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What kind of topical antibiotics are used to treat acne?

Dr. Doris Day, MD
Dermatology
Topical antibiotics are a mainstay of doctor-prescribed acne therapy. They are uncommonly used as monotherapy because resistance to the medications would become a problem for most people.

The two main topical antibiotics used in acne are erythromycin and clindamycin. These are formulated alone or in combination with benzoyl peroxide (BP). They come in solutions, gels, creams, lotions, and wipes. They are also used in combination with zinc. They come in a variety of vehicles such as water, alcohol, oil-free, or oil-in-water mixtures. A very large variety of formulations of these products make them appealing to all skin types, from the oiliest to the most sensitive. Side effects are mostly caused by the vehicle and include stinging, burning, dryness, contact dermatitis, peeling, itching, and redness. These can be minimized by using a formulation that works best for your skin and using only as much of the product as is needed to cover the acne, not the entire tube or jar at a time.

No over-the-counter products contain erythromycin or clindamycin. The over-the counter products generally contain BP, sulfa-based medications, or salicylic or hydroxy acid, in various strengths. There are also many creative tinted formulations that help conceal the acne while treating it.
100 Questions & Answers About Acne

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100 Questions & Answers About Acne

100 Questions and Answers About Acne provides you with all the information you need to manage your complexion problems. Written by Dr. Doris J. Day, a world-class expert in the field, this clearly...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.