Acne: Topical Treatment Options

The following table lists topical medications for acne. Topical medications are applied to your skin. Other treatments, such as oral medications and doctor's office procedures, can also be used to treat acne.

To correctly apply topical acne medications, follow instructions for use as per the product monograph in the package or those given by your doctor or health care professional. Use only the amount your doctor told you to use. Using more will not make it work better or faster and may cause skin irritation.

In general:

  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat it dry.
  • Apply your acne medication to the entire affected acne area (not just on the pimples).
  • Keep medication away from the corners of the nose, mouth, eyes, and open wounds. In case of accidental contact, rinse with lukewarm water.
  • Wash your hands after use.

Some people may experience side effects such as skin irritation and redness that are common in the beginning and do not necessarily require stopping the treatment altogether. Your doctor will determine the best course of action. For example, he or she may recommend that you first slowly build up tolerance by using the treatment only some days, by washing it off a couple of hours after applying it, or by mixing it with a moisturizer.


Treatment

Combination products

Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide

  • Adapalene unplugs blocked pores and prevents new plugs from forming. It also reduces inflammation caused by acne.
  • Benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria, but it is not an antibiotic. It also acts as a peeling agent.

Clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Clindamycin is an antibiotic that stops acne bacteria growth.
  • Benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria, but it is not an antibiotic. It also acts as a peeling agent.

Erythromycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Erythromycin is an antibiotic that stops acne bacteria growth.
  • Benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria, but it is not an antibiotic. It also acts as a peeling agent.

Clindamycin and tretinoin

  • Clindamycin is an antibiotic that stops acne bacteria growth.
  • Tretinoin alters the rate of growth and shedding of skin cells to unclog pores and blocked oil glands and prevent new plugs from forming.
Single-ingredient products

Adapalene

  • Adapalene unplugs blocked pores and prevents new plugs from forming.

Benzoyl peroxide

  • Benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria, but it is not an antibiotic. It also acts as a peeling agent.

Clindamycin

  • Clindamycin is an antibiotic that stops acne bacteria growth.

Dapsone

  • It is not known exactly how dapsone works for acne.

Salicylic acid

  • Salicylic acid unclogs pores by removing dead skin cell buildup.

Tazarotene

  • Tazarotene alters the rate of growth and shedding of skin cells to unclog pores and blocked oil glands and prevent new plugs from forming. It also reduces inflammation caused by acne.

Tretinoin

  • Tretinoin alters the rate of growth and shedding of skin cells to unclog pores and blocked oil glands and prevent new plugs from forming.

Products & Usage

Combination products

Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide

  • TactuPump® FORTE 0.3%/2.5% is used for moderate-to-severe acne on your face, chest, and back.
  • TactuPump® 0.1%/2.5% is used for mild-to-moderate acne on your face, chest, and back.
  • Apply once daily at night, before you go to bed.

Clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Clindoxyl® ADV 1%/3% and Clindoxyl® 1%/5% are used for moderate acne. Apply once daily.
  • Benzaclin® 1%/5% is used for moderate acne. Apply 2 times daily.

Erythromycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Benzamycin® 3%/5% is used for moderate acne.
  • Apply 2 times daily, or as directed by your doctor.

Clindamycin and tretinoin

  • Biacna™ 1.2%/0.025% is used for acne on the face.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.
Single-ingredient products

Adapalene

  • Differin® XP™ 0.3% and Differin® 0.1% are used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.

Benzoyl peroxide

  • Proactiv®, Benzagel®, and others – percentage varies depending on product. Benzoyl peroxide products are used for acne.
  • Apply as directed on the product label or by your doctor.

Clindamycin

  • Dalacin® T 1% and others are used to treat acne.
  • Clindets® 1% is used to treat moderate acne.
  • Apply 2 times daily.

Dapsone

  • Aczone™ 5% is used to treat acne on the face, chest, back, and shoulders.
  • Apply 2 times daily, or as directed by your doctor.

Salicylic acid

  • There are numerous products such as Clean & Clear® and others – percentage varies depending on product. Salicylic acid products are used for acne.
  • Apply as directed on the product label or by your doctor.

Tazarotene

  • Tazorac® 0.05% and 0.1% is used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, before bed.

Tretinoin

  • Vitamin A acid 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05%, Stieva-A® 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05%, Retin-A Micro® 0.04%, 0.1%, and Retin-A® 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05%, 0.1% are used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.

*This is not a complete list of all possible side effects. For any unexpected effects while taking any of these treatments, contact your doctor or pharmacist.

Common side effects*

Combination products

Adapalene and benzoyl peroxide

  • Skin redness, dryness, itching, burning, or peeling when you first start to use it (2 to 4 weeks).

Clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Skin redness, dryness, itching, irritation, or peeling.

Erythromycin and benzoyl peroxide

  • Skin redness, dryness, itching, irritation, burning or peeling; inflammation of the face, eyes and nose, irritation of the eyes, skin discoloration, oiliness, tenderness of the skin, and edema.

Clindamycin and tretinoin

  • Headache, sunburn, upper respiratory infection, temporary skin colour change (lighter or darker).
Single-ingredient products

Adapalene

  • Skin redness, dryness, itching, burning, or peeling when you first start to use it (2 to 4 weeks).

Benzoyl peroxide

  • Skin redness, irritation, stinging, and burning.

Clindamycin

  • Skin redness, rash, dryness, itching, burning, or peeling when you first start to use it; headache, diarrhea, nausea.

Dapsone

  • Skin dryness, redness, oiliness, and peeling.

Salicylic acid

  • Dryness and skin irritation.

Tazarotene

  • Burning, peeling, redness, dry and itchy skin; skin irritation and stinging.

Tretinoin

  • Skin peeling, burning, irritation, itching, dryness, stinging, flaking, and redness in the first few weeks.

*This is not a complete list of all possible side effects. For any unexpected effects while taking any of these treatments, contact your doctor or pharmacist.