Everything You Need to Know About Doxycycline for Acne

Published July 1st, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Doxycycline has been available since 1967 to treat bacterial infections. It can treat chest, skin, and dental infections, malaria, and sexually transmitted diseases. However, it is most commonly used for the treatment of acne, or acne vulgaris, because it targets bacteria that do not respond to other antibiotics like erythromycin or tetracycline. Doxycycline has been found to be particularly helpful in patients with moderate to severe acne who have failed other therapy options. We’ll answer all your questions about doxycycline for acne.

What is doxycycline?

Doxycycline is an antibiotic that has been used for the treatment of various bacterial infections, as well as acne. It can treat pneumonia, chlamydia, Lyme disease (borreliosis), Lyme arthritis, and syphilis. 

Doxycycline works by stopping bacteria from producing proteins that allow bacteria to grow and spread. For acne prone skin, it will decrease the acne on your skin and suppress inflammation. Though it may sound strange at first, doxycycline actually treats both conditions, bacterial infections and acne, through similar mechanisms – which makes sense since their symptoms are often very similar in nature. By halting protein production and slowing down an organism's growth rate, doxycycline can be a powerful weapon against acne caused by a bacterial infection. 

Tetracycline used to be one of the most popular prescribed acne treatments.  However, over time there became tetracycline-resistant strains of acne-causing bacteria. In response, doxycycline became the new mainstream treatment for acne – and a very successful one at that! What's more, doxycycline doesn't just work against tetracycline-resistant strains of skin bacteria, it has been shown to be effective on nearly every type.

Doxycycline can be prescribed to anyone with inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne, and it's also an option for those who do not respond well to other treatments. The medication can cause side effects in some people, so you should consult your doctor before starting this treatment regimen.

Who can use doxycycline?

Doxycycline is only available by prescription in the U.S. and it may be prescribed for inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne, but this drug should not be used if you're pregnant, trying to get pregnant, are younger than 13 years old, have kidney or liver problems, heart disease, or diabetes unless prescribed by your doctor.  You also shouldn't use doxycycline if you've had an allergic reaction to tetracyclines like oxytetracycline or minocycline before, or if you take certain medications such as birth control pills.

For women who are pregnant, lactating, or breastfeeding, doxycycline is listed as a class D drug in pregnancy which means that there is positive evidence of human fetal risk. A pregnant or lactating woman may use the drug if the potential benefits outweigh the risks as prescribed by your doctor. 

How do you use doxycycline?

There are several different brand names that use doxycycline as a part of their formulation and it is also available in generic form. When you start taking doxycycline as prescribed for your acne treatment it takes some time before the full effects can be felt. On average this is between one to three months with most people achieving at least moderate improvement by six months of use. Once you've reached an acceptable level of success in managing your acne symptoms or if side effects become bothersome for any length of time, speak to your doctor about tapering off doxycycline so that you don't experience withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing its usage.

Doxycycline is available in pill form and can be taken with or without food, although it may be better to take the medicine with food to avoid a potentially upset stomach. You'll want to start taking doxycycline right away if you're already suffering from acne symptoms such as pimples, redness, or pus-filled bumps.

Doxycycline also comes in the form of an oral liquid syrup known by its brand name Vibramycin. The dose of both forms of doxycycline will vary depending on the severity of your acne. A doctor or pharmacist can help you to figure out what doxycycline dose is best for your situation. Do not start taking doxycycline in doses higher than prescribed because this could lead to unpleasant side effects.

Doxycycline should be used with another topical medication (such as benzoyl peroxide) in order to help clear your skin more quickly. It's also important that you keep all appointments with your dermatologist after starting doxycycline treatment so they can monitor progress and determine if adjustments are needed.

What are the side effects of doxycycline?

Doxycycline is a fairly well-tolerated drug but there are some side effects that may occur. The most common adverse reactions you may experience include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light

These can be reduced by taking doxycycline with food as instructed and avoiding alcohol while on doxycycline. 

More severe side effects for this medication include: 

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Joint or muscle pain  
  • Severe headaches or vomiting
  • Severe stomach pain 
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Rarely do patients see more serious side effects such as hallucinations, psychosis, or mood disorders. Others have reported feeling depressed and have trouble sleeping. 

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If you experience any of these side effects, be sure to talk with your doctor right away in order to determine if an adjustment in doxycycline dosage or a change in another medication might help alleviate some of the discomforts that you're experiencing. 

Side effects typically only last one week after discontinuing doxycycline use, but it's possible that they will persist for up to three months (or longer, in some cases).

With doxycycline's many benefits, it is an effective treatment option for most people with moderate to severe acne. The side effects are usually manageable and the drug can be used long term to prevent future breakouts. If you've been feeling like doxycycline might work well for your specific skin type, talk to your dermatologist about how best to incorporate doxycycline into a personalized plan that will get you on track for clear skin. 

Where can I buy doxycycline? 

The only way to obtain doxycycline in the United States is by prescription through your doctor. It may be helpful to consult with a pharmacist or doctor about what other medications might work well in combination with doxycycline during consultation appointments so that your treatment plan can be personalized.

Summary

Doxycycline can be a great treatment for multiple ailments but especially acne. Although not for everyone, most adults respond positively to treatment. Do your research and speak with your doctor about side effects before starting doxycycline.

Sources: 

Doxycycline (Oral Route)

The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology  

Doxycycline oral syrup or suspension 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445892/

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