When is it Time for Acne Medication?

You've given it your all in when it comes to acne and achieving clear skin—tried numerous over-the-counter skincare regimens and maybe even invested in luxury acne-targeting products. But if the results are falling short, it’s time to leave the uncertainty of over-the-counter products behind and unleash the power of prescription acne medication.

When starting your acne medication journey, it's important to be prepared. While your new approach may finally clear up your acne, there's a chance of experiencing side effects from the medication. But check it out—when you understand the acne prescription medication you're taking, and you pair it up with a skincare routine that keeps those potential side effects under control, you'll totally slay the game of clear, radiant skin.

All About Acne Medications

When it comes to acne medications, there's a wide range of options that are known to deliver major results. From topical creams and gels containing ingredients such as retinoids and salicylic acid, to oral medications, each type targets acne in a unique way, offering a wide-range of solutions. The six most common topical prescription medications for acne and their side effects include:

  • Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs: Creams, gels, and lotions containing retinoic acids are commonly used for moderate acne. They make the skin more sensitive to the sun and may cause dryness and redness.
  • Antibiotics: They kill excess skin bacteria, reduce redness and inflammation, and can be applied topically or taken orally. During the initial months of treatment, a combination of a retinoid and an antibiotic is often used, with the antibiotic applied in the morning and the retinoid in the evening. To minimize the risk of antibiotic resistance, benzoyl peroxide is often added. They can also increase sun sensitivity.
  • Azelaic Acid:  Azelaic Acid is a natural acid produced by a yeast and has antibacterial properties. Applying a 20% azelaic acid cream or gel twice a day appears to be as effective as many traditional acne treatments. It can also help manage acne-related discoloration. Side effects may include burning or stinging of the skin, dryness, itchiness or peeling of the skin.
  • Salicylic Acid: Can help prevent clogged hair follicles and is available as wash-off or leave-on products. Side effects may include skin discoloration (mainly whitening of the skin) and minor irritation or rash..
  • Dapsone: Recommended for inflammatory acne, particularly in women, Dapsone 5% gel is applied twice daily. Side effects may include redness, itchiness, peeling and dryness.
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane): A highly potent prescription medication that is administered orally and is used to treat cystic acne. While typically reserved as a final resort due to its associated side effects and treatment protocols, it does offer the potential for long-lasting positive outcomes, effectively getting rid of acne. Some side effects include dry lips and mouth, crusty skin and minor swelling of the eyelids or lips. Since it can be harsher on the skin than other medications, a consistent and proper skincare routine is essential for those undergoing Accutane treatment, as it is not uncommon to require up to three courses of treatments within a span of six years. 


Acne At Home Skincare Routine

From dehydration and redness to sun protection, a skincare routine designed specifically for acne prone skin will, by design, address most acne medication side effects. And remember, consistency in your routine is the key, and don’t ever pick your face. 

Step by Step Acne Skincare Routine


Here’s a tip from the pros: When it comes to skin, it's important to address both acne and your specific skin type. If you have acne and dry or combination skin, focus on keeping the skin hydrated while targeting inflammation and acne-causing bacteria. Opt for a milk cleanser to maintain a calm and balanced complexion. For oily skin, consider a gel-based cleanser that helps eliminate acne-causing bacteria, purifying clogged pores and helping to prevent future breakouts. All skin types with acne can benefit from a double-cleansing approach, using a cleanser that bonds with the skin's natural oils to draw out impurities, followed by an herbal toner containing antibacterial ingredients like tea tree, goldenrod, and mistletoe to help clear and prevent acne.


Incorporating a serum into an acne-focused skincare routine can offer surprising benefits, especially a serum specifically designed to absorb oil, powered by botanicals such as burnet, cinnamon, ginger, and green tea. These ingredients work together to help prevent breakouts, and leave the skin looking fresh and matte throughout the day. Additionally, a suitable serum can promote healing for inflamed acne, assisting in soothing redness and irritation, while also helping to manage existing breakouts and preventing future ones.


To help regain control over acne, apply a blemish control gel that can suppress acne-causing bacteria without dehydrating the skin. This step helps minimize irritation, promotes healing, and can serve as an effective spot treatment for occasional blemishes.


Exposing acne to the sun, especially when on medication, won't make it disappear. In fact, sunlight can worsen acne by causing inflammation, skin irritation and scars. Protect the skin with an oil-free sunscreen that shields against harmful UVA/UVB rays. Opt for a sunscreen that not only prevents premature aging but also provides hydration 


As part of your nighttime routine, replace sunscreen with a healing moisturizer specifically formulated for acne-prone skin. This moisturizer helps repair any damage, conditions and soothes irritated skin, and can help keep it clear. Look for natural ingredients like cajeput, tea tree, and palmarosa, which can detoxify the skin, while mushroom stem and rice bran help provide soothing properties, stimulate healing, and enhance overall appearance.

Finally, rely on your skincare professional to help—even when you’ve got a doctor in the mix. While your doc focuses on resolving acne through medical interventions, your esthetician is the key to helping you get beautiful skin. Combining consistent professional treatments with a custom-curated at home skincare routine, along with your prescribed medication, will work wonders in your quest for flawless skin.