Using antibiotics for acne should only be a last resort and only for the most severe acne that is likely to leave permanent scars. It would be ideal if everyone who got a few pimples could take a drug and their acne clears up, but the antibiotic drugs used are too dangerous and potentially harmful to use unless it is absolutely vital. That might sound like an exaggeration, but there are a couple of reasons that antibiotics are used only as a last resort.
When you take an antibiotic, it kills bacteria of a certain type, depending on the antibiotic. Some lucky bacteria become resistant to that antibiotic by evolving. The drug sweeps through the body, killing your acne bacteria (and a lot of other beneficial bacteria at the same time), and your acne goes away. The resistant bacteria are mopped up by the immune system in most cases, but when some are missed, they can start multiplying and fighting back. Except for this time the bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic, so you have to use something else.
The worst part? Bacteria can share antibiotic resistance between themselves. Different species can pick up the resistance genes from each other. Acne bacteria rarely kill, but when they have evolved resistance and give it to other species, like E. coli, it can kill lots of people.
Developing and transferring resistance in this way is thankfully rare but because so many antibiotics are prescribed (often needlessly, like for the common cold – a viral infection) and so many people do not finish their course of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. By avoiding antibiotics for acne, you are avoiding contributing to what could be one of humanity’s biggest threats.
Science took a long time to realise that the cultures of bacteria, fungi and viruses present in our skin, blood, digestive tract, and other tissues are actually very good for us. Disruption to the gut flora (as the collection of microbes is known) is being related to immune diseases, a higher risk of infection, nutrient deficiency and intestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
Keeping our gut health in top form is being recognized as one of the best ways to keep ourselves healthy. Friendly bacteria stop pathogenic bacteria colonizing our bodies. Our immune system needs “cross-talk” with bacteria to maintain its health and effectiveness. Probiotics are gaining popularity, and there is even some evidence that some of them might work.
Taking an antibiotic medicine when it is not absolutely needed is like carpet bombing a town when you just needed to knock down one house. They are indiscriminate, powerful and the damage can last for years. This side effect can be worse than the acne itself.
Antibiotics are only suitable for the most severe forms of acne. Acne vulgaris can range from a few pimples to pits and infected lesions causing lifelong scarring. Preventing such a painful and unsightly disease is completely reasonable. Many people with acne scarring are acutely aware and self-conscious about it, it can have a very serious effect on a person’s quality of life. Not to mention severe acne is an infection risk, is often very painful, and frequently disgusting.
If you are concerned about your acne and think that it is more than mild, you should talk to your doctor. There are dozens of effective treatments available, and one of them is antibiotics. Before getting to antibiotics, however, the doctor will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial treatments like salicylic acid, tea tree oil, or glycolic acid.
The first thing anyone concerned with their acne should do is make sure they are cleaning their face properly. Removing dead skin cells from hair follicles with a mild abrasive can stop a lot of blackheads from forming and reduce the severity of acne. Oil glands pump out more oil than the body is used to during and after puberty, so making sure this excess oil is cleared away regularly will definitely help.
Oral contraceptives are available for females over the age of 14 or 15 (depending on the drug) and can be effective against severe acne. Usually, they are reserved as a last resort, even after antibiotics have been tried. Oral contraceptive pills can cure acne in many cases.Which treatment works depends on the type of acne you have developed. Talk to your doctor, they will take you through what is happening in your skin and how best to deal with it.
What Types of Antibiotics for Acne can you get?
These are taken in liquid or pill form. They dissolve in your stomach and enter the bloodstream through your gut lining. The blood transports the antibiotic to the infected site and everywhere else in the body. Taking antibiotics in this way can be the most successful way of getting rid of tough infections, but it is also the most indiscriminate. If you have taken enough to kill the acne bacteria in your face, the bacteria that the antibiotic can target that live elsewhere in your body are likely to be killed too. This disrupts your gut flora and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance (see above).
Taking topical antibiotics is less likely to cause antibiotic resistance and a serious disruption to your body’s balance of flora. These antibiotics are usually used in conjunction with a topical retinoid or benzoyl peroxide. They can be less effective than oral antibiotics, but because of the risks of resistance and disruption, are more likely to be prescribed.
When Using Antibiotics for Acne
Always complete your course of antibiotics, even when your acne has healed. When you do not complete the full course, you run the risk of the bacteria that have survived the onslaught of antibiotics taking their resistance and giving it to other bacteria.
When cancer or HIV patients are undergoing treatment, their immune systems are often suppressed. Suppressed immune systems are more vulnerable to bacteria, and when it is a resistant form created when someone did not finish their course of antibiotics, neither their body nor the drugs available will be able to save them. Millions of people die this way each year.
Only use the drugs your doctor recommends and if you decide to take any alternative treatments, keep them informed so they can make the best recommendations for you based on all the evidence. Treatment of acne can be complicated, so make sure everyone is up to speed.