Acne Oral Medication

Physicians often prescribe oral antibiotics to treat acne. Antibiotics reduce both the symptoms and the chances of scarring by attacking the bacterial infections in inflamed skin. To clear up acne, your doctor will probably have you take oral antibiotics daily for several months.

You might not see any improvement in symptoms at all for several weeks after beginning medication. In fact, in some cases, symptoms might appear even worse before they begin to subside!

Other acne medications reduce the amount of oil produced by the skin. Anti-androgen medications counter the effects of the male hormone androgen, which contributes to enlarged skin pores and skin oil production. Below you’ll find a list of some of the medications your dermatologist might prescribe.


Erythromycin is one of the few anti-acne oral antibiotics thought to be safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Inform your doctor or dermatologist if you’re pregnant and/or taking medication.

Side effects of erythromycin can include gastrointestinal problems and allergies. Liver problems can occur, especially in patients with preexisting liver disorders. Some cases of dangerous heart irregularities have also been reported. Erythromycin should not be taken with terfenadine, astemisole or cisapride, as these combinations can greatly increase the possibility of heart irregularities.

Isotretinoin (Accutane®)

Accutane® is a brand name for isotretinoin. It has been used to provide long-term relief from severe cystic acne. Isotretinoin reduces the skin’s ability to produce oil, and prevents dead skin cells from sticking together and clogging pores. While it has a proven track record for its ability to treat acne, significant controversy surrounds its possible side effects. Depression is one of the more serious side effects, and some have argued that Accutane® has contributed to suicides.

Depending on the severity of the acne, treatment usually lasts four to six months. Other side effects may include dry skin, vision problems, and elevated cholesterol levels. Acne symptoms usually appear to be worse before results are seen.

The Tetracycline Family: Tetracycline, Minocycline, and Doxycycline

Tetracycline and its close relatives minocycline and doxycycline are oral antibiotics that kill the bacteria infecting clogged skin pores. This reduces skin inflammation and helps prevent bacteria from spreading to uninfected areas. Treatment can last from several months to more than a year.

Side effects may include photosensitivity, allergies, stomach cramps and, in women, yeast infections. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take any drugs from the tetracycline family, and should discontinue tetracycline medication should they become pregnant during treatment.

Tetracycline, minocycline and doxycycline should never be taken in combination with barbiturates, lithium, or phenytoin.

Hormonal Therapy

The male hormone androgen has been identified as a leading cause of acne. Women produce androgen in both the ovaries and the adrenal glands. While her androgen levels may be normal, a woman may be particularly sensitive to its effect on her oil glands and hair follicles.

Anti-androgen therapy aims to reduce the production of sebum with the use of the hormone estrogen. Oral contraceptives containing estrogen are often used to create a better hormone balance in the body.

See a Doctor

Topical antibiotics and other prescription acne medications require the supervision of trained medical professionals. The information contained herein is not intended to replace professional medical care.


DermNet Editorial Board. (updated 2002). Erythromycin. Retrieved April 26, 2002, from

McLaughlin, M. (1999). Acne. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Retrieved April 26, 2002, from medications.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2002). Tetracyclines (systemic). Retrieved April 26, 2002, from (nd). Antibiotic treatment. Retrieved April 26, 2002, from