Treatments for acne
Acne will usually go away on its own, but it can take many years. There are treatments that can help clear acne more quickly.
Over-the-counter treatments can help with mild acne. Ask a pharmacist for advice on which treatment could help and how long you will have to use it. You should not expect to see results for several weeks, even a couple of months.
If over-the-counter treatments don't help, treatments are available on prescription. Your doctor can assess how bad your acne is and discuss the options with you. Don't be afraid to tell your doctor how your acne affects your life and how it makes you feel.
Mild, non-inflammatory acne consists of whiteheads and blackheads. Treatments include gels or lotions that can contain retinoids (vitamin A), topical (applied to the skin) antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide (which is antibacterial) or azelaic acid, which has antibacterial, antinflammatory and exfoliating properties.
These medications, or a combination of them, can also be used to treat mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne, which has some pustules and nodules. It can take up to eight weeks before you see a difference in your skin, and treatment may need to be continued for six months.
The Australasian College of Dermatologists recommend that oral antibiotics for acne should be avoided where possible. If prescribed, combine with a topical antiseptic, which may reduce antibiotic resistance. For more information, speak to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
In women, contraceptive pills that contain oestrogen can help reduce acne.
If acne is severe, your doctor can refer you to a dermatologist who may prescribe a stronger medication called 'isotretinoin' (Roaccutane). Some light and laser therapies also claim to help get rid of acne.
Self care for acne
If you have acne there are a number of things you can do to help to manage the condition. Here is some self-help information:
- Do not squeeze spots and try not to touch them because this can lead to an infection.
- Acne is caused by blocked skin glands. You can help to keep these glands unblocked by using a gentle cleansing product to clean your face once or twice a day. Cleansers can be bought from supermarkets and pharmacies.
- When washing your face you should clean it gently rather than scrubbing the skin. Pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it.
- If you wear make-up, removing it before going to bed will also help to keep the skin glands unblocked. Water-based make-ups are better for your skin than other products. Don’t go to sleep without taking your make-up off.
- If you use hair products such as gels, sprays and waxes, you should make sure they don’t come into contact with your face, especially your forehead. You may also find keeping your hair away from your forehead can help improve spots on your forehead. Washing your hair more regularly also helps improve spots.
- Sunbeds and sun bathing increase the risks of skin damage that can cause melanoma and other skin cancers and should be avoided.
- If you notice that spots increase after you eat certain things you should try to avoid them.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your acne, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2015