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Acne Prevention

Acne prevention can be pursued in many ways.

Keeping the skin clean and free of oils is essential for acne prevention. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Keeping the skin clean and free of oils is essential for acne prevention.

Acne Prevention

Acne prevention is an important step in the fight against breakouts. Once a pimple appears, it is too late to treat the cause of the blemish, and in severe cases, a permanent scar could be the result. Acne is caused by an overproduction of oil, irregular shedding of dead skin cells and the presence of bacteria which then cause inflammation. An effective acne prevention regime allows inflamed, broken out skin to heal and eliminates future breakouts.

Salicylic and Azelaic Acids

Salicylic acid is offered in both over-the-counter preventative treatments and as a prescription. It's most effective on the non-inflammatory acne conditions, such as whiteheads, blackheads and papules. The medication works by regulating abnormal shedding of dead skin cells and unplugging hair follicles. Salicylic acid is available in lotions, soaps, creams, pads, gels, toners, astringents, foams and similar solutions. This medication must be used continuously to be effective. Patients with sensitive skin may experience dryness or peeling.

Azelaic acid is available by prescription. Its antimicrobial properties effectively prevent both non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne by decreasing bacteria, reducing inflammation and slowing the abnormal shedding of dead skin cells. It's available in cream and gel forms. According to the Mayo Clinic, acne symptoms might clear quickly with the use of azelaic acid, but return with more severity if the medication isnt used for the entire length of the prescription.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide must be used continuously in order to clear the skin from acne. Benzoyl peroxide prevents acne by reducing the presence of the acne-causing bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, which can lead to inflamed pimples. The medication also prevents whiteheads and blackheads by removing dead cells from the skins surface.

Benzoyl peroxide was one of the first advancements in mild acne prevention, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and has been used in over-the-counter lotions, cleansers, creams and gels for decades. Higher strengths of benzoyl peroxide can be prescribed by a doctor and has even been shown to increase the effectiveness of some antibiotics. The most common side effect is excessively dry skin. Caution should be used after applying benzoyl peroxide because fabric can bleach and discolor if it comes in contact with residue on the hands or face.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids are prescribed treatments that prevent the formation of whiteheads and blackheads. Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are also effective at treating other skin disorders, such as premature aging and psoriasis. Topical retinoids, such as are adapalene, tazarotene and tretinoin, may cause skin irritation. Propionibacterium acnes can eventually become resistant to the prescribed medication, and the patient may need to be placed on a different antibiotic or treatment regime.

Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics are used as a preventative treatment to clear moderate to severe acne by killing Propionibacterium acnes. Common antibiotics prescribed to prevent inflammatory acne lesions include tetracycline, minocycline, doxycycline and erythromycin.

Tetracycline and its derivatives, minocycline and doxycycline, are typically prescribed at a starting dose of 500 to 1,000 mg a day for moderate to severe acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Very severe cases may require a higher dosage. As the patient shows improvement, the doses are lowered. Tetracycline should be prescribed only to patients older than 8 years old. It's not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women because it can affect growth in fetuses and young children. Stained teeth are a common side effect of tetracycline. Erythromycin fights a broad spectrum of bacteria, including the cause of acne. The most common side effect is gastric irritation.

Topical Antibiotics

Like oral antibiotics, topical antibiotics work by reducing or inhibiting Propionibacterium acnes. The topical antibiotic sodium sulfacetamide also unclogs hair follicles. Erythromycin is also available in topical form and is extremely effective when used with benzoyl peroxide. Clindamycin is a semi-synthetic antibiotic that decreases inflammation. Dryness and skin irritation are common side effects of topical antibiotics.


Isotretinoin prevents acne by treating all four causes of the disorder. The prescribed retinoid comes in a pill form and prevents inflammation, clogged hair follicles and the production of excess oil, as well as decreases Propionibacterium acnes. Isotretinoin is mostly prescribed for severe nodular acne or after all other treatment options have been exhausted, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Isotretonoin can cause serious side effects including birth defects and mental health problems, such as depression, psychosis and suicide. Women are required to take two pregnancy tests and begin two forms of contraceptives at least one month prior to beginning treatment. Women cannot get pregnant within one month of stopping treatment. Physical side effects are bothersome and include severely dry skin, especially on the hands and lips.

Isotretinoin is prescribed only in 30-day supplies. Patients are required to attend a follow-up appointment with their doctor to receive another 30-day supply. The medication is typically taken for 16 to 20 weeks; however, monthly blood tests are required as a precautionary measure against certain side effects.

Preventative Skin Care

Although acne is not caused by dirt or poor hygiene, basic preventative skin care can prevent new breakouts. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following tips:

  • Shower after exercising to prevent oil and sweat from trapping bacteria on the skin
  • Avoid tight clothing which can irritate the skin by causing friction and trapping heat and moisture
  • Wash off makeup before bed to prevent clogged pores
  • Clean makeup brushes and applicators frequently
  • Wear powder cosmetics rather than cream
  • Limit washing acne-prone skin to no more than twice a day


Check with a dermatologist before combining treatments or discontinuing a recommended treatment. Between over-the-counter and prescribed treatments there should be a solution to decrease the unsightly appearance of acne.

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