Steroid acne presents many of the same symptoms as regular acne, notably pimples. However, steroid use is the cause in this case. At the moment, it is unclear why steroids can cause acne.

Both prescription steroids and steroids that people use for bodybuilding can increase the odds that a person will develop acne. Steroid use may also lead to the development of other skin conditions.

Similar to regular acne, teenagers and young adults may be more susceptible to steroid acne. However, people of any age can develop the condition if they regularly take steroids.

In this article, we look at the causes of steroid acne, as well as some treatment options and preventive measures a person can take.

Using injectable, inhaled, or oral steroids may result in steroid acne. The following are the primary causes:

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A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to treat steroid acne.

Doctors tend to prescribe corticosteroids for inflammatory conditions or to prevent the rejection of organ transplants.

Steroid acne does not appear immediately. In fact, it can take several weeks of steroid treatment before acne appears.

Steroid acne often affects the chest and upper back. It can also develop on the face.

Whether or not a person will develop steroid acne from using corticosteroids may depend on the following factors:

  • age
  • susceptibility to acne
  • dosage during treatment
  • length of treatment

People who use anabolic steroids for bodybuilding are at risk of developing a number of health issues, including acne.

One older study suggests that up to 50% of people who misuse steroids for bodybuilding develop steroid acne.

Treatment can often start at home but may require additional medical intervention.

The main treatment options for steroid acne come both as antibiotics and topicals:

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid

A common solution that does not require a prescription is benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl peroxide is a potent antiseptic that helps the body kill the bacteria responsible for acne. People can use it for mild cases, or they can combine it with oral antibiotics in more severe cases.

Salicylic acid is another potential option people have to treat acne at home. Salicylic acid helps treat and prevent acne by exfoliating the skin and breaking down acne lesions.

In both cases, a person should apply the treatment to their face, chest, or neck, depending on where they have noticed the outbreak.

People should not use both treatments, however. This is because the combination may be too irritating to the skin. People should try using a topical retinoid before using either of these products, since topical retinoids are the first-line treatment for acne.

We cover topical retinoids in more detail below.


An important treatment option for acne is topical retinoids. Topical retinoids are the foundation of acne care, and healthcare professionals should maximize their use in this context.

People can also start using topical retinoids at home, as topical adapalene 0.1% (Differin) is available over the counter.

Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that come in the form of lotions, gels, and creams.

When a person applies these products to the skin, they can work to prevent acne. However, it can take 3 months of regular use to see any effect.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use retinoids.


A doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics (off label) or topical antibiotics to treat cases of steroid acne.

However, antibiotic treatments can take several weeks to reveal any results.

Antibiotics are not a long term solution to acne.

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If a person is using steroids for performance enhancement, they should consider coming off them to prevent acne.

Steroid acne is the direct result of the use or misuse of steroids.

To prevent steroid acne, people using anabolic steroids for performance enhancement should stop using them. Stopping anabolic steroid use can prevent future acne outbreaks and other, much more serious, health conditions.

However, people taking prescription corticosteroids should not stop taking their medication without first talking to their physician. In certain situations, taking steroids plays a vital role in keeping a person healthy, and stopping the treatment without discussing it with their physician may be very dangerous.

People who should not stop taking steroids can try preventive measures and treatments that improve acne.

For example, they should avoid using skin products containing oils that may clog pores. They should only use noncomedogenic products on acne prone areas. A person should also be gentle on their skin and not rub or pick at their acne lesions.

For some people, the routine use of topical retinoids alongside other dermatologist-recommended treatments can greatly reduce the appearance of steroid acne.

However, it is important to remember that because steroids are the primary cause of this type of acne, it may not be possible to resolve it. These treatments may, however, improve the symptoms.

Steroid acne is a common side effect of steroid use. Though a person may be able to treat and possibly prevent it, symptoms will usually go away once the person stops using or misusing steroids.

If at-home remedies do not work, a person should talk to their doctor about possible treatment options and prescription-strength medications.