Oral Tetracycline

Why tetracycline may be a good acne treatment.

Woman examining pimple
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Tetracycline is used to treat lots of different ailments, including acne. In fact, tetracycline along with its close cousins minocycline and doxycycline is the oral antibiotic most commonly prescribed for acne.

This is a prescription medication, so you'll need to visit your doctor to get it. It's quite likely your doctor will also prescribe a topical medication (like Retin-A or azelaic acid) to be used along with oral tetracycline.

Tetracycline is also used topically to treat acne in the form of a cream, but not as frequently as other antibiotics.

How Tetracycline Works

Tetracycline works by slowing down the growth of the bacteria that cause acne. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, so it helps make pimples less swollen and red.

Tetracycline is used to treat moderate to severe acne, although it’s sometimes prescribed for mild inflammatory acne that is particularly stubborn. Other oral antibiotics used to treat acne include clindamycin and erythromycin

Your doctor will know which dosage will be best for you, anywhere from 250 to 500 milligrams twice a day by mouth. Often a higher dosage is prescribed at first, and then tapered down once your acne is improving.

The ultimate goal is not to take tetracycline daily, if acne can be kept under control with a topical treatment. Some people, though, may need to take this antibiotic for longer periods of time to keep acne at bay.

Possible Side Effects:

All acne medications can cause side effects, and tetracycline is no different. Luckily, most people can take this medication without many problems. But some common side effects to tetracycline include upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, vaginal yeast infections and/or oral thrush, rash, dizziness and less commonly, sun sensitivity.

Let your doctor know about any side effects.

When Tetracycline Is Not Right For You

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, tetracyline isn't the right acne treatment choice for you. Oral tetracycline can affect your baby's bone growth and also cause your baby’s teeth to come in stained.

Young children also shouldn't take tetracycline because it can cause permanent stains on their teeth. Although some sources say tetracycline should not be used by kids younger than 8, others recommend holding off on tetracycline use until children are at least 12.

Tetracycline sometimes can cause tooth discoloration for older kids and young adults, too, but these are usually temporary. And, tetracycline has been known to decrease the contraceptive effect of oral birth control pills. A backup birth control method while on tetracycline is recommended.

Tetracycline can't be taken with isotretinoin (Accutane), because these medications can interact with one another.

Tips for Using Tetracycline

Tetracycline is most effective on an empty stomach, but may be taken with food if it causes gastric distress.

 Antibiotics work best when there is a constant amount in your bloodstream. Try to take your medication at regular times each day. Taking it at the same time daily also will make it easier to remember to take it.

Drink a full glass of water when taking your medication. This will help to prevent esophagus irritation. Laying down right after taking tetracycline can cause esophagus irritation as well, so don't take it immediately before going bed.

Take your medication for as long as your doctor instructs you, even if your skin is looking better.

NIAMS/National Institutes of Health. (2015). Questions and Answers About Acne [Brochure]. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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