Acne can affect people of all ages -- from newborns to adults. Left untreated, it can cause dark spots and scarring and lead to depression and low self-esteem.

Duke dermatologists use the latest therapies to treat all types of acne -- from mild and persistent whiteheads and blackheads to severe cysts and nodules. We evaluate your condition, determine the most effective treatments, and work with you to prevent future outbreaks. We also offer a variety of procedures that improve your skin’s appearance and reduce scarring. We help you look and feel your best.

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Acne Treatments

Topical Treatments

These kill bacteria on your skin and/or reduce oil buildup. Topical treatments may include a retinoid, which helps the skin slough off dead cells that clog pores; prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics, which kill bacteria and reduce inflammation; and salicylic acid, which reduces swelling and redness and unclogs pores.

Systemic Treatments

Severe, inflamed acne may be treated with oral antibiotics that kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. Birth control pills and other hormonal treatments may also be prescribed for women who have acne flare-ups timed to their menstrual cycles.


This oral retinoid medication, derived from vitamin A, works by unclogging pores and shrinking oil glands. It is typically prescribed for severe acne when other medications have failed. Your doctor will monitor you closely while you take this drug, which is sold under brand names such as Accutane, Absorbica, Claravis, Myorisan, and Zenatane.

Lasers and Light Therapies

Medicines activated by light or lasers kill bacteria in acne, as well as skin cells. These therapies treat acne and reduce acne scarring.

Chemical Peels

Chemicals damage the top layer of skin to remove blackheads and solid, raised bumps (papules). Your appearance improves over a series of days or weeks, as a result of the skin’s natural healing process. Chemical peels are often used in combination with other cosmetic therapies.

Acne Removal

Large acne cysts may be removed during a procedure called drainage and extraction. This is typically performed when the cyst does not respond to medication. Acne removal can ease pain caused by the cyst and reduce your chance of scarring.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Diagnosing Acne


Your doctor will examine your skin to determine the type of acne you have and grade it from mild to severe. Your doctor will also ask a series of questions to identify potential triggers of your acne, and whether it stems from an underlying medical condition, medication side effects, or other causes.

Why Choose Duke

Effective Therapies for All Ages
Our dermatologists are skilled at diagnosing and treating acne in children, teens, and adults. We offer the most effective therapies available to treat mild to severe cases of acne. We also work closely with you to identify the sources that trigger your acne to help you prevent future outbreaks.

Experts at Helping You Look Your Best
In addition to dermatologists, our team includes medical aestheticians and facial plastic surgeons who offer other treatments for acne at different stages, including acne scarring. These include product recommendations and facials, as well as acne surgery. Our medical aestheticians do not receive any commission for the products they recommend; their recommendations are based solely on your skin care needs.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 08/04/2022 by