Acne is Real: Can You Take a Pill to Get It Cured?

written by Skye Sherman - Sep 25, 2023

Acne is Real: Can You Take a Pill to Get It Cured?

Anyone who has suffered from acne knows how painful and unsightly this condition is. It not only affects you physically, it also can influence your mental and emotional health because many people with acne suffer from decreased self-esteem or lower confidence levels due to the acne.

So if there was a simple pill you could take to solve acne once and for all, would you do it? For most people, this answer is yes. But is the solution really that simple?

In this article, we’ll take a look at prescription skin care medications and how you might be able to use this tool in the battle against acne. Read on to learn more about how prescription acne pills work and the risks and benefits of taking a prescription medication to clear your skin.

Prescription acne pills: Do they really work?

Everyone wishes that healing acne could be as simple as taking a magic pill and getting clear skin in return with no side effects. But is it really that easy? Could your mental health improve by taking a pill to clear your skin?

Retin A is the most popular drug used primarily for the treatment of acne. It belongs to a class of medications called retinoids and works by affecting the growth of skin cells. It may decrease the number and severity of acne pimples and promote quick healing of pimples that do develop. It can take up to 10 weeks for the user to experience the full effects of this medication.

However, Retin A comes with some significant side effects, from dryness, itching, burning, and redness of the skin to potential worsening of the acne. Moreover, it may make you more sensitive to the sun and can harm unborn babies, so it is not to be handled by women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

Still, many people turn to Retin A to heal a debilitating case of acne. A dermatologist named Anisha Patel, M.D. is quoted by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as saying, “Retin-A is a great product. The active ingredient is tretinoin and the main thing it does is regulate your skin cycle, so it makes your skin look brighter. … Retin-A can be a nice medication to use as long as you are mindful of the potential side effects. Pay special attention to sun safety because if you use Retin-A and keep getting damaging sunburns, it will be counterproductive.”

Dr. Patel also notes that Retin A isn’t right for everyone: “People who are on photosensitizing medications should avoid it because it does have that sun sensitivity side effect. I would also not recommend it for people with inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea or for cancer patients on active chemotherapy.”

It’s essential to consult with a dermatologist, who can prescribe the proper medication depending on your unique health history.

Other prescription medications for acne: antibiotics and Vitamin A

While there are some prescription acne medications and tretinoins, there are also medications for other conditions that have the fortunate side effect of healing skin conditions like acne. For example, antibiotics have been known to clear some skin conditions.

Mayo Clinic reports, “For moderate to severe acne, you may need oral antibiotics to reduce bacteria. Usually the first choice for treating acne is a tetracycline (minocycline, doxycycline) or a macrolide (erythromycin, azithromycin).”

However, “oral antibiotics should be used for the shortest time possible to prevent antibiotic resistance.” They are also supposed to be combined with other drugs, and it’s important to note that they increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

In addition, there are some medications that are used primarily for other skin conditions. For example, Renova Cream (Tretinoin) is used to reduce fine wrinkles, facial mottled hyperpigmentation, and roughness of the facial skin.

Similarly, Stieva A is a form of vitamin A that works by helping the skin renew itself. It’s used to treat acne, smooth rough facial skin, and reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles and mottled skin discoloration.

Of course, you should always consult a dermatologist before taking any prescription pills.

Can birth control pills heal acne?

Another common prescription medication used to treat acne is birth control pills. That’s because acne is typically caused by hormonal imbalances, which the birth control pills can work to shift.

According to Scripps, “Hormones called androgens promote the production of sebum, an oil made by your skin. Too much sebum can lead to clogged pores and bacterial growth, which create breeding grounds for acne. Women usually produce low levels of androgens, but hormonal changes related to their menstrual cycle can raise androgen levels and trigger acne breakouts. … Birth control pills that contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone reduce functional androgen levels, thereby reducing sebum production and acne. Pills that contain only progesterone (the ‘mini-pill’) can make acne worse.”

Three types of birth control pills (Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Loestrin, and YAZ) have been approved for the treatment of moderate acne, which all contain the same form of estrogen but different forms of progesterone.

MedicalNewsToday also points out, “pills that contain ethinyl estradiol and cyproterone may be more effective at reducing acne than others.”

An OB-GYN named Jonathan Dunn, MD, is quoted by Scripps as saying: “Certain types of birth control pills can help treat blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and cystic acne. They can be especially effective in treating stubborn hormonal acne along the jaw, lower face and neckline when other treatments, such as topical creams and oral antibiotics have not helped.”

However, it’s important to remember that there are many side effects of birth control, including increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots as well as high blood pressure, migraines, and mood changes.

A doctor can help identify if birth control is the right option to treat your acne and which type would be most beneficial.

Other ways to heal acne naturally

Don’t want to use birth control to treat your acne but still want to take a pill or medication to heal it? It depends on the root cause of your acne, but a dermatologist might be able to recommend alternative medication treatments, such as:

* retinoids

* benzoyl peroxide

* azelaic acid

* salicylic acid

* topical antibiotics

* laser therapy

* corticosteroid injections

However, one of the main ways to heal acne naturally if you don’t want to take a pill to treat acne is to balance your hormones and make some lifestyle changes. These changes (which may also help with signs of aging) could include:

* Switch up your skin care routine and try some new products

* Use gentle, non-comedogenic skin care products (Cetaphil is a classic example)

* Lower your stress levels

* Follow a healthy, balanced diet

* Eat less refined carbohydrates

* Lower your sugar intake

* Get adequate amounts of sleep

* Stop smoking

* Limit your sun exposure or use SPF when you’re outside

Believe it or not, your diet can play a big part in your acne, especially if you eat a lot of sugary foods. Your skin is the largest and most visible organ of your body, and it reflects what you eat. If you think about it like that, you can see why your diet can make or break your skin health.

A dermatologist quoted by Byrdie states, “I would recommend avoiding refined flour, sweets, and processed carbohydrates. The exact mechanism isn’t known for certain, but we believe that these refined carbs lead to an insulin spike, which causes a hormonal cascade that can increase inflammation and oil production.”

EverydayHealth writes, “A high-sugar diet has been definitively linked to acne … Sugar may also increase certain growth factors that raise androgen levels, which are hormones that are associated with a greater amount of pore-clogging oil production.”

Of course, it’s likely that no one change will be the magic bullet that cures acne. Your diet, sun exposure, sleep patterns, and skin care routine all work together to play a part. Instead, focus on working in a variety of lifestyle shifts and healthier choices (and prescription medications if appropriate, according to your doctor) and watch your skin clear.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.