The Independent Pharmacy

Acne Treatment For Men: How to Read The Symptoms & Find Solutions

Donald Grant
Dr Donald GrantMB ChB DRCOG MRCGP Dip.orth.medGP & Clinical Advisor

Reviewed on 7 Feb 2024

Everyone gets spots from time to time. It’s annoying, certainly, but it’s fairly minor: it’s ultimately just a matter of waiting until they clear up. Acne is different. It lingers and may even get worse if you try to ignore it. Some people suffer from acne their entire lives.

When people think of acne sufferers, though, they typically think of women. There are three big reasons for this. Firstly, acne is moderately more common in women than men, owing largely to the relative severity of their hormonal fluctuations. Secondly, the beauty industry for women is much larger, making relevant skincare products easier to promote and sell.

Thirdly, there’s a stubborn stigma surrounding men seeking treatment for issues that aren’t life-threatening. This stigma has lessened somewhat over time, but it remains the case that men often don’t know how to go about understanding or treating their adult acne.

In this guide, we’ll provide some relevant information, going over the basics of acne (sebum and dead skin cells) and noting the types of acne treatment that are recommended for men suffering from anything from mild acne to severe acne. Let’s get started.

Acnecide Gel
Acnecide Gel
View Treatment

What is acne, and what causes it?

Put simply, acne is a skin condition that causes sufferers to develop oily and sensitive skin and break out in patches of spots that cause discomfort, pain, and itching. The spots can vary significantly in look and feel, and each type of spot may require a distinct course of treatment.

Acne is most commonly experienced by teenagers and young adults, with approximately 80% of 11-30 year olds suffering from acne at some stage. Men are most likely to deal with it between ages 16 and 19. It isn’t only young people who encounter it, though. Adults can suffer from it too: per the NHS, around 3% of adults over 35 suffer from flare-ups.

So what about the causes of acne? The direct cause is generally straightforward: oily skin leads to clogged pores and hair follicles, with the excess oil combining with dead skin cells to produce damaging blockages. All the oil (or sebum) and dead skin trapped under the healthy skin leads to thick layers of skin building up and spots breaking through.

As for the ultimate cause, while we still don’t understand it completely, we know that acne is most often prompted by changes in hormone levels. This is why it’s so common in teenagers and young adults. There’s also a clear genetic component: if your parents suffer (or have suffered) from adult acne, there’s a decent chance you have acne-prone skin. Furthermore, general cleanliness plays a role: acne-causing bacteria can cause huge problems if allowed to flourish.

What does acne look like?

While adult acne always produces reddened skin and discomfort, the spots that result come in six different core types. They are as follows:

  • Blackheads: named for the pigmentation produced by the inner lining of hair follicles, these are small black or yellow spots.
  • Cysts: these are large, pus-filled spots that appear the same as boils. They are the most extreme example of acne and have the highest risk of permanent scarring.
  • Nodules: these are large lumps that build up under the surface of your skin. They are hard and potentially painful.
  • Papules: little red lumps which are sore and tender.
  • Pustules: like papules, but with white pus-filled tips in the middle.
  • Whiteheads: like blackheads, but firmer and with a white, rather than black, colouration.

Which acne treatments are suitable for men?

If you’re a man suffering from acne, the good news is that there are great acne treatments available to you — even if it’s moderate or severe acne. Some are over-the-counter options you can order right away, while others are stronger and require prescriptions. Regardless, you can get what you need from The Independent Pharmacy. But how can you know what you need?

One thing to keep in mind is that not all acne treatments are considered suitable for most men. Some acne spot treatments taken orally can work through regulating hormone levels, which is why a conventional birth-control pill can treat acne quite effectively. Since those treatments can easily cause problems if taken by men (even making severe acne worse), it’s best to stick to topical treatments (perhaps including corticosteroids) or courses of oral antibiotics.

How can a man choose the right acne treatment?

For a man suffering from adult acne, the first thing to consider is how bad his acne breakouts are. For the purpose of finding the right acne spot treatment, the level of severity of acne can be broken down into the following 4 treatment categories:

  • Minimal
  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

If you have adult acne which is minimal to mild then the following treatments are suitable:

Each of these medications must be used for at least 6-8 weeks to be effective, with a full course of treatment lasting for up to 6 months.

If you have blackheads or whiteheads that aren’t inflamed, you may be better served by seeking a prescription for one of the following treatments:

If you have spots that are inflamed, or you have papules, the following treatments are viable:

If you’re dealing with moderate adult acne (meaning you have over 30 spots), you’ll need to take oral antibiotics. The following products are among the best acne treatments for men in this situation (check out our piece on tetralysal uses to learn more):

If you’re suffering from severe adult acne (meaning you have scarring, cysts, or over 125 spots), it’s advisable to seek a face-to-face consultation. After reviewing your symptoms, they should be able to refer you to a specialist who can guide you through your treatment options.

Acne doesn’t just affect your skin. It can also damage your self-confidence, leaving you insecure and awkward. And since men are less likely than women to seek treatment when dealing with acne, it can become a massive problem. If you’re a man dealing with acne, don’t settle for ignoring it: seek professional medical advice and find a course of acne treatment that’s right for you.

Related Guides

Need something else?

We stock 1045 treatments for 90 conditions

Or browse all treatments or conditions

A customer at the pharmacist looking for medication