Which Acne Medications Cause Sun Sensitivity?

Updated June 30, 2014.

Question: Which Acne Medications Cause Sun Sensitivity?

Can acne treatments make my skin more sensitive to the sun? Which ones? And what should I do if I’m currently using these medications?


Yes, certain acne medications can absolutely make your skin more susceptible to the sun. Photosensitivity, or sun sensitivity, can be caused by a variety of different medications. Some of the worst offenders


When using these medications, you’ll be more susceptible to sun burn and sun damage.

Certain treatment procedures can also increase sun sensitivity. This includes microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and some laser treatments.

Protecting your skin from the sun’s rays is always important, but it becomes even more so when your acne treatments cause photosensitivity. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every single day. Choose a brand that is labeled oil-free and noncomdogenic or non-acnegenic, so it won’t trigger more breakouts. Apply your medications first, and wait for 20 minutes or so to allow the treatment to dry completely. You can then apply your sunscreen over the top.

The sun also increases your risk of skin cancer and

causes premature aging, so using sunscreen every day is a skin-healthy habit even if you don’t have acne.

As much as possible try to stay out of the sun, especially during midday when the sun’s rays are at their fiercest. If you’re going to be spending the day outdoors at the park or by the lake, you’ll probably want to wear a wide brimmed hat (at least 4 inches wide) as well as your sunscreen.

And tanning beds and booths are off-limits too. Contrary to what the nice lady at the tanning salon will tell you, tanning beds are just as damaging as the sun.

Don't Pick at Acne! (But If You Do, Here's How…

Updated December 04, 2014.

Excoriated Acne:

Most people have, at some point or another, given in to the temptation to pick at a blemish. But for some, the picking goes on to the point where skin tissue is damaged, sometimes severely.

Excoriated acne occurs when pimples have been scratched, or picked, to the point of wounding the skin. The picker is unable to stop him/herself from picking. Although anyone can develop excoriated

acne, it tends to occur more frequently in women.

Excoriated Acne is Caused By:

Excoriated acne is quite literally caused by picking, squeezing, or scratching at blemishes. Sometimes, excoriated acne begins as a common case of acne vulgaris. Other times, the sufferer picks at imagined blemishes, or miniscule comedones that are barely visible.

Those with excoriated acne have a compulsive desire to pick at the skin. They may spend hours in front of a mirror, picking at their blemishes. The constant squeezing and picking can cause open sores. When these sores scab up, they lend themselves to more picking. It becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

Excoriated Acne Looks Like:

Depending on how severely the sufferer has picked at the skin, excoriated acne may look like angry red bumps or scratches, to open red sores, crusting and scabs.

At the very least, the constant squeezing makes blemishes more inflamed. At worst, picking at the skin can cause open wounds. These wounds can become quite

large and deep, as the sufferer continues to pick at the sore.

Excoriated acne is often accompanied by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Where the skin has been picked to the point of permanently damaging the tissue, scarring can occur.

How Excoriated Acne Is Treated:

Acne breakouts that do occur can be treated with an over-the-counter product or prescription medication. Antibiotics may be needed if the lesions are infected. But these treatments won’t combat the most significant source of concern: the constant picking at the skin.

People with excoriated acne sincerely wish they could stop picking at their skin. Sometimes, a dermatologist may be able to help by explaining the importance of a “hands-off” policy. But often it isn’t a matter of willpower. This form of acne may also be accompanied by anxiety disorders, ADHD, depression, or other mood disorders.

Treatment for excoriated acne is tailored to the individual. In addition to acne medications, those with excoriated acne may benefit from psychological counseling, drug therapies (for those with underlying mood disorders), or substitution therapies. Another helpful step is getting rid of that magnifying mirror!

If you have the compulsive desire to pick at your skin, you need to talk with your dermatologist or family practitioner. Don’t be embarrassed. This is a recognized medical condition. There are many people just like you who have overcome excoriated acne. With help, you can too.


“Excoriated Acne.” AcneNet. 2008. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 24 Oct 2008.

Gupta M, Gupta AK, Schork NJ. “Psychosomatic Study of Self-Excoriative Behavior Among Male Acne Patients: Preliminary Observations.” International Journal of Dermatology, 2007; 33(12): 846-848.

Create the Perfect Blemish-Busting Skin Care…

Photo copyright Sean Justice / Getty Images - Photo copyright Sean Justice / Getty Images

You can create an acne skin care routine with whatever brand products you choose.  Photo copyright Sean Justice / Getty Images

Updated April 01, 2015.

A good acne skin care is so important for blemish-prone skin. A daily skin care regimen helps remove excess oil, keeps pores clear, and speeds healing of breakouts.

But, your daily acne skin care routine doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Follow the guidelines below to help keep your skin feeling refreshed and clean.

The best part? No need to buy expensive products. Use what you have in your bathroom

right now.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Ten minutes, twice a day.

