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What Medicine Can Cause Acne or Pimples?

By David B. Ryan ; Updated July 18, 2017

Acne Triggers

While acne is most often associated with teenagers, it is a common condition and can affect people at almost any point in their lives. Ranging in severity from a few occasional pimples to nodules and cysts that can cause scarring, acne is a hormonally-driven disorder that affects oily glands (called sebaceous glands) in the skin, causing blocked pores and eruptions of pimples across the upper body and head. The specific causes of acne are unknown. According to the Cleveland Clinic, acne can be aggravated by external factors such as weather and humidity, air pollution or restrictive clothing and headwear. Stress levels, vitamin deficiencies and diet may also play a role, but the common perception of rich foods and chocolate causing acne is incorrect. Neither is acne known to be caused by dirt or inadequate washing. The Mayo Clinic cites several more causal factors that include heredity, hormonal activity, bacteria and “certain medications.”

Medications Affecting Acne

The National Institutes of Health singles out “some antidepressants and some anti-epileptic drugs” as medications that can promote the occurrence of acne. An example of the latter is Dilantin, which is an anticonvulsant prescribed for epilepsy, seizures and bipolar disorder. Another prescription drug used to treat bipolar disorder and depression is lithium, also known to trigger acne, according to Proactiv. An acne-causing medication in an unrelated area of treatment is Antabuse (Disulfuram), typically prescribed for chronic alcoholics to prevent drinking through unpleasant drug-alcohol interactions. Thyroid medications, principally Thiouracil and Thiourea, trigger acne as a side effect of stimulating activity in underperforming thyroid glands, as can iodine, which is used for a similar purpose. Patients who are awaiting organ transplants are often prescribed an immunosuppressant drug called Immuran, which can also retard the body’s bacteria-fighting ability and allow acne to form. Malaria sufferers are often given quinine, which can promote acne. Finally, Isoniazid (INH), prescribed for tuberculosis, can have acne as a side effect.

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Steroids and Acne

Steroids, both prescription and illicit, are well known for causing acne and pimples. The commonly used corticosteroid Prednisone, used to treat chronic lung diseases such as asthma, tends to stimulate the sebaceous glands and cause increased pimples, blemishes or acne. Other prescription steroids with similar side effects include methylprednisolone, triamcinolone, hydrocortisone, betamethasone and dexamethasone. Bodybuilders and other athletes who take anabolic steroids including danazol and stanozolol to build muscle can also suffer severe acne as a side effect.

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