Acne in all its forms can be more than just a literal blemish on your skin. It can make or break your day, your week, your date night, or your job interview, if only by damaging your self confidence.
Everyone hates the occasional pimple, but persistent or serious acne — officially known as the bacterial infection acne vulgaris — can ruin more than selfies. It can make you self conscious, ashamed, and put a black mark on an otherwise exciting date night to come.
You may have tried and given up on a dozen over the counter acne treatments, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are effective prescription medications to help you fight off your aggressive acne and regain control of your face, chest, back, or whenever else those pimples are popping up.
Clindamycin is a prescription medication with a decades-long history of effectively beating back the acne bacteria, and it may be a solution for you.
To put it as simply as possible, acne is a bacterial infection. But to be a little more specific, it’s a bacterial infection as a result of four factors in your skin’s healthy function: oil production, dead cell disposal, inflammation, and the bacteria itself.
A pimple occurs when dead skin cells and natural oils (sebum) get stuck in your hair follicles, creating the perfect habitat for the Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes. This is why acne happens on your face, back, chest or shoulders: it tends to happen on the parts of your body where there are more oil glands.
But dead skin cells and excess oil production can be caused by a lot of factors, from diet and water intake, to hormones, to stress or even the weather. Because hormones can cause the imbalance, it tends to happen in adolescence, but while some people grow out of it, it can persist.
As acne medications go, clindamycin is one of the most direct ways to attack the problem. That’s because clindamycin is an antibiotic.
Clinamycin actually has two forms: a topical mostly used in the treatment of acne, and an oral form, which is prescribed to treat infections in a range of organs, including the lungs, skin, and parts of the reproductive system.
With regards to its acne capabilities, clindamycin fights those bacteria growing in and around your sebaceous glands. It’s not going to help improve or repair the normal functionality of your skin and pores, but it will take on the bacteria trying to run amok in those areas.
Clindamycin slows down the growth and spread of bacteria, and can prevent bacteria from multiplying altogether.
Clindamycin works pretty damn well, and there are decades of studies proving it. You can start back in the ‘80s, where an eight-week study with more than 300 participants showed that clindamycin reduced acne — much better than placebo results.
And clindamycin works well with other treatments (as many other acne medications do). One 12-week 2009 study found that combining it with over-the-counter antibacterial medication benzoyl peroxide reduced the volume and severity of acne breakouts and pimples.
And another study from 2015 produced similar results from that combination. 100 teenage and young adult acne patients were split into three groups and given one of three combinations: a mix of benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin; a mix of the retinoid tretinoin and clindamycin; or a mix of benzoyl peroxide and the topical fluoroquinolone compound nadifloxacin.
Both groups using a combination involving Clindamycin showed effective treatment and delivered results, though the benzoyl peroxide group outperformed the tretinoin group.
But that doesn’t mean tretinoin doesn’t deliver when paired with clindamycin. A few years later, a study from 2019 showed that a combination of clindamycin and tretinoin delivered “continuous improvement” in facial acne in teenagers and young adults.
As we mentioned, there are other medications that may work well in tandem with clindamycin. Two of them include:
Benzoyl peroxide: an over-the-counter acne treatment that reduces skin surface bacteria.
Tretinoin: a topical retinoid that speeds up your body’s skin cell turnover, which can reduce the amount of dead skin cells on the surface.
Healthcare providers may also prescribe an oral retinoid like isotretinoin, which has been found effective at treating acne alongside clindamycin, in severe cases that have been unresponsive to other treatments. .
This isn’t a complete list. There are other medications, both prescription and over the counter, as well as lifestyle changes that your healthcare professional might suggest you use alongside prescription clindamycin. These might include dietary and exercise changes. Consult a healthcare professional for the best advice for your particular treatment.
Clindamycin is considered both safe and effective for most users, though it does have some limited side effect risks, many of which are mild.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, potential side effects include oily, itchy, dry, or peeling skin, burning sensations, new blemishes, and headaches.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should let your healthcare provider know, especially if they become severe. Problems like swelling or hoarseness occured rarely, as did extreme gastro-intestinal side effects like stomach cramps, blood or liquid stools.
Clindamycin is an effective and safe topical medication for persistent and moderate to severe acne. While over-the-counter treatments may be effective for treating many acne cases, if you’re struggling with something more intense, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about whether clindamycin could be right for you.
They may prescribe it, and they may also suggest using it in tandem with one or more other acne treatments, including other topicals like tretinoin. Like we mentioned before, they work pretty well together in the fight against acne.
Want to know more? Our Tretinoin 101 guide covers everything you need to know about tretinoin, which is one of the most widely used topical retinoid medications for treating and preventing acne.