Corticosteroids (Prednisone) and How They Cause Acne

Some people get breakouts from taking corticosteroids

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. Research suggests that corticosteroids like prednisone increase the activation of immune system receptors that promote acne, known as Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2).

The blemishes sometimes go away on their own, but you usually need to stop taking 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, and back within two weeks of taking a corticosteroid like prednisone.

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.

Malassezia Folliculitis

Malassezia folliculitis, or fungal acne, is an itchy type of acne that's usually on the chest and trunk. It's caused by the overgrowth of a yeast called Malassezia 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 has been shown to be a predisposing factor to the overgrowth of Malassezia.

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. Some at-home skin care and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies include:

  • Gently washing your skin twice every day, preferably before going to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning
  • Using a towel to wipe away sweat from your skin when working out
  • Switching to a low glycemic index (GI) diet
  • Applying topical cleansers and anti-acne agents such as benzoyl peroxide

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

Oral medications such as Accutane (isotretinoin) may also be an option for you. However, Accutane may not be recommended if you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or are at high risk for the condition, as some research suggests it may trigger IBS symptoms.

Fungal acne is best treated with topical antifungals like ketoconazole and oral antifungals like itraconazole.

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.

Know that your prednisone acne may take some time to clear with treatment. Typically, you can expect to see some improvement in four to six weeks with consistent treatment. But it can take two or more months for blemishes to clear.

Tapering off of Prednisone

Don't abruptly stop taking prednisone, 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.

If you feel that you need to stop taking prednisone to improve your skin, consult with your healthcare provider so that they can help guide you through the process.


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
    • Vomiting
    • Lightheadedness
    • Insomnia
    • Headaches
    • Blurred vision and eye pain
    • Rapid weight gain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue and muscle weakness
    • Rapid or irregular heart rate
    • Depression, anxiety, or changes in personality or behavior
    • Seizures
11 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. Elsaie ML. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an updateClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016;9:241-248. doi:10.2147/CCID.S114830

  2. Marks JG, Miller JJ. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology (Sixth Edition). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. 2019;166-83.

  3. Rubenstein RM, Malerich SA. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitisJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):37-41.

  4. Cohen PR, Erickson C, Calame A. Malassezia (Pityrosporum) folliculitis incognito: Malessezia-associated folliculitis masked by topical corticosteroid therapyCureus. 2020;12(1):e6531. doi:10.7759/cureus.6531

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 skin care habits that can worsen acne.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne clinical guideline.

  7. Miqdad MA, Alatta L, Abdelsamad A, et al. Isotretinoin-Induced Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Is there a real association?Cureus. 2022;14(10):e29825. doi:10.7759/cureus.29825

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 9 things to try when acne won't clear.

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

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

  11. MedlinePlus. Prednisone.

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.