About Author — Medically reviewed by Dr. Navin Ramchandani, MD. His passion is diagnosing and treating people with complicated health issues to help improve their overall health and quality of life.

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PlushCare takes content accuracy seriously so that we can be your trusted source of medical information. Most articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.D.s, NPs, or NDs. Click here to meet the healthcare professionals behind the blog.

Antibiotics for Acne

Acne can be an embarrassing and stressful medical condition. Luckily, there are effective treatments available. It should be noted that most treatments, including antibiotics for acne, may take a month or more to clear up acne outbreaks. Let’s take a closer look at acne symptoms and treatments.

What causes acne?

There are four main causes of acne:

Things that can make acne worse

There are a few things that can trigger an outbreak of acne or make an existing outbreak worse. Acne triggers may include:

  • Hormones – Increased androgen levels in teenagers cause extra sebum production. Sebum production can also be affected by the hormonal changes associated with menstruation and pregnancy. Low amounts of androgen in women can also increase acne.
  • Medications – Acne can be a side effect of many medications including corticosteroids, testosterone, and lithium.
  • Diet – Contrary to popular myths, eating greasy foods does not contribute to acne. However, studies are showing that drinking skim milk or eating foods that are rich in carbohydrates (like bread and bagels) can worsen acne.
  • Stress – Stress won’t cause an acne outbreak, but it can worsen an existing outbreak.

Types of acne

  • Whiteheads – Plugged pores that are closed
  • Blackheads – Plugged pores that are open
  • Papules – Tender red bumps
  • Pimples (pustules) – Papules with pus at the tip
  • Nodules – Solid, painful lumps under the skin
  • Cystic lesions – Pus-filled lumps under the skin that are painful

Common locations for acne

Certain areas of the skin have more sebaceous (oil) glands than others, so acne tends to be common on these areas of the body:

  • Chin acne
  • Forehead acne
  • Back acne
  • Chest acne
  • Face acne

Acne treatments

There are many over the counter treatment options available for acne. Over the counter products that contain benzoyl peroxide tend to be the most effective. Alternatives to benzoyl peroxide include products containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy acids. All of these can be effective treatments, but it can take several weeks or months to see considerable improvement.

If over the counter products aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to call a doctor. Topical medications a doctor might prescribe include:

Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs: These types of drugs may come as a cream, gel, or lotion. Different retinoid drugs include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). These medications help prevent follicles from becoming clogged.

  • Salicylic acid and azelaic acid: These acids can be effective topical treatments. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is especially effective when used in conjunction with erythromycin.
  • Dapsone: Dapson is a gel recommended for inflammatory acne, especially for women. Side effects can include redness or dryness.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can kill excess bacteria and reduce redness. Topical antibiotics are frequently used in conjunction with a retinoid and are often combined with benzoyl peroxide to reduce the chance of developing antibiotic resistance. Examples of topical antibiotics include clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzaclin, Duac, Acanya) and erythromycin with benzoyl peroxide (Benzamycin).

Oral medications a doctor might prescribe include:

  • Contraceptives
  • Anti-androgen agents
  • Isotretinoin
  • Antibiotics

Antibiotics for acne

For moderate to severe acne, oral antibiotics can reduce bacteria and fight inflammation. Oral antibiotics are almost never the only course of treatment for acne; they’re usually combined with topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide. This combination provides the lowest likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance.

Oral antibiotics may cause side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and increased sensitivity to the sun.

Common antibiotics for acne include tetracyclines — such as minocycline or doxycycline — or a macrolide.

Think you might want to try antibiotic treatment for your acne? Book an appointment to speak with a PlushCare doctor and get your prescription today.


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