The Latest FDA-Approved Acne Drug Might Be a Game Changer For Men

If you are a human, you’ve probably tangled with pimples. Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and affects as many as 50 million people. While acne affects mostly teenagers and young adults, it can also continue as late as your forties—and cases of adult acne are increasing. Even though it’s so common, there have been shockingly few prescription medications for the condition. Until recently, the only acne medicine approved by the FDA was Accutane back in 1982 (and isn’t without its risks). Now, there is great news for acne sufferers: Winlevi, a new topical cream, has received FDA approval for the treatment of acne. And this is a big deal for men especially.

What Is Winlevi?

This new medicine is the first of its kind: a topical anti-androgen cream, which means it “blocks the effects of male sex hormones (androgens),” says New York-based dermatologist Evan Rieder, M.D. “We know that male hormones have a role in inflammation and the production of sebum (oil).” Acne bacteria feed on sebum, so as hormones signal for more sebum to be produced, the more likely it is that you’ll get acne. It’s why acne is common among teenagers, when hormones go haywire, and why women sometimes break out in “hormonal” acne during their periods. Winlevi targets the androgen receptors in the skin and breaks this cycle by controlling sebum production.

Why Is Winlevi Great News For Men?

Winlevi isn’t the first medication used for hormone-induced acne (spironolactone, taken orally, is common), but those older prescription treatments are not good for men. The problem with these previous drugs is that “if administered to a cisgender man, they can decrease testosterone levels and cause feminization and possible development of female secondary sexual characteristics,” says Dr. Rieder. For most men (and doctors), that’s a risk they weren’t willing to take in order to clear up acne. Unlike oral medications, Winlevi is a topical cream, so it doesn’t have these side effects. “It’s the first topical anti-androgen ever, and the only hormonal treatment that can be used for acne in men,” he says.

Who Should Use Winlevi?

Since Winlevi is a prescription-only product, only a dermatologist can tell you if you’re a candidate and prescribe it for you. But, Dr. Rieder says, it could be a good alternative to other medications, like isotretinoin, which also controls sebum production but “isn’t without side effects.” Studies found that Winlevi had few side effects and were mostly possible skin irritation, dryness and peeling, similar to other topical acne medications. He also notes that it’s likely not going to be a one-and-done deal: “I see it as an essential part of a comprehensive acne regimen.” But even so, if you’ve tried other acne treatments and medications and they haven’t worked, asking your doctor about Winlevi could be a good move.

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