Here’s How:

  1. Cleanse twice daily with a mild cleanser. Using only your fingertips or a soft washcloth (no rough scrubbing pads, please) thoroughly cleanse the face, including your jaw line, neck, and in front of and behind the ears. Use a gentle foaming cleanser, such as Dove or Neutrogena or, if you have inflamed breakouts, choose a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide. Do a double-wash at every cleansing: Cleanse, rinse well, and repeat.

  2. Use a toner or astringent. Apply toner to a cotton ball or pad and gently smooth over the face and neck to remove any leftover makeup or cleanser residue, and excess oil. Choose an alcohol-free toner if your skin seems overly dry. Alcohol can be drying and irritating for some people, especially to skin that is already irritated by breakout activity.

  3. Apply any acne medications or creams, if needed. After your toner has dried completely, smooth on your treatment creams as directed. This could be a medication prescribed by your doctor, or an over-the-counter acne gel or cream. Let the medication absorb or dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

  1. Apply an oil-free moisturizer or gel. It may seem counterintuitive to moisturize your already oily skin, but don’t skip this important step. Many acne medications over-dry the skin, leaving the skin thirsty for moisture. To reduce the chance of dry and peeling skin, apply a light moisturizer twice daily. Moisturizing gels and lotions are generally lighter than creams. Either way, choose one that is labeled oil-free and noncomedogenic.


  1. If toners or astringents seem to over-dry your skin, don’t use them. You aren’t going to harm your skin by not using a toner.
  2. Always let the skin dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

What You Need:

  • A gentle cleanser
  • Toner or astringent
  • Cotton balls or cotton pads
  • Topical acne medications or creams
  • Moisturizing lotion or gel

Acne Treatment Tips for Brown Skin

3.  See an Experienced Professional

Make an appointment as soon as you notice breakouts, even if they are relatively mild. Don’t delay or you’ll risk developing pigmentation problems. Your dermatologist can tell you if you’re experiencing common acne, rosacea, or another skin disorder, and get you on a treatment routine that will work for your skin type.

One survey has shown that dermatologists need more training treating diseases in skin of color. So be sure to ask if your doctor has experience treating people with darker complexions.

And if you are thinking about going to a salon for facial treatments, make sure your skin therapist knows the ins and outs of treating brown skin: Don’t be afraid to ask.

How to Choose the Right Dermatologist

What's the Difference Between Retin-A and…

Updated April 01, 2015.

Question: What is the difference between Retin-A and tretinoin?

I’ve heard good things about Retin-A, so I asked my dermatologist and she said it could help my acne. But when I picked up my prescription it was for tretinoin, not Retin-A.

What’s the difference between Retin-A and tretinoin? Did I get the wrong acne medication?


Not to worry, you’ve got the medication you’re supposed to have. Retin-A

is a brand name for the drug tretinoin. (Yes, even medications have brand names.)

Retin-A has become the most popular term used when referring to topical tretinoin treatments. But many companies manufacture topical tretinoin. Some offer tretinoin treatments under brand names that you’ve probably heard before: Retin-A Micro, Avita, and Renova. Generic tretinoin is also available, which is the medication that you have.

And don’t think that generic medications are of lower quality, or that they won’t work as well. Generic tretinoin will give you the same type of results as brand name Retin-A. All tretinoin products work in the same way, by speeding cell turnover rates and keeping pores free from blockages, or comedones.

Next Steps:
Is There a Difference Between Name Brand and Generic Medications?
Everything You Need to Know About Retin-A (Tretinoin)
What To Expect from Tretinoin Treatments: A Week-by-Week Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Cleansing…

How Often Should I Cleanse?

Cleansing too often isn’t going to help the skin. The skin needs some natural oil to be healthy (yes, oil can be a good thing). Cleansing too often can strip the skin of its natural oil, leading to over-dryness and irritation.

Generally, a twice-daily cleansing is enough to remove dirt, excess oil, and makeup without stripping the skin. If you’ve been exercising, are sweaty or especially dirty (like, after working in the yard) you can throw an extra cleanse in there for good measure.

And make sure you always wash your face before bed to cleanse away the grime and oil from the day, and leave your skin ready for those topical acne medications.


“Acne.” AcneNet. 2007. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed March 31 2008.

Gerson, Joel; Ph.D.. Standard Textbook for Professional Estheticians. 8th edition. Albany, NY: Milady Publishing, 1999.

United States. NIAMS. Questions and Answers About Acne. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.

More »

4 Topical Prescription Acne Treatments

Updated December 16, 2014.

It would be great if acne could always be taken care of with over-the-counter products. But, as you may well have experienced, that’s not always the case.

More than likely, to get some real results you’ll need to turn to your physician for a prescription acne treatment. The good news is, there are plenty of topical medications that are super effective in treating acne.

So, if OTC acne products just

aren’t helping, it’s time to move on to the prescription options. (Not sure if you’re ready for a prescription acne medication? This article: Do I Need a Prescription Treatment? will help you decide.)

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a prescription cream or gel for mild to moderate acne. It is believed that azelaic acid works by reducing Propionibacteria acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne breakouts. It also helps normalize shedding of dead skin cells, and decreases inflammation. Azelaic acid has the added benefit of improving post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the discoloration left after an acne lesion has healed.

