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Acne treatments

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.

Treatment options

  • Antibiotics: These reduce the bacteria that cause acne and reduce inflammation. Either swallowed or applied directly to the skin.
  • The low dose contraceptive pill: regulates the hormones that cause acne in some women
  • Retinoids: treatment from vitamin A that unblocks pores and prevents new blockages. Either swallowed or applied directly to the skin.
  • Isotretinoin tablets (Roaccutane): for severe acne.
  • Some light and laser therapies also claim to help get rid of acne.

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.

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.
  • Cleanse with a mild 'soap free' liquid face cleanser that’s acid and/or pH balanced and free of abrasives and alcohol.
  • 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. Choose a product that is suitable for acne-prone skin. 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.
  • Use makeup and/or sunscreen only during the day and a moisturiser at night. Apply makeup, moisturisers and sunscreens after or on top of your morning or evening acne treatments. 
  • Sunbeds and sun bathing increase the risks of skin damage that can cause melanoma and other skin cancers and should be avoided.
  • When shaving, moisten hairs for a few minutes first to soften them. Use a shaving cream designed for sensitive skin and make sure the razor is sharp. Don’t try to shave off pimples and use light pressure only.

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: September 2017

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