8 Common Acne Treatments & Their Effectiveness

There are many acne treatments out there but there are a few popular ones you’ve probably heard of. In this article, we’re going to reveal the good and bad of the 8 most common acne treatments.

1. Oral Antibiotics

Antibiotics work by fighting bacteria and infection from the inside out. This is a systemic treatment, meaning it affects the entire body. It is stronger and more effective than topical agents but it is critical that you consider the health of your entire body before choosing this treatment.

Recommended for: Oral antibiotics are prescribed after other topical solutions fail to resolve your acne problem or if the severity of your acne peaks. Book an appointment with Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to seek advice  and see if oral antibiotics are necessary for you. 

Examples: Doxycycline, Minocycline, Tetracycline, Erythromycin

Potential side effects: Upset stomach, Dizziness, Skin colour changes, Yellow teeth (if taken during pregnancy), Weakens bone formation, Increases sensitivity to the sun

Note: Over time, bacteria may become resistant to your prescribed antibiotic and you’ll have to switch to a different one for it to be effective again. If you don’t complete your course of antibiotics as prescribed by your physician, it may become ineffective should you resume your treatment with the same oral antibiotics.

We recommend: PICO Laser, a photothermal treatment that has a similar effect as antibiotics—killing acne-causing bacteria with the added benefit of dissolving hardened sebum for easier extraction. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

2. Hormone Pills

Hormone pills treat acne by providing your body with synthetic hormones that counter  androgen and decrease sebum production.  The hormone pills have to contain estrogen and progestin to be effective against acne. Unlike antibiotics, your body will not become resistant to hormone pills should you stop taking your prescription halfway.

Recommended for: Women who suffer from hormonal acne. Book an appointment with Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to seek advice or get a prescription.

Examples: Ethinylestradiol/Drospirenone , Estelle™-35/35 ED

Potential side effects: May cause irregular periods, Tender breasts, Headaches, Blood clots, High blood pressure, Fatigue

We recommend: PICO Laser, a photothermal treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria and dissolves hardened sebum without the side effects of hormone pills. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

3. Azelaic Acid

A naturally occurring acid produced by yeast, azelaic acid is an ingredient with antibacterial properties that reduces inflammation and clears out bacteria from infected pores.

Recommended for: Mild to moderate acne, is suitable for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.

Potential side effects: Skin dryness, Skin peeling

Note: A 15% solution is most effective but even lesser amounts will help. Avoid astringent, alcoholic and deep-cleaning cleansers to reduce skin dryness if you’re using a cream or gel with azelaic acid.

We recommend : Omnilux, a completely painless, but highly effective phototherapy procedure that uses red and blue light to eliminate acne-causing bacteria and heal your skin. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise an acne treatment that is suitable for you.

4. Salicylic Acid

A mild beta hydroxy acid popular in acne medication, salicylic acid works by dissolving existing dead skin cells. Use a 0.5% to 5% solution consistently to see effects.

Recommended for: It is highly effective on blackheads and whiteheads, and in clearing mild acne. Safe for use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Potential side effects: Itchy and irritated skin

We recommend: Omnilux, a completely painless, but highly effective phototherapy procedure that uses red and blue light to eliminate acne-causing bacteria and heal the skin. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

5. Benzoyl Peroxide

Labelled the most effective acne-fighting ingredient that doesn’t require a prescription, benzoyl peroxide kills P.acnes (the bacteria in sebaceous glands that causes inflammation), dead skin cells and bacterial buildup in the skin.

Recommended for: Inflammatory acne.

Potential side effects: Unsafe for sensitive skin, Skin irritation, Dryness, Discolouration of skin, Stains fabric

Note: A 5% to 10% solution is effective almost immediately although the full effects of benzoyl peroxide can take several weeks to have effect. Using benzoyl peroxide alongside antibiotics prescribed to you reduces the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance.

We recommend: IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) which uses quick pulses of intense light to destroy acne-causing bacteria and subdue over-productive  sebaceous  glands. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

6. Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids are antioxidant vitamin A derivatives converted into retinoic acid. They work by decreasing inflammation, killing bacterial buildup and unclogging pores. They also increase collagen growth and can be used on wrinkles.

Recommended for: Moderate to severe inflammatory acne. Book an appointment with Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to seek advice or get a prescription.

Examples: Adapalene gel/cream, Tretinoin

Potential side effects: Skin redness, Peeling, Dryness

Note: Incorporate retinoids in your night regime because sunlight degrades retinoic acid and can also make your skin photosensitive. Benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids can deactivate certain retinoids so be careful when layering products.

We recommend: IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) which uses quick pulses of intense light to destroy acne-causing bacteria and subdue over-productive  sebaceous glands. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

7. Topical Antibiotics

Topical antibiotics work by inhibiting the growth of P.acnes bacteria in the skin and by reducing inflammation. Like with oral antibiotics, it increases antimicrobial resistance with each use and works better paired with benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid.

Recommended for: Severe inflammatory acne, persistent acne breakouts. Book an appointment with Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to seek advice or get a prescription.

Examples: Erythromycin gel/topical solution/lotion, Clindamycin gel/topical solution/lotion

Potential side effects: Skin dryness, Irritation, Skin peeling, Burning/stinging sensation

We recommend: PICO Laser, a photothermal treatment that has a similar effect as antibiotics—killing acne-causing bacteria with the added benefit of dissolving hardened sebum for easier extraction. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

8. Oral Retinoids

Oral retinoids are antioxidant vitamin A derivatives that work by reducing sebum production and clearing inflammation. They also help to prevent clogged pores.

Recommended for: Very effective on severe inflammatory acne and cystic acne. Book an appointment with Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to seek advice or get a prescription.

Example: Isotretinoin

Potential side effects: Red, cracked, sore lips, Dry skin, Dry eyes, Increased risk of sunburn, Nose bleeds, Headaches, Muscle stiffness

We recommend: Steroid injections to shrink a particularly large nodule or cyst quickly or Mosaic eCO2 Laser to remove deep-seated cysts with minimal scarring. Consult Dr. Elias Tam at EHA Clinic to arrange and personalise your acne treatment.

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