Moderate Acne

Moderate Acne

What is moderate acne?

Moderate acne is commonly defined by many comedones and/or many papules/pustules, but no more than one nodular lesion. So what does this mean?

Comedones: Small white or dark bumps on your skin (whiteheads or blackheads).
Papules/Pustules: Pustules are pimples with some redness or swelling. If there is a white pus inside, you are probably looking at a papule.
Nodular lesion: Deep and painful pimples that are typically red or purple in color.

Find out if you have moderate acne:

Read the following descriptions to see if they relate to you:

  • I have a lot of small white or dark bumps on my skin.
  • Most of my pimples are red in color and some are filled with a white pus.
  • I have no more than one deep and painful pimple that is red or purple in color.
  • I have tried over-the-counter products, but none of them were very effective.

If any of these describe your skin, you probably have a moderate case of acne. If these don’t resinate with you, you may have a more mild case, or possibly more severe. If you are unsure, you may want to consult a dermatologist to get a professional diagnosis from someone who knows exactly what to look for. A dermatologist will also give you the most effective treatments, which are only available through a doctor.

How to treat moderate acne?

As recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, moderate acne should be treated with a combination of prescription topical retinoids and an antimicrobial. Effective topical antimicrobials include benzoyl peroxide (available as prescription or over-the-counter) and topical antibiotics (only available with a prescription). While moderate acne will almost always require a prescription medication from a dermatologist, you may want to try an over-the-counter (OTC) product while you wait for your appointment.

Prescription Medications for Moderate Acne:

Topical retinoids (like Retin-A, Differin, or Tazorac) are the most important medications for reducing acne. They are extremely effective in unclogging your pores, allowing the trapped sebum and bacteria to flow out of your skin, and allowing the anti-microbials to reduce the acne-causing bacteria inside. To start clearing your skin, visit a dermatologist and get your prescription right away.

Topical Antibiotics (like clindamycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline) are antimicrobials, which are essential in combating moderate acne. After using the topical retinoids to unclog your pores, the antibiotics will flow in and kill the bacteria that has been building up and causing those inflamed pimples. You might be able to substitute the antibiotics with benzoyl peroxide, but you should consult with your dermatologist before making the switch.

Over-the-counter Products for Moderate Acne:

Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO) is the most effective over-the-counter product on the market. It’s a topical treatment that comes in the form of a gel, a wash, or a lotion. It helps fight acne by (1) promoting the shedding of your skin to unclog your pores, and (2) killing the acne-causing bacteria that is trapped inside of your pores. Click here to find the most effective over-the-counter acne washes. Even though BPO is the most effective treatment that you can buy without a a prescription, it is usually only effective for mild acne. Click here to consult with a dermatologist and get the most effective treatments for your skin.


  1. Thiboutot, Diane et al,. “New Insights into the Management of Acne: An Update from the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne Group.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 60.5 (2009): S1-S50.
  2. Strauss, J. “Guidelines of Care for Acne Vulgaris Management.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 56.4 (2007): 651-63.
  3. Fkhouri, Tarek. “Advancement in Benzoyl Peroxide-Based Acne Treatment: Methods to Increase Both Efficacy and Tolerability.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology 8.7 (2009): 657-61.
  4. “Acne Vulgaris: Developing Drugs for Treatment.” Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). (Sept. 2005) Web.


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