Oral Acne Medications

A medication that is taken orally is carried throughout the bloodstream to all of the body's systems; thus, it is a systemic treatment. Oral medication can be useful when acne affects the skin on multiple areas of the body.

Antibiotics kill the bacteria that have colonized the follicles. This reduces inflammation. Tetracyclines are the most frequently prescribed oral antibiotics. Because bacteria tend to develop resistance, doctors use systemic antibiotics for short-term treatments. Common side effects of tetracyclines are few, but they have been known to cause increased sensitivity to the sun and decreased efficacy of birth control pills in some cases.

Minocycline and doxycycline are tetracyclines that, despite their high cost, have two advantages: they require less frequent dosage and can be taken with food.

Another oral treatment is isotretinoin, or retinoic acid (Accutane). It is chemically similar to vitamin A. Accutane is effective in about two-thirds of the patients who use it to treat more severe cystic acne or acne that is unresponsive to other treatments. It reduces production of oil. Its main side effect is body dryness.

Hormone therapy involves the use of medications that restore the normal balance of hormones in both women and men. Another hormone-related treatment is cortisone injection, which can reduce the inflammation of deeper acne nodules.

Other Acne Treatments

Acne surgery is an option for people who have a severe condition that fails to respond to other treatments. In this procedure, the dermatologist extracts blackheads and whiteheads with a special tool called a comedo extractor. Sometimes a deep nodule is injected with a cortisone solution to reduce inflammation.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2000

Last Modified: 26 Aug 2015