Topical Medications guide. The most common types of topical medicines prescribed by doctors to treat acne are different creams or gels and include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, antibiotics, steroids and retinoids. Topical medications, whether over the counter (OTC) or prescription, are helpful in reducing acne lesions. However, depending on the type and severity of acne, they usually are not enough to clear it long term. Most of the time, there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed simultaneously for lasting results.

Topical Medications

Aczone is a topical antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent used to treat acne. Aczone seems to work better for women and when used in conjunction with a retinoid, rather than using either one independently. Side effects of Aczone include redness, dryness, itchiness and peeling of the area being treated. It is also possible that these side effects trigger an acne flare-up.

Retinoid is a generic term used to identify topical forms of vitamin A (Retinoid/tretinoin/tazarotene/adapalene). Common brand-name prescriptions include Retin-A, Tazorac and Differin. Retinoids help to unclog pores, which reduce inflammatory lesions. They also help to reduce acne scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Topical retinoids and antibacterial agents complement one another and are often prescribed together. However, they can cause excessive side effects of redness, dryness, and peeling.


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Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO), both prescription and non-prescription, help to kill bacteria on the skin and dry up pimples. Common brand-name prescription BPOs are Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya, which combine Benzoyl Peroxide and an antibiotic. Epiduo is a prescription topical medication that combines Benzoyl Peroxide and Adapalene (retinoid). When used in the right dosage and skin-care routine, it can be helpful in reducing acne. Typically, OTC and prescription Benzoyl Peroxide can cause irritation, rash, itching and dryness. These side effects can trigger acne.

Salicylic acid, antibiotics

Antibiotics can be offered in topical form and are designed to kill bacteria. The most common type of topical antibiotic are Clindamycin. Acanya, Benzaclin, and Duac. These are topical prescription medications that combine Clindamycin and Benzoyl Peroxide. Often, a combination of topical and oral medication is prescribed as a “go to” method of treating acne. Topical antibiotics may be combined with retinoids and benzoyl peroxide gels or lotions to kill bacteria, reduce oil production and unclog pores.