Treating Acne with Topical Clindamycin

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Clindamycin is an antibiotic that is used to treat inflammatory acne. Clindamycin works by reducing the number of bacteria that cause acne. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, so it makes breakouts less red and swollen.

Usually, you'll start seeing improvement of your skin within 4 to 6 weeks after starting treatment. Although clindamycin is sometimes used in its oral form to treat acne, it is more commonly used as a topical treatment.

How Topical Clindamycin Works

Topical clindamycin is used to treat anything from stubborn-but-mild inflammatory breakouts to severe acne.

Just like with oral antibiotics, topical antibiotics like clindamycin inhibit the growth of bacteria. How does this keep pimples from forming? A  chief cause of acne is the proliferation of the acne-causing bacteria Propionibacteria acnes, or P. acnes. Reducing the amount of these pimple-inducing bacteria prevent red, swollen breakouts from developing.

Clindamycin doesn't keep pore blockages from forming, though, and blocked pores are another piece of the acne development puzzle. In fact, when it's used alone topical clindamycin isn't too terribly effective.

Topical antibiotics alone aren't the best way to treat acne. They work really slowly when compared to other topical acne treatments available. But use topical clindamycin along with another acne treatment and you'll boost it's effectiveness.

Your dermatologist will prescribe you another acne treatment medication, like benzoyl peroxide or a topical retinoid, to use along with topical clindamycin. Using two acne medications like this will help get you faster results. It also helps prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria from developing.

Other Names It's Known By

Clindamycin is sold under different brand names.

It's also known as:

  • Cleocin-T
  • ClindaMax
  • Clinda-Derm
  • Clindagel
  • ClindaReach
  • Clindets
  • Evoclin
  • Z-Clinz

Clindamycin is also used as an active ingredient in many combination acne medications.  These treatments are a blend of two acne-fighting ingredients used together in one medication. Some of these include:

How To Use It

Topical clindamycin comes in a variety of forms, like lotions, gels, foams, medicated pads (called pledgets), and toner-like solutions. What form you'll use depends on which brand medication you're prescribed and what your dermatologist thinks is most appropriate for you.

Depending on which form you're using, you'll apply your topical clindamycin once or twice a day.

Possible Side Effects of Topical Clindamycin

All acne medications can cause side effects. Luckily, side effects of topical clindamycin aren't usually too serious.

Dryness, flakiness, or minor peeling of the skin is the most common. Your medication may burn or sting slightly when it's applied, and you might get some mild skin irritation.

Serious side effects from topical antibiotics are very rare.

 Most people tolerate topical clindamycin fairly well, but do tell your doctor if side effects are making you uncomfortable or seem excessive. Painful burning, cracking of the skin, or severe redness should all be brought to your doctor's attention.

Although these side effects are very rare, do tell your doctor immediately if you get a severe headache, diarrhea, stomach cramps, or bloody stool.

Getting the Best Results from Topical Clindamycin

Topical clindamycin is pretty simple to use. But there are a few things you can do to assure that you're the best possible results from your treatment.

Don't just spot treat individual pimples. No matter which form of topical clindamycin you're using, make sure you apply it over the entire area affected by acne.

So, if you break out on your face, apply to your whole face and not just on existing blemishes. If you break out on your chest, apply it to the entire chest, etc.

Try to apply your medication at the same time every day. The time of day isn't important as long as you're consistent with it. So, if you decide to apply your medication in the morning, do so every morning ideally at approximately the same time. If you're on a twice-daily treatment, try to apply it as close to 12 hours apart as you can.

Be consistent. What you don't want to do is apply it in the morning one day, evening the next, and skip the third day altogether. Consistency is your greatest ally when treating acne.

A Word from Verywell

Topical clindamycin can be helpful in treating some cases of inflammatory acne, in both teens and adults. It's not really effective against comedonal acne.

If you've been prescribed topical clindamycin for your acne, use it exactly as your dermatologist tells you and give it several weeks before expecting results. You can still get new pimples during the first few weeks of treatment, so don't let that discourage you. Just keep using your treatment.

Topical clindamycin isn't the right acne treatment choice for everyone, but if it's not right for you, no worries. There are plenty of other acne treatment options that will help you get clearer skin. Call your physician for help.

Sources:

“Clindamycin Topical.” MedlinePlus Drug Information, National Institutes of Health, US National Library of Medicine, 15 Oct. 2016.

Gold LS. "Efficacy and Tolerability to Fixed-combination Acne Treatment in Adolescents." Cutis. 2013 Mar;91(3):152-9

Stein Gold L "Topical Treatments in Acne Vulgaris: Guidance for the Busy Dermatologist." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2015 Jun;14(6):567-72.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, Berson DS, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016 May;74(5):945-73.e33.