treatments work better than over-the-counter options. This is true for many diseases, but acne is an exception. Proper application of benzoyl peroxide can much more predictably and completely clear the skin when compared with most prescriptions.
There are 3 exceptions to this rule, however, and in these cases, acne patients and their dermatologists sometimes choose prescriptions as the chosen course of action:
1. Severe, widespread, and scarring acne: Isotretinoin (Accutane®) is an oral treatment that can achieve long-term remission of acne in about 2/3 of people who take it, but comes with numerous concerning side effects, some of which can be lifelong. It is the #1 birth defect-causing medication on the market, and may leave the user with premature aging and joint pain in the long-term. For these reasons, it is approved only for severe and scarring acne, and must be administered in close partnership with a trusted physician.
2. Poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): If you are a female who is experiencing irregular menstrual cycles, particularly if you also notice excessive hair growth, your doctor may diagnose poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In that case, oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are a hormonal treatment that can clear acne and relieve other symptoms of PCOS simultaneously.
3. Cortisone shots for quick relief of a nodule/cyst: If you find that you are stuck with a very large acne lesion that does not come to a head and is sore to the touch, it is likely that you have a cystic acne lesion. In that case, making an appointment with your dermatologist to get a cortisone shot directly in the lesion can almost immediately reduce inflammation and reduce the chance of scarring.
Only have a few minutes? Check out these articles first:
Latest in Prescription Treatments
Isotretinoin (Accutane) Does Isotretinoin Help with Acne Scars? No studies have looked at whether isotretinoin (Accutane) can help reduce already existing scars, however, treating severe acne with isotretinoin can clear up the acne... May 08, 2020
Oral Contraceptives Do Birth Control Pills Clear Acne? On average, birth control pills (combined oral contraceptives - COCs) help clear acne by about 60% after 6 months. They do this by stabilizing hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle. However, they come with risks, so discuss with your doctor before starting on this hormonal therapy. May 07, 2020
Prescription Treatments Which Prescriptions Do Doctors Prescribe Most Often for Acne? The top 10 prescriptions written for acne are (1) tretinoin, (2) isotretinoin, (3) clindamycin/benzoyl peroxide combination, (4) minocycline, (5) adapalene, (6) clindamycin phosphate, (7) doxycycline, (8) benzoyl peroxide, (9) tazarotene, and (10) tetracycline. April 27, 2020
Retinoids What Topical Retinoid Formulation Is Most Effective for the Treatment of Acne? No studies have directly compared all 3 topical prescription retinoids, so we can't say for sure which works best, but from a few head-to-head studies... April 27, 2020
Antibiotics The Side Effects of Antibiotics Topical antibiotics often produce skin irritation, and oral antibiotics are well known to produce gastrointestinal upset and nervous system problems, and sometimes more serious lifelong side effects like permanent tooth discoloration, hearing loss, or death. Enter into antibiotic therapy carefully. April 26, 2020
Antibiotics The Dangers and Ineffectiveness of Antibiotics for Acne Antibiotics provide only temporary relief from acne when they do work at all. They also come with uncomfortable side effects, and perhaps most concerning, they create strains of resistant bacteria that can live on or in a person forever and can be easily passed to others. April 26, 2020
Anti-androgens Spironolactone in Acne Treatment Spironolactone is an anti-androgen medication, which means it suppresses the production of male hormones (androgens). This leads to a reduction in acne. It is almost... April 26, 2020