Use a Retinoid
For teenagers and young adults, the first line of defense against acne usually involves over-the-counter creams and gels. "For mild acne, two really effective treatments are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid," says Dr. Wechsler. But no matter what your age, the next step is often a dermatologist-prescribed retinoid, sometimes in combination with a topical or oral antibiotic.
Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, curb breakouts by unplugging pores, preventing new clogs and reducing inflammation. Topical retinoids include tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene. Since these medications may cause peeling and redness at first, doctors recommend using them every other day or every few days, then slowly working up to daily application. Topical retinoids increase sensitivity to sunlight, so be sure to load up on sunscreen [WebMD].
For severe, cystic acne, dermatologists sometimes prescribe an oral retinoid known as isotretinoin. "It is the only medication that stops the scarring many people experience with acne," Dr. Wechsler says. Since isotretinoin has been linked to numerous side effects, including serious birth defects, it's typically recommended only after other treatments prove ineffective. Pregnant women and women who may conceive cannot take isotretinoin, and even topical retinoids should be avoided during pregnancy [Mayo Clinic].
An added benefit of using a retinoid? These medications also treat and prevent wrinkles. For adult acne sufferers, this means killing two birds with one stone.