How often do I moisturize my skin when taking prescription acne medication?

James M.. Wilmott

Many oral or topical prescription acne treatments treat acne by reducing sebaceous oils (Retin A, Accutane, Tararotene), killing acne-causing bacteria (Benzoyl Peroxide, Clindamycin, Erythromycin) or controlling the release of surface skin cells that can cause a blockage in the follicles (Salicylic acid, Dapsone, Ammonium Lactate).  These treatments are often associated with side effects including: dryness , peeling of the skin and/or a burning, stinging or tingling sensation.  Moisturizers should be used regularly especially with those treatments based on reducing sebum secretions such as retinoic acid, isoretinoic acid, or arotinoids.  However, people who are using prescribed treatments for acne should use a moisturized that is designed for acne-prone skin.  These are free of comedogenic agents that can aggregate the formation of acne. 

I usually recommend that patients moisturize once or twice daily when taking acne medications. The specific regimen depends on what types of medications you are using, so it is best to touch base with your prescribing dermatologist!

There are no hard & fast rules when it comes to the frequency of moisturizers for acne-prone skin. Today's acne medications tend to be less drying than those available in the past. Some are found in cream and lotion bases that may provide all the hydration your skin needs, but others might be drying or irritating to your skin. Be sure to tell your doctor if your acne medicine is drying your skin out, making it red, or causing you discomfort.

There are 2 circumstances when you should use moisturizer: (1) when your skin feels tight, dry, or flaky; and (2) when you're going outdoors during the day and your skin will be exposed to the sun or wind.

Look for a daytime moisturizer that's labeled oil-free, non-pore-clogging, or non-comedogenic, and be sure it has SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher for everyday use in temperate climates.  Use SPF 30 or higher for tropical climates, skiing, outdoor sports, or the beach.

At night you won't need sun protection. Just look for a moisturizer that's labeled for acne-prone skin. It will usually say oil-free or non-comedogenic, or it may state that it doesn't clog pores. 


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
People taking prescription acne treatments need to moisturize their skin even more than they would normally because most treatments dry out the skin. The skin must remain moist for the acne treatment to fully work; a lack of moisture can greatly decrease the effectiveness of the treatment.

Continue Learning about Acne Treatment

Acne Treatment

Acne Treatment

Acne treatments vary, depending on the severity of your acne. Many teenagers and adults can control mild acne with over-the-counter topical solutions, like acne cream and salicylic acid products that loosen blackheads and whitehea...

ds, clearing clogged pores. For more severe acne, dermatologists may recommend prescription medications, or even an in-office procedure such as a chemical peel or laser treatment. Learn more about acne treatment with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.