What To Expect When Taking Antibiotics For Acne

When it comes to using prescription medications to treat acne, topical and oral antibiotics are one of the most common treatment options that a doctor or dermatologist will prescribe to you. But what do they do and how effective are they?

powAcne is called ‘acne’ for a reason. The actual inflammation is a result of the Propionibacterium acnes (P.Acne) bacteria getting into the plugged hair follicle. This dangerous mix creates an inflammation, otherwise known as a pimple. So it’s actually the bacteria within a pimple that gives ‘acne’ its name. And it’s also this bacteria that antibiotics zero in on and destroy.

So antibiotics will not reduce your sebum production, unclog your pores or get rid of your comedonal acne. They simply work by destroying the acne bacteria in the skin.

In theory, this should work really well but it doesn’t work for everyone. I find that antibiotics either work really well or not at all. And, I’m speaking from experience. I’ve taken antibiotics twice in my life for acne and both results were completely different to each other. I’ll tell you both stories because of this difference.

My first antibiotics and acne experience

pillsWhen I first took antibiotics for my skin I was about 18 years old. I’d had mild acne since I was a teenager, but it was mainly on my forehead. Styling my hair with bangs covered it up so it didn’t bother me that much.

I turned 17 shortly after finishing high school and travelled to Malaysia with my parents and little sister to live while my Dad worked there as an expatriate Architect. I had a great year off, my skin cleared up and I was really healthy and happy under my parents care. At the end of the year I travelled back to Australia to live with my two elder sisters and to begin my University studies. This is when my acne returned and got really bad. I no longer just had zits on my forehead, I started to get them all over my face.

Looking back on it now, I’m not surprised that I suffered from acne during that time. I was stressed leaving my parents to come back to Australia, and I had no idea how to cook or eat well. I was eating a lot of fatty meats, refined foods, caffeine and sugar. I even remember eating whole packets of Tim Tams and blocks of chocolate while I was studying!

pills

So eventually my skin bothered me enough to take a visit to the doctor. The doctor gave me a prescription for antibiotics to take, and they quickly cleared up my acne by 100%. I took the antibiotics for about a year. When I went off them, my acne did return but not as badly as it was before. I went back to the doctor but she said my acne was only mild so I shouldn’t worry about it and I didn’t need any more prescriptions. She was right, my skin eventually got better and I didn’t look back. For another ten or so years anyway …

My second antibiotics and acne experience

The second time I took antibiotics for my skin it was a completely different experience. I was 28, armed full of knowledge on natural heath and eating well, and I had become confident in the kitchen. I’d also tried for almost a year to treat my acne using holistic methods. which was 95% effective but that last 5% was proving almost impossible to get rid of.

My acne at 28 was also a little different to my acne at 18. This time around it was classed as ‘severe’ because I had cystic acne. Cystic acne is something I’d never had at a younger age.

My doctor gave me the prescription for a very low dose of antibiotics and I didn’t take them in the beginning. In fact, I had the prescription sitting on my dining table for almost a month before I had it filled. This was so different to the first time around. At 28 I knew more about the side effects of taking antibiotics for a long period of time so I was very hesitant.

yogaWhen I eventually took them, unfortunately they didn’t make a single difference. They may have possibly made my skin less red and inflamed, but this was likely more due to the fact that I was eating incredibly well and doing a ton of yoga. I took the antibiotics for a full three months and they made no difference at all so I stopped taking them (it’s recommended to take antibiotics for a full 12 weeks to see if they’re working to clear the skin).

So there you have it, two completely different outcomes spanning over a ten year period and with the same medication. I don’t know why it worked the first time and didn’t work the second time, and my doctor didn’t either. Maybe my acne was caused by a completely different reason the second time around because I was leading a very different life, and my health in general was definitely a lot better.

I’m also wondering if you get only one shot at taking antibiotics for the skin. I have read from many others in posts in forums how antibiotics worked well for them the first time around but not the second. Perhaps this is what happened to me. Maybe my body got ‘used’ to the antibiotics so I’m now resistant to them.

