13 Most Popular Prescription Drugs for Acne

Acne is one of the most common and widely spread chronic skin disorders affecting millions of people around the globe.

In the United States alone, it affects 17 million people every year. It affects people irrespective of their race, gender or age though it is more common in women than in men.

However, it acquires a more severe form in men as per a survey.

A lot of methods and medications have been introduced with time which ranges from antibiotics to various herbal and home remedies.

We can distinguish between those drugs that are available only on the possession of a prescription and those that can be acquired without any prescription.

This article shall discuss the former kind, that is, the popular prescriptive drugs that help in the prevention of acne and will also enumerate a list of such medications.

What are Prescription drugs?

Prescriptive medication usually refers to a medicine that requires a medical prescription before it can be given out on demand.

The necessitation of a prescription is licensed by the legislature of the country/state concerned.

It cannot be sold otherwise. It stands classified by the Food and Drug Authority as a drug that essentially requires a prescription.

This forms the essential difference between over the counter drugs and prescription medicines.

How a medicine is classified as one or the other depends solely on the jurisdiction of a nation.

In North America, for example, “Rx” stands as a recognized symbol of prescription drugs.

When it comes to acne treating prescriptive medications, it mostly includes anti biotic and retinoid medicine among a few others.

prescription drugs for acne

13 Most Popular Prescription Medicines for Acne

Enumerated below is a list of prescriptive medications that have been a popular treatment for acne breakouts.

1. Adapalene

Adapalene belongs to the class of medications known as a retinoid and is the third generation topical retinoid. It is used to treat moderate to mild acne and is usually helpful towards the treatment of acne that contains comedones.

It tends to inhibit the growth of infected cells and also of bacteria thereby reducing the severity of acne pimples and also facilitates quick healing.

It also tends to have exfoliation properties which help in removing the dead skin cells and unclogs the pores.

Additionally, it also has anti-inflammatory capability which helps in reducing the inflammation and the resultant swelling and redness by killing the acne-causing bacteria

It is popularly known under the brand name of Differin. It usually comes in a gel form available in concentrations of 1% and 3%.

Its use may have the following potential side effects:

  • Its usage might result in initial breakouts but is only a process towards healing
  • It may cause a burning or stinging sensation on application
  • It can cause hyper or hypopigmentation

It requires the observance of the undermentioned precautions:

  • You must avoid exposure to sun light as it makes your skin sensitive to sun’s rays
  • Avoid getting pregnant when using this medication
  • In case of extreme dryness, use a moisturizer to keep your skin moist

Consumer reviews:

  • A lot of consumers considered it a very time effective treatment. It showed 80% improvement in just a couple of weeks
  • Adapalene improved the texture of the skin in cases of many consumers. It made their skin soft, supple and smooth and affected an even skin tone

ReadAdapalene and Acne

2. Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is basically an organic compound which exists as a white powder in form of saturated dicarboxylic acid.

It is naturally found in wheat, rice and barley and is used in a number of hair and skin conditioners.

It is used for correcting a number of skin conditions like rosacea, acne, skin pigmentation, melasma, post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation.

Azeliac acid further facilitates the reduction in the production of melanin, as it also tends to function as a tyrosinase inhibitor.

Azeliac acid tends to exhibit antibacterial properties which help in killing and thereby reducing the P.acne bacteria and inhibit their growth in the follicle.

It also shows keradolytic and comedolytic properties which reduce the disordered growth of skin cells lining the follicle.

It further functions as an antioxidant reducing the oxidative stress due to the presence of free radicals which further helps in the reduction of inflammation.

It comes in the brand name of azelex. Also, it comes in form of a cream containing 20% azeliac acid.

Its use may lead to the undermentioned potential side effects:

  • It may cause a stinging or burning sensation on application
  • It may result in worsening of cold sores and fever blisters
  • Any allergic reaction may cause itching, rash, and respiratory difficulties

The following precautions must be maintained:

  • It may make your skin sensitive to sunlight and any exposure, therefore, must be avoided as much as possible

Consumer reviews:

  • A lot of consumers believed that azeliac acid was rather smooth and gentle on their skin as opposed to other topical medicines that are quite harsh and rough
  • It is rather inexpensive relatively. One tube can be obtained in just 10$.

3. Benzoyl peroxide

It is an organic compound that works as a powerful antimicrobial agent and belongs to the peroxide family.

It usually comes in form of a gel, cream or wash and in concentrations ranging from 2.55 to 10%.

The popular brands in which it is available to include Benzac AC, Benzaclin, among others.

It functions as an antimicrobial agent, killing the acne-causing bacteria by supplying oxygen under the skin, making it difficult for the bacteria/microbe to survive and resulting usually in 99.99% eradication.

Secondly, it creates a drying effect which clears the clogged pores of the excess oil thereby preventing the breakout.

