Can Oral Tetracycline Help Treat Acne?

Updated December 15, 2014.

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com’s Medical Review Board.

Treating Acne with Oral Tetracycline:

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, but less often than other topical antibiotics.

Also Known As:

Achromycin, Sumycin, generic tetracycline

How It 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:

Common Usage Directions:

You’ll probably take tetracycline twice a day. It comes in pill form that you’ll take by mouth.

Your doctor will know which dosage will be best for you – anywhere from 250 to 500 milligrams. 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. Still, these are some of the side effects to be aware of:

Let your doctor know about any side effects, especially if they are making you uncomfortable.

Tetracycline Is Not Right For:

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.

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

Tips for Using Tetracycline:

  • You’ll want to take tetracycline on an empty stomach; it’s more effective that way.
  • Unless, that is, it upsets your stomach. Then talk to your doctor about taking it with food.
  • Antibiotics work best when there is a constant amount in your bloodstream. Try to take your medication at regular times each day. It will be easier to remember to take them this way!
  • 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 just as you lie down for bed.
  • Take your medication for as long as your doctor instructs you, even if your skin is looking better.

More Oral Antibiotic Acne Treatment Options

Sources:

Acne Net. American Academy of Dermatology. “Prescription Medications for Treating Acne.” http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/prescriptmeds.html. 2008. Accessed 15 May 2009.

Del Rosso JQ. “Selection of therapy for acne vulgaris: balancing concerns about antibiotic resistance.” Cutis. 2008; 85(5):12-16.

Del Rosso JQ, Kim G. “Optimizing use of oral antibiotics in acne vulgaris.” Dermatol Clin. 2009; 27(1):33-42.

NIAMS/National Institutes of Health. (2006). Questions and Answers About Acne [Brochure]. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.