Whatever the case, they didn’t work twice so I’ll never be taking antibiotics for my skin again. 18 year old Fran was happy after her dose of antibiotics so I certainly don’t regret taking them and giving up my one shot at clear skin :) And I guess in a way I’m glad that it doesn’t always work for me, because this would then be an ‘easy out’ and an unhealthy one at that.

So if you’re considering taking antibiotics for your skin, keep in mind that they can either work really well or not at all …you or your doctor won’t know the outcome until you’ve tried taking them for a full 6-12 weeks.

And if you are taking antibiotics for whatever reason, make sure you take a probiotic as well to put all of the good bacteria back into your system, because antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria. You can buy probiotics at all good health food stores.

Fran

49 comments… add one

  • Esty

    I never had acne problems as a teenager and only started to get them in my late twenties. I put it down to being on the hormonal contraceptive coil but my GP doesn’t seem to think so. I lead a very healthy lifestyle, I’ve been a vegetarian for 18 years (I’m 29 now), eat loads of fruit and veg, nuts, seeds and pulses, etc. I also go to gym classes 5 times a week. I do believe that a healthy lifetstyle benefits your skin greatlt but I also think that when acne is caused by something else (such as an hormonal imbalance), diet and exercise can only do so much. Topical antibiotics cleared my skin up 100% but they stopped working after a year. I am now on antibiotics but it’s still too early to tell whether they’ll make a difference. I know that if they do clear up my skin it will again just be a temporary solution but hey, one year without acne is way better that another year with it!!

  • Austin

    I really appreciate this site because i have never taught of using antibiotics on my pimples which i have been suffering since when i was 15 till now am 20.And my question is now,can ampicillin (nemecillin) work? if i use it as my antibiotics.please someone should help

    • Jake

      Hey Austin,

      I am currently taking minocin, I have been taking it for 2 weeks now. I have 4 days left, so far the results are quite remarkable. I have been 99.8% pimple free and I am the type who has mild cystic acne. When I first took antibiotics-minocin 3 years ago, it was no where near as effective as it was today. Of the 5 dermatologists I have visited, they all recommend antibiotics for 2-3 weeks…6 months + unheard of. My advice for having acne for so long is that you really need to watch what you eat and don’t just visit one dermatologist.

  • Michelle

    Hey Fran, well I have been on antibiotics for 2 years and I want to stop them. I have been experiencing no acne really for the past month and there was 2 months before that from about February to March where I had mild acne. But before that from about August to December where I had no acne again. I have been taking antibiotics the whole time through this and I want to stop, but am a little worried and not sure how? I just know that antibiotics for a long time can be bad for you. Any suggestions?

  • Sachi

    Hi Fran,

    I love your sight and follow it as i am 26 years and also have pcod just digagnosed i have severe cystic acne almost all over my face. I am getting married in april end and i decided to take antibiotics i am on azithral 500 mg conecutive days. I am already following holoistic route and could heal my acne for about 50% but not all. Now i am very scared and mentally stressed as after leaving antibiotic if i get candida it may make thngs worse. I have no plans to contiue this course for more than a month i want to look pretty on my wedding. I am stressing too much and need your guidance on it. Advise me what can i do also i would like to take personal guidance from you soon:)

  • dhee

    hi fran,

    I used tetralysal 300, for I think 3 -5 weeks only.i was prescribed tko take that for 12 weeks. it got cleared but again now im starting to have acne again.what should ido?do I need to take those meds again?

  • Anonymous

    I tried taking doxycyline for months. It neva worked!!! I’m in my teens as well. Neva mind. It doesn’t stop my birdin.

  • ernesto

    hey whats up man good story, i suffered from acne when i entered high school and after that its kind of went away. By that i mean it went from all over my face including side forehead and cheeks to just my cheeks. i would get a pimple or two, but im 24 now almost 25 and it came back only on my cheeks but its frustrating. I tried a 3 way treatment for 3 weeks and it only got worse im now eating healthy and exorcising along with drinking 3 liters of water a day but still i see no real results. Im washing my face now with a Neutrogena soap and ultra sensative cleanser but ive only been on it for a week so its hard to tell it does much but dry my skin. Im seriously desperate and i dont know whats going wrong is there anything you suggest ? I noticed i breakout more in the winter also .

