Acne TreatmentTreatment for acne depends on how severe it is. It can take several months of treatment before acne symptoms improve.If you just have a few blackheads, whiteheads and spots, you should be able to treat them successfully with over-the-counter gels or creams (topical treatments) that contain benzoyl peroxide.

See your GP if your acne is more widespread – for example, you have a large number of papules and pustules, or over-the-counter medication hasn't worked – as you probably need prescription medication.

Prescription medications that can be used to treat acne include:

  • topical retinoids
  • topical antibiotics
  • azelaic acid
  • antibiotic tablets
  • in women, the combined oral contraceptive pill
  • isotretinoin tablets

Isotretinoin has a number of beneficial effects:

  • it helps normalise sebum and reduce how much is produced
  • it helps prevent follicles becoming clogged
  • it decreases the amount of bacteria on the skin
  • it reduces redness and swelling in and around spots

However, the drug can also cause a wide range of side effects. It is therefore only recommended for severe cases of acne that have not responded to other treatments.

Because of the risk of side effects, isotretinoin can only be prescribed by a specially trained GP or a dermatologist.

Several treatments for acne do not involve medication.These include:

  • comedone extractor – a small pen-shaped instrument that can be used to clean out blackheads and whiteheads
  • chemical peels – where a chemical solution is applied to the face, causing the skin to peel off and new skin to replace it
  • photodynamic therapy – where light is applied to the skin in an attempt to improve symptoms of acne.

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