Topic Overview

Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to treat severe acne or acne that is likely to leave scars. Antibiotics improve the look of your skin by killing bacteria that cause acne. This means you'll have fewer pimples and redness. Less acne means less acne scarring.

You can put antibiotics directly on your skin (topically) or take them by mouth (orally). Topical antibiotics kill bacteria on your skin. Oral antibiotics kill bacteria in your skin pores. Oral antibiotics work best if you start them at high doses. Your doctor will reduce the dose as your acne gets better.

People with mild acne may need only topical antibiotics. The most common types include:

  • Clindamycin (such as Clinda-T).
  • Erythromycin (such as Erysol).

A topical antibiotic may be combined with a topical retinoid, such as tretinoin (Retin-A). Or a topical antibiotic may be combined with benzoyl peroxide gel.

Talk with your doctor before using these medicines if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

People with severe acne and people who are more likely to have scarring from acne often take antibiotics by mouth. The most common oral antibiotics include:

  • Erythromycin (such as Erybid).
  • Tetracyclines, which include:
    • Doxycycline (such as Doxycin or Vibramycin).
    • Minocycline.

If you are using topical antibiotics or taking oral antibiotics, your doctor also may have you use benzoyl peroxide on your skin. This can make it less likely that you will develop antibiotic resistance.

For more information on antibiotics, see Drug Reference. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015