Azelaic acid is sold under the brand names:

Topical Retinoids

Retinoids are popular and effective acne treatments, derived from synthetic vitamin A. Topical retinoids rapidly exfoliate the skin, thereby keeping pores unclogged and preventing comedones. Retinoids adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin are prescribed for those with moderate to severe acne.


especially tretinoin, have other advantages. It is often used to reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles, making it a popular treatment choice for adult onset acne sufferers.

Some common topical retinoids include:

Topical Antibiotics

Topical antibiotics improve acne by inhibiting the growth of bacteria. They may also help reduce inflammation and decrease the amount of blocked pores, depending on the form used. Topical antibiotics are most often prescribed to treat moderate to severe acne.

Common topical antibiotics used to treat acne include:

Topical Combination Therapy

Topical combination therapy, as the name suggests, include medications which contain combinations of topical antibiotics with other acne-fighting ingredients. The benefits of these medications include the ability to kill acne-causing bacteria, normalize the shedding of dead skin cells, keep pores clear, and reduce the number of comedones. An important feature of topical combination therapy is the fact that less antibiotic is often needed to kill bacteria compared to using topical antibiotics alone.

Topical combination therapy medications include:


Rosacea - Photo © A.D.A.M.

Rosacea.  Photo © A.D.A.M.

Updated January 01, 2014.


A skin condition which causes redness or flushing of the face, visible capillaries, and acne-like papules. Rosacea affects the cheeks, chin, nose, forehead, and sometimes the eyelids.

If the condition progresses, redness increases, the skin becomes more coarse and bumpy, and the nose may become larger. For some, rosacea also causes red, gritty-feeling eyes.

Rosacea is sometimes mistaken

for adult acne, but it is not acne vulgaris. Rosacea is most common in people with fair skin, and usually appears after age 30. Women are more prone to rosacea, but men tend to have more severe forms.

No one knows for sure exactly what causes rosacea. Although there is no cure for rosacea, it can be successfully controlled with help from your dermatologist. Treatment may include oral or antibiotics, metronidazole, sulfacetamide, and/or retinoids.

Also Known As: acne rosacea

What Tretinoin Can Do for Acne

Updated June 16, 2014.


A topical retinoid used to treat mild to moderate acne. A form of vitamin A, tretinoin rapidly exfoliates the skin, keeping pores clear of cellular debris and preventing the formation of comedones. It is available by prescription.

Tretinoin is also used to improve the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

Side effects of tretinoin include:

  • dryness, peeling, and flaking of the skin
  • redness
  • mild stinging, burning or itching
  • photosensitivity

Tretinoin is the active ingredient found in the branded drugs Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Ziana, among others.

Also Known As: Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova, Avita, Altinac

Your Complete Guide to Retin-A Acne Medication

Updated December 29, 2014.

What Is Retin-A?

Retin-A (tretinoin) is a topical retinoid commonly used to treat acne. It is applied to all areas affected by breakouts and helps reduce the formation of pore blockages.

Other tretinoin medications work similarly to Retin-A and are sold under the brand names Retin-A Micro, Avita, Renova. Generic tretinoin is also available.

What Are the Side Effects of Retin-A?

Retin-A has been used safely by many people. Of course, like any medication, it can cause side effects. Dryness, redness, skin irritation and peeling are the most common.


can also cause sun sensitivity, which means you’ll need to wear sunscreen every day.

What Else Is Retin-A Used For?

Retin-A isn’t only used as an acne treatment. Tretinoin medications are also used quite often as an anti-aging treatment. People with adult acne often love tretinoin because of this added benefit.

Another nice feature of tretinoin treatment is that it can help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If pimples often leave dark discolorations on your skin, even after they have healed, Retin-A may be able to help fade these marks.

Who Should Not Use Retin-A?

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Retin-A, unless otherwise advised by a doctor.

Those with eczema might want to forgo this medication, too. Applying Retin-A over eczema-affected skin can cause severe irritation.

There may be other instances in which Retin-A is not advisable. In that case, your dermatologist can offer other treatment options that

will be a better fit for you.

Help! Retin-A is Making Me Peel!

Most people who use Retin-A will experience dryness and peeling to some extent. But with a little extra care on your part, you can limit irritation and reduce discomfort.

Make sure you are using your medication as directed (more is not better!) Use gentle, non-medicated cleansers. A moisturizer will go a long way in soothing tight, dry skin too.

How Long Will It Take to See Results?

Like any acne medication, Retin-A takes time to work. Waiting for improvement is hard, but it can take six weeks (or longer) to see a noticeable difference. Your skin may actually seem to get worse for a period of time.

After your skin has cleared up, you will probably have to continue to use your Retin-A treatment — although less frequently — to keep breakouts from returning.

How Can I Get Retin-A?

You’ll need a prescription from your doctor to get Retin-A. During your appointment, your doctor will explain more about how Retin-A works, its side effects and how to use the medication correctly.

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