Corticosteroids (Prednisone) and How They Cause Acne

Some people get breakouts from taking corticosteroids

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Steroid acne is a skin breakout that occurs when you take prednisone or another corticosteroid. It's most common when you've been taking prednisone for several weeks, especially if you're on a high dosage.

The blemishes sometimes go away on their own, but usually, you need to go off of prednisone for your skin to clear up. If you're taking the drug for a chronic condition, this may be a big decision that's best made between you and your healthcare provider.

In this article, you'll learn what steroid acne looks like plus the different types and treatment options.

prednisone side effects

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is Prednisone?

Prednisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication often used to treat autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis and lupus), inflammatory conditions (asthma, allergies), blood and bone marrow disorders, and deficiencies of your body's natural steroids.

What Does Steroid Acne Look Like?

Steroid or prednisone acne can appear on your:

  • Face
  • Chest
  • Back

It may take one of several forms:

  • Pustules: Red, inflamed, pus-filled pimples with white heads
  • Papules: Red bumps caused by clogged hair follicles; may become a pustule
  • Comedones: Small bumps on the skin plus blackheads and non-inflamed blemishes
  • Nodular acne: Especially large, inflamed, painful pimples that can last for months

Types of Steroid Acne

Prednisone acne isn't just a problem for adolescents. It can happen to anyone taking steroids, regardless of age.

Steroid acne is commonly associated with two forms: Acne vulgaris and Malassezia folliculitis.

Acne vulgaris

Acne vulgaris is the most common type of acne overall, and the most common type of acne from high-dose prednisone therapy. It often appears as uniform lesions.

Acne vulgaris breakouts usually begin within two weeks of starting prednisone or another steroid. If you've had acne before, you may be more likely to develop steroid acne.

Malassezia folliculitis

Malassezia folliculitis is an itchy type of acne that's usually on the chest and trunk. It's caused by the overgrowth of a fungus in and around hair follicles.

It's natural to have some of this fungus on your skin—it's estimated that between 75% to 98% of people do. However, steroid use can trigger overgrowth, leading to abnormal levels.

Treatment for Steroid Acne

Steroid acne usually goes away once you're off of prednisone. If you need to be on it long-term, you may want to use some acne remedies to help control outbreaks.

The type of treatment depends on:

  • The type of acne you have
  • How severe it is
  • Other medications you're taking

For moderate to severe steroid acne vulgaris, common prescription treatments include oral antibiotics such as:

Oral medications such as Accutane (isotretinoin) may be an option for you, as well. Topical cleansers and anti-acne agents such as benzoyl peroxide are also commonly recommended.

A Treatment to Avoid?

Accutane is usually not recommended for treating prednisone acne in people with inflammatory bowel disease as it may trigger symptoms such as diarrhea and rectal bleeding.

Fungal acne is best treated with:

  • Topical antifungals
  • Oral antifungals like itraconazole
  • Shampoos containing ketoconazole

Your healthcare provider can help you find the right treatments for your prednisone acne. They can also help you decide whether to stay on prednisone or another corticosteroid.

Tapering Off of Prednisone

Don't abruptly stop taking prednisone or other steroids, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how long you've taken prednisone and in what dose, the tapering-off process can take weeks or even months.

Summary

Prednisone and other corticosteroid medications can cause acne. It can cause many types of blemishes, including blackheads and bumps, pustules, or more severe nodules.

People prone to acne vulgaris often get this type of acne due to steroid use. Other people have an overgrowth of a fungus on their skin.

Treatment for steroid acne is similar to that for acne from other causes. However, you and your healthcare provider should take care to choose a treatment that won't exacerbate any medical conditions you have.

A Word From Verywell

If you have steroid acne or are worried about getting it, talk to your primary healthcare provider or a dermatologist.

Remember that, while acne can be difficult to live with, it should clear up when you taper off the steroids. Meanwhile, acne treatments may help clear up your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes acne?

    The main cause of acne is clogged pores. They can be clogged by excess oil, dead skin cells, bacteria, and fungus.

  • What are the side effects of prednisone?

    Prednisone side effects include:

    • Steroid acne
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Insomnia
    • Headaches
    • Blurred vision and eye pain
    • Rapid weight gain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue and muscle weakness
    • Slow wound healing
    • Rapid or irregular heart rate
    • Depression, anxiety, or changes in personality or behavior
    • Seizures
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Marks JG, Miller JJ. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology (Sixth Edition). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. 2019;166-83.

  2. Sheary B. Steroid withdrawal effects following long-term topical corticosteroid use. Dermatitis. 2018;29(4):21-8. doi:10.1097/DER.0000000000000387

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Signs and symptoms.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.