Topical treatment for acne

Author: Hon Assoc Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2009.

Topical treatment for acne is available as washes, solutions, lotions, gels and creams. They may have a single or multiple active ingredients. There are numerous products available in supermarkets and pharmacies. Some require a doctor's prescription.

Active ingredients may have one or more of the following properties:

  • Antibiotics and antiseptics to reduce counts of Cutibacterium acnes bacteria
  • Anti-inflammatory effects to calm red, inflamed skin by inhibiting lipase production by P.acnes
  • Anti-oxidants to protect cells from damage by free radicals
  • Comedolytics to unplug blocked follicles (comedones)
  • Keratolytics to peel off surface scale (exfoliants)
  • Agents that affect keratinisation, i.e., that normalise skin cell maturation
adapalene topical retinoid: keratolytic
alpha hydroxy acid (fruit acids) keratolytic
azelaic acid antiseptic, keratolytic
bentonite clay used to absorb excess sebum
benzoyl peroxide antiseptic, keratolytic
cetrimide antiseptic
chlorhexidine antiseptic
clindamycin antibiotic
erythromycin antibiotic
green tea anti-inflammatory
hydrogen peroxide antiseptic
immune defense proteins antibacterial, anti-inflammatory
hydrogen peroxide antiseptic
isotretinoin retinoid
methyl salicylate keratolytic, anti-inflammatory
nicotinamide reduces sebum, anti-inflammatory
retinol retinoid
resorcinol antiseptic, keratolytic
retinoid retinoids affect keratinisation and are keratolytic
salicylic acid comedolytic, keratolytic and anti-inflammatory
sulfacetamide antiseptic
sulfur antiseptic, keratolytic
tea tree oil antiseptic
tezarotene topical retinoid
tretinoin topical retinoid
triclosan antiseptic
vitamin a alternative name for retinol
zinc anti-inflammatory


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New Zealand approved datasheets are the official source of information for medicines, including approved uses and risk information. Check the individual New Zealand datasheet on the Medsafe website.