  • Sambi

    Hey,

    been suffering from severe acne for the past 9 months. It is always there, but sometimes it is less inflamed (usually for only 2 to 3 days) before it goes back to normal (red inflamed on forehead and cheeks).

    Dermatologist wanted to prescribe Accutane for me, but I refused after reading the ton of bad reviews about its negative side effects.

    So I ended up buying some skin cleansers that contain salicylic acid (plus RetinA cream), which worked ONLY the first time (first 10 days or so) but then skin went back to normal bad condition even after continuing with these. So I guess my bacteria became immuned to these.

    Tried to eat super healthy.. some days with nothing but vegies, and filtered water. No use. (I actually avoided sugars, diary and every other thing I read I need to avoid for over 6 months… still no use).

    Then one day I had a bad accident. Chemical burn on genitals which caused an infection. Went to the doctor and he prescribed me Zinnat (which is a strong antibiotic) twice daily for 7 days. It cleared the infection and surprisingly also COMPLETELY cleared my acne on day 4 or 5 I think.

    Now it’s been over 2 weeks (since I finished the antibiotic course) and my skin is still clear! It is the longest period I’ve ever had with totally clear skin. I have nightmares of it returning but hope not. Also want to take Probiotics to put back the good bacteria but don’t know how that would affect it. Afraid it’d trigger something that brings back the acne.

  • Precy

    i suffered acne since i was in hyskul. ive tried almost all the remedies like topical creams. Some worked for a certain period of time but my acne comes back. that’s when i decided to consult a dermatologist. he prescribed a kind of antibiotic which is vibramycin (doxydar) with topical creams. it actually worked for me cause my co-workers noticed that my pimples were lessened and got whiter face. how long should i take it if i see some positive results? ive been using it for 2 mos. now. im afraid to stop the antibiotics and make my acne gets worse…

  • Aiban

    Hi fran.iam 16 years old i just started to have acne and i dont know what to do and they are just small but they are on my face can u please help me

  • TIA

    I have been on tetralysal for 3 months,but was diagnosed with pcos. The acne is sometimes like pus cysts. Im off tetralysal but the acne comes back,scarring my face. doctor put me on yaz,to keep it under control,he now added doxcyl to it. I also take metformin for my pcos. PLZ HELP I NEED YOUR ADVICE. Thank you. God bless!

  • jon

    YO Fran, u got alot of responses in the past few weeks so i feel bad for asking but.. My derm just prescribed me doryx, which i am supposed to take once a day. Im really worried that if i take this pill my skin is gonna get alot worse when i dont take it.. im kinda freaked out. I have taken it for the last 2 weeks and nothings really changed with my skin but thats not a surprise.
    Do you think that I should stick to this antibiotic or stop it right away for my future skin?

  • jess

    hey fran. i am 16 this year and have been on doxycycline for around seven months. i want to go off them as the doctor said that the bacteria has become resistant. do you think my acne will return. cos the doctor said that the antibiotic is not killing any more bacteria but i am extremely terrified. thanks for your amazing article x

  • Samantha

    I’m search for any website about antibiotics for acne is not good. once you once it will come back. really? so If I want to stop by lowering the dosage of antibiotics? will it help? I’m having it for almost 2 months now. but still will grow some pimple.

  • my 13 year old has acne starting to scar, so i have been giving him ethromyclyn, i think i spelled it right , do you think it will work his face looks a little better but not much been taking it for 2 weeks now, should i see a difference in 4 to 6 weeks.

  • Danny

    Hey i’m 16 and I’ve surfed the net and researched into acne a lot (mainly because I have it). What I’ve found is that we lack vitamin A and E, so therefore we have to suppliment each other with that.

    Also another natural product to use is Echinacea which is a plant used to brew up a cup of tea. Apparently this is effective in curing it.

    Theres other things like eating certain foods; wheat, grain, dry apricots, green vegetables, brazil nuts, fish, meat (dry), oranges are a good source of vitamin C, Tomatoes, salads ect.

