Ask Your Pharmacist

April 26, 2019

My son graduates from high school this year and would like to have his acne under control for prom. What do you suggest we try?


There are many times in our lives that we want to look our best. Weddings, family reunions, graduations, and prom are special occasions that we like to preserve in time with photos, and looking our best often feels important. Prom is different from the others because during adolescence, our hormones are changing, and acne can be a bothersome side effect.  With severe acne (or with picking) scarring can occur leaving long-term blemishes. Although prom is almost two months away, your timing is perfect, as treatment may take six weeks or longer to resolve your acne, depending on the person. It is important to note that treatment can bring pimples we can’t see to surface, making acne worse before it gets better. Results take time and proper use of treatments. Using a perfume-free moisturizer and sunscreen are highly recommended when using any acne treatment to minimize dry skin and irritation. A wide variety of products are available to treat acne, and they are tailored to how severe the acne is, so I would get started today to give your son the most time to find a product that works for him.

Acne happens when the pores that provide oil to our skin become blocked. When pores are blocked, the oil can’t escape and is used as food for bacteria that gets trapped inside. As the trapped bacteria (p.acnes) breaks down oil for food, it creates puss that makes a more desirable space for the bacteria to live. The treatments available are based on breaking up skin layers that block the pore opening and killing the bacteria inside the pore (sebum gland). This is available in some over-the-counter products containing benzyl peroxide (not to be confused with hydrogen peroxide used for cuts). Benzyl peroxide both breaks down dead skin layers that block pores and has antibiotic properties which makes it a good ingredient to look for when selecting an over-the-counter acne product for mild acne. For moderate acne, sometimes over-the-counter treatments aren’t successful. Other products containing antibiotics (Clindoxyl, Benzamycin) and vitamin A derivative (Retin-A, Differin) are the next treatment steps. If you think your acne falls into the mild to moderate category, speak with your pharmacist for a minor ailment assessment to recommend (or prescribe if appropriate) the best treatment for you. For severe cases of acne, oral antibiotics (Minocycline) or oral vitamin A derivatives (Accutane, Clarus) are available through your family doctor or dermatologist. Accutane is a drug that has several potential side effects, but with the right precautions and monitoring can be used effectively for severe or nodular (cystic) acne.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the causes of acne. Greasy foods and chocolate have long been suspected causes, but evidence suggests this is unlikely. However, high carbohydrate and sugar intake may be linked. Androgen hormones (like testosterone) are higher during puberty and adolescence as we grow and that can lead to clogged pores that end up as acne pimples. Birth control is often used in females as this provides hormones that help block the release of androgens.

No matter whether you are looking for over-the-counter products to prevent occasional pimples or seeking advice regarding more severe treatment, your local pharmacist can help steer you in right direction, prescribe products when appropriate and help use these products effectively with the least amount of side effects. Talk to your local pharmacist today.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy in Hampton and St. Stephen. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to