Burning, redness, flaking and even nosebleeds... sometimes the cure seems worse than the condition. To preserve both your skin and your sanity, here's our scoop on top acne treatments and their side effects, plus some tips on how to soothe them.
How to treat acne: top treatments and their side effects
Topical treatments: products containing Benzoyl Peroxide or Retinoids
The basics: topicals are creams (either OTC or on prescription) that you apply to your skin. They are also your first-line allies to get rid of spots. Benzoyl Peroxide kills P.Acnes, the bacteria responsible for spots, as well as reducing redness and exfoliating dead cells. Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives with superlative results on acne. They help slough off the surface cells that clog up your pores.
The bad news: these treatments can leave skin red, irritated and feeling a size too small, with visible surface flaking. You may even experience stinging and burning sensations.
What to do: don't panic if you peel at first, your skin should get used to the treatment. If it's still tough going, try switching to a lower concentration formula, diluting with oil-free moisturizer or spacing out applications.
The basics: when topicals alone aren't enough, doctors prescribe oral antibiotics like doxycycline as well as topical versions to reduce spot-forming bacteria.
The bad news: oral medicines like doxycycline make skin very sensitive to sunlight. This means that even mild sun exposure could leave you a not-so-chic shade of lobster pink ! Another issue with antibiotics is that bacteria can develop resistance over time, making your treatment less effective.
What to do: make sure you protect skin with a suitably high SPF* during the day. Seek out light, oil-free and non-comedogenic formulas. Your doctor will limit the duration of your antibiotic treatment to help avoid antibiotic resistance.
Severe acne treatment with the isotretinoin molecule
The basics: isotretinoin is the most powerful anti-acne drug available. This prescription-only medicine dries up the root source of acne - excess oil - to permanently stop spots in a high proportion of cases.
The bad news: with great power comes great responsibility! This solution is a last resort and patients need regular blood tests to monitor their body's response to the treatment. Side effects include severe dryness of the skin and lips or nasal areas leading to flaking, tightness and even nosebleeds. To top it all off, it's photo-sensitizing, meaning it makes skin vulnerable to the sun.
What to do: if you're on isotretinoin, you will need to keep skin moisturized with rich, nourishing textures, topped off with a high SPF*. Opt for a hardworking lipbalm, specifically designed for very dry lips, and try a thermal water spray to soothe the skin.
*Make sure you protect your skin with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection (SPF30 + is a good rule of thumb).
To hear a dermatologist talk more about acne treatments, watch the video: