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What different types of topical treatments are available for acne?

It is good to learn that there are many wonderful topical acne treatments available, both over the counter and prescription acne medications.

Nevertheless, over-the-counter topical acne treatments alone are often not enough to address the issues of acne completely, this is especially so for moderate and severe acne types. Often satisfactory result is achieved when used along with prescription medications.

As for over-the-counter treatments, they come with a variety of packaging and formulations. They may come in the form of a BP wipe, gel, cream, foam, and BP wash of various strengths or may offer salicylic acid in a wash, lotion, makeup or other formulation to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. However, those products that treat while covering our acne to be noticeable have contributed nicely from the point of acne care and acne clear and have become increasingly sophisticated over the years.

How the prescription topical acne treatments work is to:

  • Help decrease the amount of bacteria present in our skin,
  • Improve our skin cell turnover to minimize microcomedo (i.e. the first stage of any type of acne lesion and is so tiny to be noticeable) formation, and
  • Improve the redness and inflammation associated with acne.

It is good to be aware that the effectiveness of prescription acne medications is often the result of combinations of one or more active ingredients. However, even after the acne is cleared our job is not over, and like most people, a maintenance program that help to prevent new acne lesions from forming and to keep our skin clear over the long term is usually required.

What follows is a list of topical treatments for easy reference:

Antibiotics (i.e. a category of drug that target bacteria)

Azelaic acid (i.e. a natural substance produced by yeast and used for mild to moderate acne)

Benzoyl peroxide (i.e. an antiseptic which does not induce bacterial resistance)
2% to 10% - cream, gel, cleanser, and pads
Combination with antibiotics:
BP 4.5% or 8.5% in emollient 10% urea base - cream, gel, and cleanser

Combination treatments
BP/urea (emollient)

Hydroquinones (i.e. a class of chemicals that lighten the skin)
Combined with Retin A and hydrocortisone

Hydroxy acids
α-Hydroxy acid (glycolic acid)
β-Hydroxy acid (salicylic acid)


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