Acne treatments run the gamut from plain soap and water to extremely powerful drugs like Accutane, and there are many choices in between.
For mild acne, sometimes regular gentle cleansing of the face is sufficient to keep it under control. For mild to moderate acne, there are many over the counter treatments that can be quite effective. These include salicylic acid soaps and gels and pastes containing benzoyl peroxide. There are multi-step over the counter acne treatments that incorporate cleansing, use of an astringent, and treatment gel to keep acne to a minimum.
When acne is too severe to be reasonably controlled by over the counter medications and cleansers, dermatologists will often prescribe stronger benzoyl peroxide treatments and sometimes prescription cleansers and even antibiotics. The antibiotics kill the bacteria that accumulate in hair follicles along with oil, a combination that often results in breakouts.
If these prescription treatments don't work well, doctors may prescribe something stronger, like a gel called Retin-A. This is a derivative of vitamin A that is extremely effective in clearing up acne. It also improves skin texture and even minimizes the look of fine lines on the face. For this reason, it used to be prescribed off-label for use as a wrinkle cream. But there are much better alternatives for treating aging skin now. Patients who use Retin-A are strongly advised to use sunblock, because the drug makes the skin more susceptible to sunburn.
The most treatment-resistant cases of acne have still more options. Dermatologists are exploring the use of lasers of various wavelengths in the treatment of acne, and are learning more every day about what works well. The drug Accutane is prescribed for severe acne. Because Accutane sometimes has dangerous side effects, it is reserved for those cases that resist less drastic forms of treatment.