Many people try to treat acne conditions on their own without consulting a doctor. However, it is always a good idea to check with a dermatologist when you notice any kind of unusual skin condition. Even if it turns out to be acne, the doctor can give you valuable information and advice about how to treat it.
Mild and moderate conditions of acne can often be treated with over-the-counter medications, but severe cases should be treated by a dermatologist and prescription medicine. Even if the acne is moderate, a prescription medicine may be more effective than what is available over-the-counter.
There are two types of prescription acne medications – oral and topical. Antibiotics are often used to fight acne, and they can be taken orally or as a lotion. Topical prescription medications may include ingredients such as zinc or retinoids.
Antibiotics – The most common antibiotic used for treating acne is tetracycline. It is used to kill the bacteria responsible for acne and also reduces inflammation. Antibiotic treatment may take several weeks or even months to be effective and must continue even after the acne has cleared up. A common side effect associated with tetracycline is increased sensitivity to sun light resulting in bad sunburns if the patient stays in the sun too long. Other side effects include upset stomach, dizziness, and hives.
Women taking tetracycline can suffer from increased incidences of vaginal yeast. Pregnant women and children under the age of 12 cannot take tetracycline because it discolours growing teeth.
Ointments – Antibiotic ointments have fewer complications than oral antibiotics. They are effective in killing bacteria which cause acne, and when used in conjunction with other topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide the bacteria may not develop resistance to the antibiotics.
Retinoids – Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and can be applied directly on the skin in the form of lotions or creams. Topical retinoid medications are useful for treating blackheads and whiteheads by helping to open clogged pores. A common side effect of topical retinoids is dry skin.
Oral retinoids can be used for more severe forms of acne which don’t respond to other treatments. Oral retinoids cause the upper layer of the skin to peel thereby opening pores. They also cause the body to produce less sebum – the substance which causes oily skin.
A number of serious side effects are associated with oral retinoids. They can cause birth defects if mothers are taking them when pregnant, so females must use two forms of birth control if they are under retinoid treatment. They can also cause liver damage and depression, so regular medical attention is needed to make sure the patient is not being adversely affected by retinoid treatment.
Other medications – Birth control pills are sometimes effective in treating acne in women. They change hormone levels in the body and can reduce the acne causing effects of testosterone. Zinc is a relatively new treatment that is effective in some cases. Always discuss with your dermatologist for the most effective treatment for your particular acne case.