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Medications to treat acne

In this blog post, we’ll give you an overview of the most commonly prescribed acne medications. While prescription medications can be an effective way to clear your acne, they typically will not solve the root cause. Your acne may reappear once you stop taking prescribed acne medications. We recommend implementing a holistic approach to your skincare and acne treatment by making small but impactful changes to your diet, replenishing your skin’s microbiome, and taking hormone-balancing supplements. As always, do your research and consult your dermatologist before taking any prescription acne medication.


Spironolactone is an acne medication that relies on hormone therapy to relieve acne located on the lower face, jawline, and neck. While taking spironolactone, patients are required to take birth control to avoid the high risk of birth defects. Since spironolactone is an androgen blocker, the acne medication has also been used in treatments for people with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) for excessive hair growth, oily skin, and breakouts. Its effects of reduced sebum levels and decreased hormonal breakouts make spironolactone an effective choice for those who have hormonal acne. Remember, prescription acne medications are not meant for everyone. Medications like spironolactone are reserved for those who experience moderate to severe acne and have tried alternative methods with no result.

Side effects of spironolactone include but are not limited to:

  • Dry mouth

  • Headache

  • Dehydration

  • Drowsiness

  • Nausea

  • Itching

Visit or speak with your dermatologist to learn more about the side effects of spironolactone.


Doxycycline is an antibiotic commonly used to treat nodular or cystic acne. Because it is an antibiotic, it kills and prevents the growth of bacteria, including cutibacterium acnes – the bacteria responsible for most forms of acne. Doxycycline should not be combined with isotretinoin (Accutane) as it can lead to intracranial hypertension. You should also avoid taking doxycycline with other antibiotics unless told otherwise by a medical professional. While doxycycline is great for killing acne-causing bacteria, it will also kill all other bacteria (both good and bad) in your skin’s microbiome. It’s crucial to replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut by taking a probiotic, or eating foods rich in probiotics (such as kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) To help prevent harmful side effects of doxycycline, be sure to drink ample amounts of water and apply sunscreen daily. Doxycycline treatment takes approximately four to five months and is typically a precursor to stronger acne medications such as isotretinoin or hormonal therapy (spironolactone) in the event that the doxycycline is ineffective.

Side effects of doxycycline include but are not limited to:

  • Dizziness

  • Thirst

  • Unusual fatigue

  • Itching

  • Puffiness

  • Swelling

  • Sun sensitivity

Visit or speak with your dermatologist to learn more about the side effects of doxycycline.

Birth control

Birth control is commonly used to treat acne because of its ability to lower androgen levels and reduce sebum production. Combined hormone contraceptives (CHCs) have anti-inflammatory effects and may reduce swelling in acne breakouts. Currently, there are four FDA approved medications for treating acne: Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep Fe, Beyaz, and Yaz. The majority of birth control pills contain estrogen and progesterone, but the most effective (and popular) brand of progesterone birth control is Yasmin. Progesterone contraceptives also have antiandrogenic effects comparable to spironolactone. Acne treatment with hormonal birth control may take approximately two to three months to see results and carries less risk of serious side effects when compared to other prescribed acne medications. Birth control is only recommended to people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB), menstruate, and have hormonal acne. As with any medication, the effects of birth control are different for everyone. Be attentive to your body and reevaluate with your doctor if you are experiencing negative side effects of oral contraceptives for acne treatment.

Side effects of birth control include but are not limited to:

  • Headaches

  • Weight gain

  • Pain in breasts

  • Nausea

  • Spotting

  • Blood clots

Visit or speak with your doctor to learn more about the side effects of birth control.


Widely known as the name brand, Accutane, isotretinoin is exclusively prescribed to folks who experience severe nodular acne. Not to be confused with the more subdued effects of tretinoin, a topical solution, isotretinoin is an oral acne medication that has immensely stronger side effects. This prescription drug is considered heavy-duty and should only be used after consulting your dermatologist. Isotretinoin is considered a retinoid due to its vitamin A origin and powerful non-comedogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging skin properties. Additionally, isotretinoin is prescribed to regulate cell growth and fight off bacteria. Like many other prescribed acne medications, isotretinoin is meant to treat acne conditions that have not improved after attempting conventional remedies. Isotretinoin is not suitable for pregnant people or people who may become pregnant due to the severe risks of birth defects as a result of taking the drug. Negative pregnancy tests are required to be approved for isotretinoin prescriptions. The decision to implement isotretinoin to your acne treatment plan is a commitment. Regular testing, such as bloodwork, is highly recommended by medical professionals to help prevent the potential side effects of isotretinoin. Overall, isotretinoin treatment takes around four to five months to experience results.

The side effects of isotretinoin include but are not limited to:

  • Dry skin, eyes, mouth, nose, or lips

  • Headaches

  • Back pain and other muscle aches

  • Sun sensitivity

  • Fragile skin

  • Depression

  • Pregnancy risks (including but not limited to birth defects, stillbirth, and miscarriage)

  • Night blindness

  • Hair thinning

  • Rash

  • Stomach problems

Due to the severity of isotretinoin, it is best as a last resort once you have exhausted all other alternative options. Visit or speak with your dermatologist to learn more about the side effects of isotretinoin.

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