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Medicines for acne

What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition characterized by:

  • Whiteheads and/or blackheads (mild acne)
  • Pimples together with whiteheads and/or blackheads (moderate acne)
  • Deep, inflamed painful swellings under the skin together with papules and pustules (severe acne)

What are the treatments available for acne?

Treatments available for acne may be in the form of:

  • Topical applications (creams, lotions, gel and wash)
  • Oral (tablets, capsules)

There are different groups of medicines for the treatment of acne, depending on the severity of the conditions. They include:

  • Emollients
  • Benzoyl peroxides, salicylic acid
  • Hormones such as oral contraceptives and androgen blockers
  • Antibiotics
  • Retinoids – such as Isotretinoin
  • Steroids

How long is the treatment?

One would expect to see the result within 3 months. However, in severe cases, it may take up to 5 months for the medication to work.

Do these treatments have any side effects?

Yes, side effects may include:

  • Itchiness, dryness, redness, peeling, flaking, irritation
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea
  • Nausea, dizziness, headaches
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Teeth staining

Retinoid cause severe side effects compared to other groups of medications since it is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication.

Are there things to avoid when has acne?

Yes, you should not:

  • Pick at an acne (this causes scar, which may be permanent)
  • Discontinue the medications before completion
  • Directly expose yourself to the sun
  • Consume alcohol

Groups of acne medications, their functions and examples




  • Dissolve residues (especially on the oily T-zone areas)
  • Remove build-up of dead cells that clog pores
  • Produce smooth and supple skin
  • Reduce water loss
  • Balneum


Benzoyl peroxide, Benzoic acid, Salicylic acid
  • Kills bacteria, therefore suppressing bacterial growth
  • Akneroxid 5 / Akneroxid 10, Benzac AC, Brevoxyl, Panoxyl (benzoyl peroxide)
  • Clearasil (Benzoic acid)
  • Palmer’s skin success acne medication (salicylic acid)


Hormonal agents
  • Control the production of sebum in the oil glands
  • Diane 35


  • Attack germs which can worsen acne
  • Suppress bacterial growth
  • Reduce redness and swelling
  • Aknemycin, Eryderm (Erythromycin)
  • C-mycin, Dalacin-T, Topicil (Clindamycin)
  • Loosen plugs or stop plugs from forming in hair follicles
  • Has direct anti-inflammatory effects
  • Isotrex, Oratane (Isotretinoin)
  • Retacnyl, Retin-A, Stieva-A, Tretinon (Tretinoin)
  • Decrease inflamation


Last reviewed : 20 April 2012
Writer : Ainul Salhani bt. Abd Rahman
Reviewer : Nur Azibahwati bt. Aziz