    Consuming water is also one of the best things.

    But my question is, why cant dermatologists prove food is helpful for acne?

  • Ashley

    hey, nice post, you say the anti-biotics cleared your acne quickly, how quickly was that? Because i’ve been taking anti-biotics for about 5 months now and my acne’s still quite bad

  • Mike

    I have a question I I had mild acne all my teenage life. Cleared up now it came back full throttle and ive used from natural ingridients to persa gel. Now finally when to see a dermotologist he prescribed bactrim and topical creme with benzoil and erythromicyn for my ..cyctic acne been on it for 5 5 weeks has improved maybe 50pct but left scars and is making really depressed… Dont feel like leaving my house still have some acne but the combination of both still looks bad …dont know if I should get off it …keep in mind im 29 and just got cyctic acne dont know if it was stress…please help…

  • Brandon

    Thanks for writing the article Fran, it was really informative.

    You really hit the nail on the head – people change over the course of time and so do their bodies. What was once a good treatment for a problem suddenly no longer is adequate to meet the needs of what used to be tomorrow.

    Finding a method that works for you as an individual is the proper practice of good medicine.

    Good luck with your website (and sorry for reviving a dead thread, I’m gone now! :P )

  • Alex

    I am 37yrs old and I am fighting acne since I was 17. I had mild acne and tryied to treat it with topical solutions. Couple of years ago my acne got worse without any reason..start having severe cystic acne. I went to the dr. and she put me on doxycycline for 3 months which had very lil effect and a month after I stoped taking it my acne came back worse than ever. I went to a different dr. who put me on tetracycline. After a month my face was clear and all I have left is old acne scars…I am still on tetracycline ( this is the 4th month) and I would like to stop taking it but I am afraid that acne will come back. What should I do???

  • MJM- I have almost 300 articles now so sometimes my reply on older articles are slow :)

    Essentially the worst thing about antibiotics is they kill the good bacteria in your body AND build up resistance to antibiotics in your body. So the more you take them the more ineffective they get. This is shown time and time again in acne skin, where the first round of antibiotics works great, but the second round does nothing, even if it’s years down the track.

    Antibiotics are also taxing on the liver, can lead to vaginal thrush in women and a heap of other not so great things.

    Having said all that, a short stint of antibotics in a really bad case of acne for a period of 3 months absolute maximum can help “break the cycle”. This is especially good in cases where the acne is causing extreme depression and social isolation. Of course I don’t recommend it and it’s not ideal, but I do understand how in some cases the emotional side of dealing with acne can be worse than taking antibiotics in the short term.

  • MJM

    Fran,

    Have you stopped responding to your article? Last reply was in 09. I have questions regarding my daughter’s acne, which has started scarring. We have not done antibiotics.

    What actually are all the bad side effects of antibiotics – takes away vitamins, can cause itching for women, etc.

    Thank you,
    mjm

  • Melanie

    Fran….pls help!!! I’m 30 and was just prescribed minocyclin 100mg a day n epiduo once per day…thing is I’m terrified to take them. I’ve read sooooo many bad things about this pill. Do u think I can take a probiotic along with the regimin? I hear it replaces the bacteria u lose that leads to yeast infections and stomach problems. I never really had acne and I’ve tried OTC products and natural stuff too…kinda last resort but I’m really scared.

  • Mike

    Hi Fran.
    I had mild acne on my forehead when I was a teenager and it didnt bother me much. After that my skin was more or less flawless until now. I am 38! I am not sure if it is my job or some other stress. I have cystic acne all over my face! It causes more stress to me because it is hard to explain to people why i am having acne at this stage in my life. I have taken both doxycycline and minocycline with limited success. I am hesitant to take retinoids but it may be my only hope.

  • marcela

    Hi Fran, I took doxy for 3 months and didnt help my acne. Now, a year later me der m wants to try to give antibiotics again but I am scared since it didnt work last year and I really hate taking medicines, Now I am usi g tretinoin and benzol and he also prescribed topical antibiotic. Any suggestions if I should try again? Also what do you think about the laser treatments for acne? Thanks

  • Ana

    Thanks so much for your response, Fran! This article is very helpful. It hadn’t even occurred to me to take a probiotic!

