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Drugs & Chemicals that Cause Acne

Certain drugs go beyond aggravating acne and are actually the cause of acne in skin that wouldn't otherwise be vulnerable. Always consult your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed medications. For personalized advice from one of our skincare specialists, please check out our online consultation program.

Recreational Drugs

  • Marijuana - aggravates acne by lowering and raising testosterone levels, producing an imbalance in hormones.
  • Cocaine and Speed - aggravate acne.
  • Bromides – in cold and flu medications, can aggravate acne.
  • Steroids -Topical or oral corticosteroids (like Prednisone) are often used to treat asthma and other chronic lung diseases. Like cortisol, a natural steroid produced by the body during times of intense stress, corticosteroids can stimulate sebum production and lead to blemishes. Dexamethasone, prednisolone, betamethasone, cortisone, hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, anabolic steroids [danocrine (Danazol), stanozolol (Stomba)], corticosteroids (Prednisone), and methylprednisone can cause acne.

Prescription Drugs

  • Anticonvulsants - (like Dilantin) are prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy and other kinds of seizures. Most medications in this family list acne as a common side effect.
  • Lithium Carbonate – used to treat Bipolar Disorder.
  • Thyroid preparations – Some thyroid medications (such as Thiourea and Thiouracil) are known to trigger acne. These preparations are used to stimulate the thyroid gland in patients with low thyroid function. 
  • Quinine – prevents and/or treats malaria.
  • INH (Isoniazid) – used to treat tuberculosis (TB).
  • Immuran – used to suppress the immune system in patients awaiting an organ transplant.
  • Danazol – (Danocrine) hormone management.
  • Hormonal medications - progesterone, androstenedione, testosterone, or contraceptive agents (like Provera or Depo-Provera) and older oral contraceptives. Newer birth control pills, such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Estrostep, can actually improve acne.
  • Gonadotrophin - may be prescribed in certain pituitary disorders and can indirectly induce acne by stimulating testosterone production.
  • Cyclosporin – this is for post-transplant patients who must take it to prevent organ rejection.
  • Medications containing iodine or bromine - These medications are much less common today than in earlier years, but some are still in use. In the United States today, it is probably more likely to see acne-like outbreaks resulting from heavy consumption of iodine-containing health foods such as kelp. Iodine-caused lesions can occur at any age. They occur rapidly after the consumption of large amounts of iodine and are likely to be widespread on the face and body. Inflammatory pustules are common.
  • Disulfiram (or Antabuse) – prescribed to help chronic alcoholic patients who want to remain sober.
  • Phentermine – a drug used for weight loss and appetite suppression.
  • ADD or ADHD drugs have been found to make acne worse.

Common Drugs involved in acneiform eruptions:
Steroids (topical-systemic)
Testosterone (Bodybuilding acne)
Biotin (vitamin B7) and B12
Antidepressants (lithium-amineptine) 2-4
Antiepileptics (mood stabilizer) valproic acid 5
Isonicotinic acid
Phenol Barbiturates
Thyroid preparation
Azathioprine 6
Halogens (bromides-iodides)
Inhibitors of EFGR (Tarceva) 7
Algae, Carrageenan, Chlorella, Seaweed, Spirulina, Kelp, Agar (diet “exotic” products, tablets)
Lugol’s solution
Drugs for asthma and colds


Various chemicals are potent and when in contact with the skin, aggravate acne.

  • Coal tars - a roofer comes into contact with tar.
  • Grease - both auto mechanics and cooks come into frequent contact with grease.
  • Chlorinated industrial chemicals - may induce an occupational skin disorder known as chloracne.
  • Dioxin - a chemical found in herbicides which may cause cancer and other harmful side effects.



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