It can have the following side effects:

  • Any allergic reaction can result in rashes, irritation, and swelling
  • It may cause itching and peeling of the skin along with dryness
  • It may result in swollen and itchy bumps under the eyes
  • It can have a bleaching effect on hair or fabric

You need to maintain the following precautions while using it:

  • It may make your skin sensitive to the sun and you must avoid exposure as much as possible
  • The risk of using it during pregnancy should be discussed with the doctor

Customer review:

  • A lot of consumers exclaimed it to be extremely time effective even as it resulted in 85% improvement over a matter of few weeks
  • It is a very easily applied medication and does not create a mess or fuzz during application

Read: How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne

4. Clindamycin

Clindamycin is an anti biotic generally used to fight infections, especially infections with anaerobic bacteria.

It comes in form of a solution, gel, foam or lotion, mostly in concentrations of 1%.

The popular brands of this medication include Clindaderm and Benzaclin among others.

It is effective for treating mild to moderate acne and works by stopping or slowing down the growth of acne-causing bacteria and also helps in reducing the swelling.

It may cause the following side effects:

  • It can cause dryness, burning, itching, and peeling of skin
  • It may cause fungal infection in cases of vaginal application
  • It may cause inflammation of the colon
  • Adverse drug reaction may include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea,etc

The following precautions must be maintained while using it:

  • It should not be used if you have had a history of IBD or severe diarrhea
  • Nursing mothers are advised to avoid it as it may get secreted through the breast milk
  • It makes your skin sensitive to sunlight and therefore exposure must be avoided as much as possible
  • It should not be used with skin products having alcohol

Customer review:

  • Many consumers were happy that apart from preventing acne breakouts, it had the additional benefits of clearing spots and acne marks
  • Most of the people found it a very time effective medicine as it showed the difference in the skin in just about 2 to 3 days.

Read: How to Use Clindamycin for Acne

5. Dapsone

Dapsone is a topical gel that comes in the concentration of 5% and is used twice a day for maximum effectiveness.

One of its most popular brands includes Aczone.

It helps in fighting acne breakouts by reducing the inflammation caused as a result of the acne flares.

It exhibits antibacterial and antioxidant properties and is known to reduce the flare-ups by 35% to 40%.

It may result in the following side effects:

  • It can cause abdominal pain and severe vomiting
  • It may cause dryness, rashes and burning on application though it is mild

Customer reviews:

  • A lot of consumers found the cream to be extremely effective as it showed signs of improvement in just two to three days
  • It not only made the skin clearer of acne but also improved the texture of the skin

Read: How to use Dapsone for Acne

6. Erythromycin

Erythromycin is an antibiotic that treats certain kinds of infections that are sensitive to erythromycin.

It usually comes in a 2% concentration in the form of a gel, solution, ointment or pledgets. The popular brands include Benzamycin and Akne mycin.

Its mechanism of action includes killing bacteria and preventing their growth and is considered most effective for inflammatory acne breakout.

It is usually used in combination with clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide.

Its potential side effects include:

  • It might lead to local erythema
  • It may cause peeling, drying and burning of the skin on application
  • It may be responsible for tenderness of the skin

The following precautions must be maintained:

  • It is not for ophthalmic use
  • It can make your skin sensitive to sunlight and therefore any exposure must be avoided as far as possible

Customer review:

  • Most consumer said it was extremely time effective and showed a 50% improvement in just 6 weeks
  • Apart of preventing acne breakouts, a lot of consumers witnessed a more soft, glowing and supple skin than before

ReadErythromycin for Acne - How to Use

7. Isotretinoin

Isotretinoin, commonly known as Accutane is a retinoid and is naturally present in our body in some quantity.

It comes in the form of a pill and is famous under the brand names of Accutane and roaccutane.

Though the exact functioning of Accutane in the prevention of acne breakouts is still not established, it is believed to affect it by lowering down the androgen level which happens in two ways.

Firstly, it alters the oil-producing ability of the sebaceous glands and secondly it decreases the already existing bacteria.

Its potential side effects include:

  • It may cause birth defects if used during pregnancy
  • In spite of the lack of evidence, it is associated with causing psychological impacts like depression and suicidal tendencies
  • It might cause IBD an ulcer in the large intestine and rectum
  • It may cause weakening of the bone, fatigue, and headache

The following precautions must be maintained while using it:

  • It should not be used if you are pregnant or a nursing mother
  • Exposure to sunlight should be avoided as much as possible as it makes your skin sensitive to sunlight
  • Blood donation should be strictly avoided while on this medication.

Customer review:

  • Most consumers said that this treatment had a long-term effect on their breakouts even as it made their skin texture better
  • It is a quick fix and shows effective results in just a few months

8. Oral antibiotic

This refers to antibiotic pills that are taken on a per day basis. It includes doxycycline and minocycline among other drugs.