  • Ana- I personally feel that antibiotics don’t make acne worse by creating a resistance to the bacteria. HOWEVER, they can be taxing on the liver which can make acne worse (but not A LOT worse). And taking antibiotics too much isn’t good for you, because it can make you resistant to certain strains and make it more difficult to heal infections in the future.

    A month should be a good enough indication to see if it’s working. But sometimes it’s okay to take antibiotics to “break the cycle” so please don’t worry too much about taking them.

  • Ana

    Hi, Fran! I finally saw a derm and was prescribed Retin-A and the antibiotic doxycycline. I’ve read some horror stories about antibiotics making acne worse by creating super-resistant acne bacteria… sounds like a bit of a stretch, but do you think it’s possible that they can make acne WORSE (as your article just says it will make it better or have no effect)?

    I am going to try to use it for as short a time as possible. The pharmacist told me many people stop using it after a month and just continue with the topicals.

  • Hi Layla, I also took antibiotics for my skin when I was 18 :) I took them for around 9 months to a year. When I went off them I got very mild acne. I freaked out and went to the doctor. She told me that my mild acne was no where near as bad as it used to be (as she was right). She she just sent me home. My acne cleared up by itself. And I wasn’t doing anything holistically back then.

    So I think you’ll be fine. Just stick to your holistic routines and if you get some mild acne, try not to worry about it. It’s just your body getting back to normal.

  • layla

    Hi Fran,

    I am 18 years old and have been taking doxycycline for 8 months. I would like to get off of it, but am scared that my skin might really break out again. I initially started using the antibiotic because I had a mild case of cystic acne, and really didn’t want to get a lot of scarring. What would you recommend I do?

    Thank you,

    Layla

  • Amy- Antibiotics are unlikely to work well long term because your body gets used to them. It’s highly likely that you’ve created the mindset that you need to be on the antibiotics for your acne to be clear. I myself had this same problem. When I was 18 I went on antibiotics for acne and it worked really well. A year later when I went off them I did start to get some mild spots. I went back to the doctor to get another prescription but she just smiled and told me that my mild acne was no where near as bad as it was before and to just stick with it and see what happens. I’m glad I did because the mild acne cleared up and I didn’t need to take the antibiotics again.

  • Amy 21 yrs old

    Hi, I am a long term user of antibiotics. I used Minocycline and have been on Amoxocillin because it has been working way longer than Mino. Is Amoxocillin any better than Mino? I’ve been on antibiotics for 2 years about.. of course there has been a little time inbetween taking a break.. sometimes I only take one Amox. I have been off Amox for almost 2 weeks and I have some breakouts but it could end up getting worse so I want to get back on it.

    The main thing I was wondering is if I take Biotin with antibiotic Amox.. would the Biotin still work. I know antiobiotics kill all bacteria and eventually kill more important things like vitamins for long term users which I believe has lead me to dry skin, and some hair loss. I am taking Biotin because the ratings are 5 stars where ever I research. Sometimes Biotin can give acne as well. But it is typically for hair,skin, nails. I know it’s the antibiotics that have done this sadly. It’s almost even possible it made me anemic. or triggered something. About a month after Mino, I had really bad dandruff and shedding, then over the year I noticed thining.

  • Karrie

    Unfortunately for my baby sis and myself we’ve been plagued with cystic acne since age 15. I’m 50 and my sis is 46 with no relief in sight. I’ve tried everything from antibiotics to natural remedies to changing my diet. My skin is oily but sensitive and easily becomes flaky. I’m a bit hesitant to even try anything new whether chemical or natural. My dad is in his 70′s and still suffers from cystic acne. My life has been shaped by my acne woes.

  • Hi Alex, antibiotics typically take longer than 1 week to work so if you want to give it a proper try you’ll need to take up to 6-8 week or for as long as your doctor recommended.

    If you’re feeling bloated, it may be that your food is not digesting properly so look into proper food combining.

    And you may even need to do a trial with the BHA just every other day for a while until your skin gets a bit of a break.

