Question: I’ve had acne since my teens and every new doctor seems to prescribe another antibiotic. I’m worried about this and wonder how long can I take antibiotics safely.
Answer: When a doctor recommends antibiotics for an infected bug bite or lingering cough, its usually for a relatively short period of time that ranges from 5-10 days. But when antibiotics are prescribed for antibiotics, the time frame changes significantly. How long you can safely and effectively use antibiotics for acne depends on the type and form of the different antibiotic options.
Antibiotics for Acne 101
For acne, antibiotics are used directly on the skin as well as taken in pill form. The most commonly used antibiotic is benzoyl peroxide. Available without prescription and formulated into a gel or cream, benzoyl peroxide is a triple threat to acne. This multi-tasking antibiotic kills the bacteria in the follicles which are driving breakouts, reduces inflammation and helps control blockage in the pores. But wait there is more good news. According to Dr Gary Goldenbergof Mount Sinai Medical Center, bacteria don’t develop resistance to benzoyl peroxide and can be used effectively for years. A mild ( 2.5%) benzoyl peroxide gel can be found for about $15 in most pharmacies. This can be a good start to get your skin familiar with the medication. Once only available by prescription, you can now find 4% BP on the drug store shelves and you can work your way up to the higher concentration as your skin becomes comfortable with treatment.
With the other antibiotics including clindamycin and erthromycin ( both available only with prescription) resistance can become a problem. Dr Goldenberg prescribes low dose oral antibiotics for just six weeks to three months. In gel form that’s used day and or night directly on the skin, he recommends using them for not more than three months.
One final thought– Antibiotics, either in pills or gels, should be used with other acne fighters such as glycolic acid peels, salicylic acid and Retin A. All these medications work in different but collaborative ways to quell the active acne process.
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Reviewed by Dr. Goldenberg