The popular brand names include Vibramycin, Minocin, and Septra.

Its mechanism of action includes destroying the acne causing P.acne bacteria while also exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties.

The use of antibiotic is becoming largely debatable because firstly microbes/bacteria tend to develop a resistance against them over time and secondly they tend to cause  long-term health risks.

Its potential side effects include:

  • Some anti biotic cause increased sensitivity to light
  • It may cause upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea along with vomiting and headache

The following precautions should be maintained:

  • It should be used only for a short span of time, preferably 6 months
  • Any exposure to sun light must be avoided as much as possible

9. Oral Contraceptives

They are also known as birth control pills and FDA approved brands include Ortho-Tricyclin, Yaz and Estrostep.

It helps in fighting acne from its root cause by decreasing testosterone levels, which otherwise causes an increased frequency and severity of acne.

The potential; side effects include:

  • Smoking cigarettes along with oral contraceptives can increase the risk of heart disease
  • There might be some risk of developing blood clots
  •  nausea or weight gain along with mood swings

It is important that you avoid pills that are higher in androgen content

Read: Oral contraceptive and Acne 

10. Sodium sulfacetamide

It is a sulfonamide antibiotic, essentially opposed to PABA which is exclusive to the growth and survival of bacteria.

It is usually used in form of a 5% or 10% topical lotion and is famous in the brand names of Klaron and Sulfacet R among others.

Sodium sulfacetamide together exhibit anti-inflammatory and antibacterial property which helps in fighting the acne-causing bacteria and reducing the acne induced inflammation.

It is used for the treatment of mild to moderate acne. It also tends to limit the presence of folic acid which the bacteria and microbes need to survive, thereby causing the destruction of acne-causing bacteria.

The potential side effects include:

  • People who are sensitive to sulfonamides might experience anemia, drug fever or jaundice
  • An allergic reaction might cause asthmatic reaction and sensitivity

The following precautions must be maintained:

  • Its use should be avoided during pregnancy
  • It is only for external use and must be kept away from membranes

Customer review:

  • Many consumers affirmed that it had additional benefits of reducing hyperpigmentation
  • A lot of consumers went on to try it as it had relatively lesser side effects.

Read: Sodium Sulfonamide for Acne & How to Use

11. Spironolactone

It comes in a tablet/capsule form and is specifically used for patients with certain disorders which include hyperaldosteronism, low potassium level, and edema.

The famous brands for this are Spironolactone and Aldactone.

This tends to inhibit the production of androgen in women thereby attacking the problem of acne breakouts at its very roots.

The side effects include:

  • It may cause muscle weakness and lack of energy
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Pain and cramps

Customer review:

  • A lot of consumers were of the opinion that its minimal side effect scenario was a great motivating factor for them to go ahead and use this product and it generally proved to be very effective.

12. Tazarotene

It is a topical retinoid available in the form of cream, gel or foam I concentrations ranging from 0.05%to 0.1%. the popular brand in which it is available includes Tazorac.

Its mechanism of action has generally been attributed to its anti-inflammatory effects. It mediated inflammation and prevents clogging under the skin.

The potential side effects include:

  • Since it is a retinoid, it may harm the fetus if used during stages of pregnancy
  • Allergic reactions might cause swelling, blisters, and rashes

The following precautions must be maintained:

  • It should not be applied to areas that are burnt or scrapped or cut
  • Waxing and other hair removal technique should be avoided on the affected area

Customer review:

  • One of the most satisfactory results for most consumers was that unlike other acne treating products, it left no scarring from acne after the treatment
  • Many consumers also experienced a reduction in their wrinkles and lines after using this

ReadTazarotene for Acne Treatment

13. Tretinoin

It is a combination of retinoic acid and vitamin A acid available in a gel or cream form in concentrations of 0.025, 0.05 and 0.1%.

Avita, Renova, and Retin A are popular brands of this medication.

It prevents acne breakouts in two ways.

Firstly, it causes the skin to peel thereby unclogging the pores and secondly, it increases the speed at which the surface skin is replaced thereby reducing inflammation.

Its potential side effects are:

  • It may cause burning or sting of the skin on application
  • It may also cause hyper or hypopigmentation along with blistering of the skin

The following precautions must be maintained:

  • It makes your skin sensitive to the sun and therefore exposure should be avoided as much as possible
  • Do not use it with alcohol or menthol in it

Customer review:

  • Many consumers experienced not only less frequent acne breakouts but also softer and more supple skin
  • It proved effective even against deep cystic acne in many cases.

ReadTretinoin for Acne Treatment


As time passes by, these medications, depending on their sale and demands in the market often tend to change from prescription medication to generally available over the counter drugs.

However, considering the effects that it might cause in certain adverse cases, it is important that you take ant medicine only after proper consultation and on prescription on your doctor. It will always serve a safer option for you and will be suitable to all your considerations.

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