Acne: Prescription Topical Treatment Options

The following table lists prescription 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 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.
  • Using a moisturizer regularly may help with minimizing dryness and irritation.

Some people may experience side effects such as skin irritation and redness that are common in the beginning and usually last 1-2 weeks. These side effects do not necessarily require stopping the treatment altogether. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you first slowly build up tolerance by using the treatment every other day or by washing it off a couple of hours after applying it.


Treatment

Single-ingredient products

Aczone™ (dapsone)

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

Aklief® (trifarotene)

  • Trifarotene unplugs blocked hair follicles and prevents new plugs from forming.

Benzac W*, Persaclear*, others (benzoyl peroxide)

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

Dalacin® T, others (clindamycin)

  • Clindamycin is an antibiotic that stops acne bacteria growth.

Differin®, Differin® XP™ (adapalene)

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

Retin-A®, Retin-A Micro® (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.

Tazorac® (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.
Combination products

Benzaclin®, Clindoxyl® (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.

Benzamycin® (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.

Biacna™ (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.

TactuPump®, TactuPump® FORTE (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.

Products & Usage

Single-ingredient products

Aczone™ (dapsone)

  • Aczone™ 5% (authorized in 2011) is used to treat acne on the face, chest, back, and shoulders.
  • Apply 2 times daily, or as directed by your doctor.

Aklief® (trifarotene)

  • Aklief® 50 mcg/g (0.005% w/w) cream (authorized in 2019) is used to treat acne on the face and trunk (upper, middle and lower back, shoulders and chest).
  • Apply once daily, in the evening.

Benzac W*, Persaclear*, others (benzoyl peroxide)

  • Benzac W* wash gel 10% (authorized in 1991), Persaclear* 10% w/w cream (authorized in 2011) and others are used for acne.
  • Apply as directed on the product label or by your doctor.

Dalacin® T, others (clindamycin)

  • Dalacin® T 1% (authorized in 1991) and others are used to treat acne.
  • Apply 2 times daily.

Differin®, Differin® XP™ (adapalene)

  • Differin® XP™ 0.3% (authorized in 2007) and Differin® 0.1% (authorized in 1996) are used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.

Retin-A®, Retin-A Micro® (tretinoin)

  • Vitamin A acid 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05% (authorized in 1989), Stieva-A® 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05% (authorized in 1981), Retin-A Micro® 0.04%, 0.1% (authorized in 1991), and Retin-A® 0.01%, 0.025%, 0.05%, 0.1% (authorized in 2001) are used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.

Tazorac® (tazarotene)

  • Tazorac® 0.05% and 0.1% (authorized in 1997) are used to treat acne.
  • Apply once daily, before bed.
Combination products

Benzaclin®, Clindoxyl® (clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide)

  • Clindoxyl® ADV 1%/5% (authorized in 2013) and Clindoxyl® 1%/3% (authorized in 2001) are used for moderate acne. Apply once daily.
  • Benzaclin® 1%/5% (authorized in 2004) is used for moderate acne. Apply 2 times daily.

Benzamycin® (erythromycin and benzoyl peroxide)

  • Benzamycin® 3%/5% (authorized in 1996) is used for moderate acne.
  • Apply 2 times daily, or as directed by your doctor.

Biacna™ (clindamycin and tretinoin)

  • Biacna™ 1.2%/0.025% (authorized in 2011) is used for acne.
  • Apply once daily, at bedtime.

TactuPump®, TactuPump® FORTE (adapalene and benzoyl peroxide)

  • TactuPump® FORTE 0.3%/2.5% (authorized in 2016) is used for moderate-to-severe acne on your face, chest, and back. It can be considered for people who are at risk of acne scarring.
  • TactuPump® 0.1%/2.5% (authorized in 2011) is used for mild-to-moderate acne on your face, chest, and back. It can be considered for people who are at risk of acne scarring.
  • Apply once daily at night, before you go to bed.

*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*

Single-ingredient products

Aczone™ (dapsone)

  • Skin dryness, redness, oiliness, and peeling.

Aklief® (trifarotene)

  • Skin redness, dryness, itching, peeling, burning, stinging, and pigment loss of the skin.

Benzac W*, Persaclear*, others (benzoyl peroxide)

  • Skin redness, irritation, stinging, and burning.

Dalacin® T, others (clindamycin)

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

Differin®, Differin® XP™ (adapalene)

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

Retin-A®, Retin-A Micro® (tretinoin)

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

Tazorac® (tazarotene)

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

Benzaclin®, Clindoxyl® (clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide)

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

Benzamycin® (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.

Biacna™ (clindamycin and tretinoin)

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

TactuPump®, TactuPump® FORTE (adapalene and benzoyl peroxide)

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