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Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic that doctors may prescribe to treat acne.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, clindamycin is a first-line acne treatment for mild to moderate acne. However, you usually won’t use it as your only acne treatment.

Could clindamycin work for you? Keep reading to find out how clindamycin works and how to use it.

Clindamycin is an antibiotic that kills certain types of bacteria or stops them from growing.

Doctors may prescribe this to kill Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria that can lead to pimples. While P. acnes bacteria naturally live on the skin, they can invade pores and cause inflammation that leads to acne.

According to a 2019 research review, doctors still aren’t sure why P. acnes leads to breakouts in some and not others. This is one of the reasons doctors prescribe antibiotics like clindamycin with other treatments.

Doctors will usually recommend using several different treatments to target certain acne types.

For example, doctors may prescribe clindamycin to treat mild to moderate acne, but not usually to treat severe acne forms.

Doctors may treat severe acne with oral antibiotics instead of topical ones.

If you have the type of acne that clindamycin is good for, your doctor will usually recommend the following combination of treatments:

Your doctor may recommend using benzoyl peroxide and a topical antibiotic, or a topical retinoid and a topical antibiotic. There are several options of combinations, and they depend upon what acne types you have.

Several studies exist to support these combinations or the use of topical clindamycin.

Topical 1 percent clindamycin was shown to reduce acne in people with moderate inflammatory acne after 8 weeks of twice daily treatment, according to a 2013 study.

Another 2019 study found that applying a combination of clindamycin and tretinoin (a retinoid) for 12 weeks helped reduce the appearance of acne with minimal side effects.

Your doctor will prescribe topical clindamycin, typically for twice daily application. Different preparations are available.

Some preparations, like topical foams, may contain alcohol and sting or burn when applied to the skin. You’ll usually apply the foam to a cleansed face with clean hands to all areas where you experience acne blemishes.

Don’t discontinue using clindamycin if you start to see results. Completing a full course of antibiotics ensures that the clindamycin kills off most of the bacteria. Stopping too early can increase your risk for antibiotic resistance.

Doctors usually intend for antibiotics like clindamycin to be used as shorter-term treatments. You’ll usually apply them for 3 to 4 months along with benzoyl peroxide, and sometimes a retinoid as well.

After this time, your doctor may recommend that you stop using topical clindamycin but continue using other topical preparations, such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.

Doctors usually associate topical clindamycin with minimal side effects.

Most of the time, if you have a reaction to the topical application, you can either apply less of the clindamycin or discontinue its use.

Topical clindamycin is a Pregnancy Category B drug. This means it’s largely safe for use during pregnancy. Research hasn’t revealed it’s harmful during pregnancy.

But you should always talk to your doctor about all topical and prescription medications you’re taking to ensure they’re safe during your pregnancy.

As with most medications, you can experience side effects from the topical application of clindamycin. This can include an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity.

You can experience swelling, itching, or hives due to an allergic reaction. If you think you’re having an allergic reaction to topical clindamycin, discontinue using it and notify your doctor.

Other potential side effects include:

You can also develop antibiotic resistance to topical clindamycin. If you experience a skin infection later on, antibiotic resistance can mean topical clindamycin may not help the infection.

That’s why your doctor will usually prescribe clindamycin for the shortest yet most effective amount of time possible.

Several alternatives to clindamycin exist.

If you have mild to moderate acne, your doctor may either prescribe clindamycin or erythromycin, another antibiotic.

If you have acne called comedonal acne (mostly blackheads or whiteheads), your doctor may recommend applying a topical retinoid. Retinoids help encourage skin cell turnover and break up excess oil that can clog pores.

Topical antibiotics (and the combinations your doctor recommends) may not always be enough to treat acne blemishes. In this case, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline and minocycline.

If you have acne that over-the-counter products aren’t managing well, consider talking with a dermatologist.

Your dermatologist will ask you questions about your current skin care routine, examine your skin, and make treatment recommendations. This may include the use of topical clindamycin.

Topical or oral antibiotics may help reduce acne. Clindamycin is a commonly prescribed topical medication to treat acne, and you can usually apply it with minimal side effects.

Ideally, you can use it for a short amount of time (about 3 months) in combination with other acne treatments to experience a reduction in your acne’s appearance.