Doctors can treat acne using different types of medicines. Sometimes doctors suggest trying more than 1 medicine at once.

There is no 1 medicine or combination of medicines that works best for everyone. Instead, people often need to try different medicines until they find what works best for them.

Some acne medicines require a prescription, while others do not. Your doctor might suggest:

Medicines you put directly on your skin – These can be gels, creams, or lotions. There are different types. Some examples are:

Retinoids – These are medicines that help keep your pores unclogged. Examples of retinoids include tretinoin (sample brand names: Retin-A, Altreno), adapalene (brand name: Differin), and tazarotene (sample brand names: Tazorac, Fabior, Arazlo). Adapalene can be bought without a prescription. Retinoids can also help improve dark spots on the skin caused by acne.

Benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics – Benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics reduce acne by killing the bacteria inside pimples. They also help bring down inflammation. Benzoyl peroxide is available without a prescription. Other antibiotics are available by prescription.

Medicines you take as a pill – These include:

Antibiotics – Antibiotic pills work for the same reasons antibiotic gels or lotions work. But they tend to be stronger and can cause unpleasant side effects.

Birth control pills or spironolactone – Some of the skin reactions that lead to acne are controlled by hormones. For this reason, birth control pills can sometimes help with acne. Spironolactone (brand name: Aldactone) is another medicine that can block hormones that can make acne worse. One of these medicines might be an option for women or teen girls with acne.

Isotretinoin – Isotretinoin is a retinoid that comes in pill form (sample brand names: Amnesteem, Claravis). It is very effective against severe acne. But it can also cause serious side effects and birth defects. Women who want to take isotretinoin must follow very strict safety rules to prevent pregnancy.

Other treatments – Examples of other types of treatments that might help some people with acne include chemical peels and special light or laser treatments. People who get these treatments often also need to use other acne treatments.