  • alex

    Fran I have been start my antibiotics (doxylin 50 mg) once a day for the course of one month and I have taken it for over a week, 8 years ago I did take same antibiotics for acne. It doesnt seems to work. can i stop half way?. My BHA 2 2%treatment everyday 2 times a day for ( 1 month) give me dry skin and make the white bumpy white head become cyclist acne. there are about 5., sore and painful i switch bha treatment to once a day now. I also use bee yummy and take probiotics but stomach do feel abit bloted and dry lips from antibiotics. any advice?

  • JayJay- You can’t take antibiotics over a long period of time anyway, they often become useless after 2-3 years as your body becomes resistant to them.

    I had a friend who took antibiotics for severe acne for 10 years because they were too scared to go off them. Well, eventually they did and their severe acne did not return :)

  • JayJay

    Oh Fran, I’m so scared to get off my antibiotics (tetracycline) because i’ve heard the acne comes back the same amount or even worse.. is this true?

  • Hi Erika, the skin thins as you get older.

  • Erika

    i have a question is our skin more likely to thicken over time or in thinner?

  • Gary

    I “had” been on minocycline/tetracycline(s) for over 15 years. I have finally decided to rid my body of antibiotics, and do a candida cleanse. I have been off the antibiotic for about 6 weeks. I have gone through some rough patches, but my skin is relatively good. I am convinced with the proper nutrients and supplements, I will never have to take it again. Remember LONG TERM use of antibiotics is NOT HEALTHY.

  • Hi Christine, I experienced the redness in my face too. Ever since I took the first round of antibiotics when I was 18 I started to flush really easily. That has never gone away. It’s like it gave me some kind of rosacea.

  • Christine

    I took minocycline for 5 years straight, and I probably took it past the point where I needed it… it also gave me blue splotches on my skins (acclimation of the antibiotic in my skin – it’s semi-permanent) and it possibly caused extreme redness in my face (also semi-permanent). I wish I had know about this before so I could have monitered it and possibly stopped sooner.

    I’m definately not a doctor, but I would give every one the recommendation to be very proactive about why and for how long they are taking this antibiotic. If they feel the overall state of their skin had improved permanently over the course of the previous 6 months, trying to lower the dosage or eliminate it altogether is a good option. Many antibiotics work, but the strong ones can be especially harmful to some people over long periods of time.

  • Hi Jay by the 90/10 rule I mean I eat well 90% of the time, and for the soul the other 10% :) so its not down to hours or days, I just treat myself from time to time (at what I think would be about 10%) and don’t feel guilty about it. I’m a big chocoholic so it usually involves chocolate (or maybe french fries or a milkshake).

  • Jay

    Tried antbiotics and they didn’t help me at all, not the first time or the second time. What really helped me was to change what I put in my body, nad to use natural products on my face. I still do have acne, due to all the stress, but I’m hoping this will go away. Have a question, when you say that you live 90/10 rule, when it comes to your diet, what do you mean? Do you mean that youcan eat one unhealthy thing a day or do you mean once a week? One other thing, the face reading artical you can find on here, is it true? Have you tried any of the herbs that are recommeded that you take if you have acne on the forehead ect?

    • Jose

      Well trying eat stuff with no grease and no fried food no soda and no dairy products..I have mild acne az well I try ever thing..Now I’m going try herpanacine is a good supplement from whole food store is good for the skin inside n out n support immune so check it all try it I having try it yet but I will 2 morrow I will start

      • Jose

        My fault I meant trying not eatting

  • Oh for sure, I’ve noticed a lot of changes in the last 10 years. My skin is definitely drier and I think a little thinner too. I would also notice over the years pores becomming more visible.

  • Erika

    hi Fran…
    nice story…
    i got acne when i was 18 too and it cleared up without me putting anything on it then due to stressess of studying Nursing, it came back and i even aggravated it by using a very drying soap thinking that it will eliminate it. i used it for 1mmonth. now im sooo dried up and i am prescribed with Duac a Topical ointment antibacteria. my question is… during the years of your life do you think your skin changed.. liked from dry to not so dry… etc.

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