Prescription Medication for Severe Acne: Everything You Need to Know

Category: Medical FAQ


Posted on November 27, 2019

Vanessa is a health writer and blogging expert. Her specialities are medicine, health and wellness. She is proud to call Vancouver, BC her home where she enjoys the ocean and mountains with her dog Mr. ChowChow.

medication for severe acne

When you are dealing with severe acne, you’ve probably already tried every over the counter medication for severe acne treatment under the sun , in all different kinds of forms. While face washes, creams, toners, lotions, and gels help clear mild to moderate acne and prevent new breakouts, sometimes they’re just not enough for more severe acne.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about prescription medication for severe acne to determine if this is the right option for you!

Oral Medication for Severe Acne

Acne medications are prescribed when you have acne cysts and nodules that are red and swollen. This kind of acne is typically resistant to topical treatments. There are three main types of oral acne treatments that your dermatologist can prescribe.

1. Birth Control Pills

Pay attention to when you’re breaking out and either mark it on your calendar or make a note of it. If you find you’re breaking out around your period every month, your acne could be linked to your hormones.

If your body is sensitive to hormones called androgens, specifically testosterone, you’ll develop cystic acne. Androgens cause the skin to produce more sebum, the oil that develops on your face. Your skin is supposed to naturally shed dead skin cells, but if your body is over-producing sebum, those cells will clog your pores and cause pimples.

Birth control contains different amounts of estrogen and progestin, which keeps your hormones balanced. FDA-approved birth control acne treatments are:

  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Estrostep
  • YAZ

Remember that if you start to experience side effects, it’s recommended to wait two or three months to see if your body adjusts to the hormones and the side effects pass.

Here are some side effects that you might experience when on birth control:

  • Nausea, usually with empty stomach
  • Headaches
  • Tender breasts
  • Unscheduled bleeding
  • Emotional fluctuations

These side effects are normal and may subside after your body adjusts. There are also abnormal side effects that quickly indicate that the birth control you’re taking isn’t right for your body:

  • Extreme weight gain, particularly after first few days on the pill
  • Migraines or headaches that don’t respond to OTC treatment
  • Severe cramping and abdominal pain
  • Any symptoms that don’t go away after four months

2. Spironolactone

If you’ve been taking birth control for a few months but don’t find any improvement in your skin, your doctor may prescribe an androgen blocker called spironolactone. When this medication is taken along with birth control, many women see improvement.

It can also be prescribed for women who have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) which also causes excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne due to androgen hormones.

As with all medications, there are side effects that you need to be aware of and discuss with your doctor.

Common side effects include:

  • High levels of potassium in the blood
  • Irritation of the stomach or intestines

Infrequent side effects are:

  • Low amount of magnesium in the blood
  • Low amount of sodium in the blood
  • Abnormal sexual function
  • Dizziness
  • Enlarged breasts
  • Head pain
  • Inability to have an erection

3. Isotretinoin

If birth control and androgen blockers don’t work, isotretinoin, commonly known as Accutane, is a strong retinoid that’s often prescribed as a last resort. Isotretinoin has all the benefits of topical retinoids, but it becomes more effective taken orally.

It works particularly well for women who suffer with cystic acne or with men who have body acne. It keeps your sebaceous glands from producing oil. When the sebaceous glands are suppressed, there’s a 50 percent chance that your acne will be cured.

Courses of isotretinoin typically take six to nine months. Higher dosages may need to be taken or it may need to be taken longer to completely eliminate a person’s acne.

There are some downsides to isotretinoin that your doctor should make you aware of. This includes:

  • Dry and sensitive skin
  • Chance of birth defects
  • Abundance of paperwork and office visits

4. Antibiotics

Dermatologists are able to prescribe antibiotics for acne, and you’ll see fast results. However, your acne will return as soon as you stop using them. While you’re taking antibiotics, there’s the possibility of experiencing yeast infections, nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. For those reasons, it’s usually not recommended to take antibiotics for acne.

Dealing with Acne and Medication for Severe Acne

If you’ve experienced severe acne for most of your life, it can make you feel insecure, dirty, ashamed, or embarrassed. Not only that, but it’s frustrating to put in so much effort without results.

Even when you begin medication for severe acne treatment plan, remember to continue taking care of yourself. This means:

  1. Wash your face no more than twice a day to control oil and bacteria
  2. Resisting the urge to touch your face
  3. Pat your face dry instead of rubbing
  4. Drink lots of water – urine should be light yellow
  5. Eat a balanced diet
  6. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night
  7. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week

Lastly, remember to stay grounded when it comes to judging your physical attractiveness. Beauty is less about perfect skin and more about the way you move, speak, and express yourself.

Your personality and the way you make others feel when they’re around you have the most bearing on their perception of you. And if someone is negatively judging you based on the presence of acne alone, this says more about them than it does about you.

Find a Solution with Medication for Severe Acne

It’s important that you do your own research and then discuss your options with your dermatologist. Once you decide on a treatment, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results! With prolonged use, many people see improvement in their skin using medication for severe acne and enjoy a greater quality of life.

Want to order affordable and effective Canadian medication as a U.S. citizen? View our order page to learn how!

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