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Treatment for acne

My 16 year old son has developed bad acne on both sides of his face. He has visited the doctor and been prescribed tablets and cream. We have also purchased a Lumia lamp which he uses 15 minutes a side every day. His skin does not seem to be improving after 2 months - is there any other solution or medication we could try as this is making him increasingly depressed.

16 March 2021

Thank you for contacting us with your question.

Even with treatment acne can actually take several months to clear up. We can see that your son has already been having treatment for the last two months but it would not be unreasonable for treatment to need longer than this and it is important to persist where possible. Although you do not say which creams and tablets he has been prescribed, typically the first treatment option for severe acne will consist of a combination of topical creams and antibiotic tablets.

If these do not work then a medication known as isotretinoin may be prescribed. This has a number of beneficial effects but it does also carry some side effects risks. Because of this it can only be prescribed by a specialist GP or by a dermatologist.

However the types of topical creams that can be used in the first instance for severe acne are varied and can include the following:

  • Benzyl peroxide - this should be applied sparingly to prevent it causing skin irritation. It can also increase sensitivity to sunlight so often a sun block is necessary when using this as treatment.
  • Topical retinoids - these work by exfoliating the skin fairly deeply preventing skin cells from building up within the hair follicles. Again these need to be applied sparingly and sun block is also recommended with their use.
  • Topical antibiotics - these can help kill the bacteria on the skin that can infect blocked hair follicles. Usually a course of 6-8 weeks of antibiotic cream is used and then stopped to prevent antibiotic resistance from developing.

Antibiotic tablets that are usually given alongside any topical treatments normally are from the class of tetracycline antibiotics and treatment with these can extend up to 4-6 months. Again these can render the skin sensitive to sunlight and use of sun block is usually recommended when on a course of these.

You may find it useful to read a summary of the pros and cons of treatments for acne and we are enclosing a link to this here:

Acne treatment - NHS factsheet

There are a few self-help treatments that can be used for acne, such as light therapy, which you are using, chemical peels and use of extractors for any blocked pores, but these treatments may not work and aren’t usually recommended as standalone treatments in severe cases of acne.

You can also read more about acne and its treatment here:

Acne - NHS factsheet

Bearing in mind all the above, you may need to allow a little more time to see an improvement in your sons’ acne, however, you may find it helpful to discuss your concerns about the lack of response with your GP. They may decide to alter the current treatment your son is having, which could provide a better response.

Following this if you feel any treatment being given is still not having an effect after four to six months or that your son's acne is worsening, you can always ask your GP for a referral to a dermatologist, who will be able to both assess your sons acne and instigate treatment.

We do hope you will find this information of use, best of luck,

Answered by the Health at Hand team. 

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