Acne Topical Medication

Prescription acne remedies may be applied directly to the affected areas in the form of a cream or ointment. Some topical remedies can cause skin blotchiness, redness, photosensitivity or allergies.


Clindamycin, Erythromycin and Tetracycline HCL

Many topical prescriptions include antibiotics, which are designed to control the bacteria that infect clogged pores. Results vary, but are often seen sooner than with oral antibiotics, since the antibiotic comes into direct contact with the bacteria. Common topical antibiotics include clindamycin, erythromycin and tetracycline HCL. Erythromycin has the advantage that it is safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.


Tretinoin (Retin-A) and Salicylic Acid

A comedolytic is a substance that loosens the plugs in clogged pores and lets the pores open. Salicylic acid, azelic acid, combinations of sulfur and resorcinol are common comedolytics. These are used as components of a wider treatment regimen in some systems. The Vitamin A derivative tretinoin, or Retin-A, is also used for this purpose. Although it’s not entirely clear how tretinoin works, it seems to expel acne plugs and prevent new ones from forming. Pregnant women should not use Retin-A; some studies have linked it to fetal damage.

Combination Therapies: Benzoyl Peroxide

Some topical acne treatments combine both antibiotics and comedolytics. Botanicals and nutrients are are also included in some. By far the most common combination of antibiotic and comedolytic properties is benzoyl peroxide, which also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Benzoyl peroxide is available both in prescription and over-the-counter products. It is often combined with erythromycin or clindamycin, both antibiotics.

Many popular over-the-counter acne treatments and cover-ups contain benzoyl peroxide. They come in the form of cleansing bars, creams, gels, lotions, facials masks and sticks. For best results, apply the product to clean, dry skin.

Other Treatments

Other skin treatments are less medicinal in nature. Comedone extraction is a procedure that opens clogged pores using a special extracting device. If you plan to use such a device, have a dermatologist show you how to use it properly. If it damages your skin, the infection is likely to spread and the risk of additional scars increases.

Chemical peels use a mild acid to remove entire layers of skin, taking pimples with the skin and reducing the possibility of scarring. Needless to say, this can be extremely irritating to the face, but may help prevent or reduce scarring.

See a Doctor

Topical antibiotics and other prescription acne medications require the supervision of trained medical professionals. The information contained herein is not intended to replace professional medical care.


DermNet Editorial Board. (updated 2002). Erythromycin. Retrieved April 26, 2002, from

McLaughlin, M. (1999). Acne. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Retrieved April 26, 2002, from medications.