Acne Treatments:
Weighing up Your Options
– NHS Choices

There is no single acne treatment that’s best for everyone.

The right treatment for you will depend on many things, such as how severe your acne is and whether you can accept the side effects.

For example, severe acne can often be cleared with a medicine called isotretinoin – but did you know it can cause serious birth defects in women?

If you’re aware of the pros and cons of different acne treatments, you will be fully informed when discussing the best way to clear your spots with your doctor.

So here’s a summary of the main considerations for each treatment.

And when you’ve decided which looks like the right treatment for you, read about how it works, the possible complications of acne, a patient’s account, and the NHS Choices information on acne.

Option 1: Gel or cream to unblock pores and kill bacteria

Pros: available in pharmacies; effective in treating mild acne
Cons: can stain sheets and clothes; can make skin more sensitive to sunlight and cause mild burning, itchiness, redness of skin

Option 2: Vitamin A gel or cream

Pros: effective clearing whiteheads, blackheads and smaller spots
Cons: not suitable in pregnancy; can make skin more sensitive to sunlight and cause mild irritation and stinging of skin

Option 3: Antibiotic gel or cream

Pros: effective treating inflamed spots; less irritation to the skin than other acne creams or gels
Cons: may be less effective on blackheads and whiteheads; can only be used for up to eight weeks due to antibiotic resistance

Option 4: Azelaic acid gel or cream

Pros: effective for mild acne; does not make skin sensitive to sunlight
Cons: month before symptoms improve; can cause mild burning, stinging, dryness, itchiness of the skin

Option 5: Antibiotic medicines

Pros: effective in treating mild to severe acne
Cons: six weeks before symptoms improve; makes contraceptive pill less effective; can only be used for six months due to the risk of antibiotic resistance; can make skin more sensitive to sunlight and cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, mild stomach pains

Option 6: Isotretinoin

Pros: effective in treating severe acne
Cons: can only be prescribed by a dermatologist; high risk of causing serious birth defects; can cause dry lips, nosebleeds, headaches, inflammation of the eyelids, skin rashes, muscle, joint and bone pain, blood in urine