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?
Acne 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
When 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!
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.
When 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.