7 Ways to Treat Acne When OTC Products Do Not Work

So you have tried all of the over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments and nothing has worked. What now? There are many professional options available to treat acne beyond the OTC treatments in the health and beauty aisle at your local pharmacy.

What Causes Acne?

There is much confusion over what causes acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hormonal shifts throughout life, such as those during puberty, menstrual cycles and menopause, cause excess oil and cells to clog skin follicles. This causes the follicle to swell and form the classic “zit.” Most experts agree that, in most cases, acne is not caused by various foods, but rather is the result of an inflammatory response under the skin. Acne comes in the form of a whitehead, blackhead, tiny hard eruptions or pus-filled lesions.

Professional Treatments to Try

Under the care of a board-certified dermatologist you can receive a variety of acne treatments. These treatments augment a good basic skin cleansing routine. Here are a few of the most common professional acne treatment options beyond over-the-counter products:


Both oral and topical antibiotics, sometimes used in a combination therapy, are prescribed. Antibiotics help decrease bacteria in and around the hair follicles in the skin. They also reduce inflammation and irritation caused by white blood cells. There are a variety of oral antibiotics that also include an anti-inflammatory property to fight acne.

Tetracycline continues to be a very common oral antibiotic ordered for acne treatment. The newer versions of antibiotics used in treating acne include Solodyn, MinocinPac, Oracea and Aldactone.

Birth control pills

Some women get good acne control results from taking birth control pills, since they can effectively manage hormone fluctuations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three specific birth control medicines to treat acne: Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep/Fe and Yaz.

Isotretinoin (previously named Accutane)

This oral medication targets severe, cystic acne, which has not cleared up with other treatment options. It literally destroys the oil glands where acne develops. The course of treatment is up to seven months during which gradual improvement of acne symptoms are noted along the way. It is currently sold under the names of Sotret, Claravis and Amnesteem.

This drug tends to be very effective as an acne treatment, but carries some serious potential side effects including birth defects if a woman conceives while taking the Isotretinoin.

Topical treatments

Prescriptions such as Retin-A change the oil component in the skin by preventing clogged pores. One warning; however: Topical treatments can cause redness and dramatically increases sun sensitivity, so sunscreen is always recommended important.

Light treatments

A physician or dermatologist might recommend light treatments other than laser, which offer different wave lengths of light as therapy for acne. Exposing specific areas of the skin to a white or blue light is thought to kill acne-causing bacteria that can clog pores. Blue light treatments are based on the fact that bacteria in the skin produces porphyrin. Porphyrin can absorb blue light, leading to a chemical reaction in the skin that destroys the bacteria. The treatments are done regularly to be effective, and are painless.


A physician or skin technician pelts the outer layer of skin with tiny particles of aluminum oxide delivered via a wand-like apparatus. It vacuums the used particles up as it goes. Microdermabrasion treatments are intended to remove the stratum corneum layer of skin, which the body interprets as a mild injury. Your body then replaces the lost skin cells with new, healthy ones. Once the stratum corneum is removed, the skin's surface is improved, and the new skin cells can better absorb any acne treatment creams. This treatment requires a series of weekly sessions over the course of several months.

Laser treatments

During this acne treatment, done by a qualified physician, pulsating light is delivered through lasers. This causes heat damage to the oil-producing glands under the skin. Acne symptoms are typically reduced by half after undergoing an average of two laser treatments. Laser can also help reduce acne scarring.

What to Expect

If it’s time to seek help from a professional to get your acne under control, schedule a consultation and evaluation with a board-certified dermatologist. Based on your acne history and symptoms, a professional will help determine the best and safest treatment plan and, ultimately, the best overall results for you.

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