How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

The benefits and side effects of topical clindamycin for acne

When paired with complementary ingredients, topical clindamycin works to stop acne at its source.

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Curology Team
Aug 11, 2022 · 8 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Bacteria usually get a bad rap and you don’t have to be a doctor to understand why. But did you know some bacteria are actually good and necessary for normal skin functions? It’s true! That said, too much of certain bacteria can disrupt the natural balance in your skin’s ecosystem, leading to acne breakouts. That’s where topical antibiotics like clindamycin come into play, helping to stop blemishes from appearing when certain bacteria get out of control. 

Because clindamycin is a powerful antibiotic, it’s important to understand how this acne treatment works before you start using it. What does clindamycin do? Here we’ll tell you everything you need to know to help you learn if clindamycin might be right for you. 

What is clindamycin? 

Clindamycin is an antibiotic commonly used in topical prescription treatments for acne vulgaris, the medical term for common acne characterized by blackheads, whiteheads, and inflammatory papules, pustules, cysts, and nodules. Bacteria play a major role in acne breakouts—particularly one type called Cutibacterium acnes (aka C. acnes). As a topical antibiotic, clindamycin’s uses include treating blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of acne lesions, including papules and pustules. 

Like most antibiotics, clindamycin is only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider (like the dermatology providers at Curology!).

Clindamycin - what it is, benefits, treatment options infographic

The skin benefits of clindamycin

In short, antibiotics fight bacteria, which is why clindamycin and other topical antibiotics like erythromycin can help stop breakouts quite effectively. Generally speaking, clindamycin is a good ingredient for treating acne, but it should be used in combination with other ingredients (like benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin) to help lessen the risk of bacterial resistance. It’s clinically proven to be effective as an acne treatment, so it’s definitely worth considering as part of a well-rounded, acne-focused skincare routine. But let’s not go so far as to say clindamycin is the best. Everyone’s skin is unique, and there are many reasons different ingredients might work better for your specific breakouts. 

Here are a few benefits of topical clindamycin for acne:

  • Reduces bacteria that contribute to acne. Bacteria is one of the contributing factors that can cause acne, so controlling bacteria can help reduce breakouts. Clindamycin is an antibacterial that’s highly effective at preventing the growth of acne-causing bacteria in clogged pores. 

  • Provides anti-inflammatory effects. Clindamycin helps treat acne vulgaris with its antibacterial properties. It also has anti-inflammatory effects. Acne is an inflammatory skin condition, so reducing inflammation helps prevent more deep and painful pimples from forming. 

  • Decreases swelling. In addition to fighting C. acnes, clindamycin’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce swelling from acne breakouts. 

  • Has minimal side effects. Several studies show that topical clindamycin causes no major side effects,—more on possible side effects below. 

How clindamycin works to clear acne

When you apply a topical prescription product with clindamycin, the ingredient dives deep into your hair follicles—where bacteria (specifically acne-causing bacteria) live. 

Bacteria naturally occur within your skin’s ecosystem, but inflammation (pimples and other blemishes) can happen when it gets out of hand. When bacteria gorge on excess oil in your pores, inflammatory acne happens. Clindamycin helps to curb bacteria, preventing them from wreaking havoc on your skin.

Acne treatments with clindamycin at a glance 

Clindamycin for pimples works best when combined with other topical medications. That’s because using clindamycin on its own can lead to antibiotic resistance. No need to worry, though—if clindamycin is right for you, your dermatology provider can prescribe a combination of ingredients like tretinoin (aka Retin-A), azelaic acid, or others, to create your specific care plan. One study looking at a clindamycin and tretinoin routine demonstrated continuous improvement in facial acne over three months, improving the participants’ quality of life. 

One over-the-counter ingredient commonly paired with clindamycin is benzoyl peroxide—both ingredients help control acne-causing bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide has an antibacterial effect specifically against C. acnes, and it also unclogs pores and helps reduce inflammation. Together, clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide make a great team.

Here are some details of products containing this acne-fighting ingredient:

  • Clindamycin topical treatments typically contain formulations at a concentration of 1%.

  • Clindamycin is available as a foam, gel, lotion, swab, and water-based solution. You can also find clindamycin face washes.

  • Topical combination products containing clindamycin include Ziana, Duac, Benzaclin, Acanya, and some personalized prescription formulas from Curology.

Many brands combine clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide. One exception is Ziana, which combines clindamycin with tretinoin, and Curology, which combines clindamycin with other active ingredients selected by one of our licensed in-house dermatology providers to meet your specific skin concerns. 

How to use it

You can use clindamycin once or twice a day, depending on your specific product and its instructions. It’s easy: 

  • Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face. Pat your skin dry using a clean, soft cloth—no rubbing or scrubbing because it can aggravate your skin. 

  • Apply a pea-sized amount of clindamycin lotion or other clindamycin product on your face and neck. Be sure to cover any areas that tend to break out, not just where you’re currently experiencing a breakout. 

  • Moisturize using a non-comedogenic facial moisturizer (aka one that doesn’t contain pore-clogging ingredients)—also covering your face and neck. 

That’s it! No need to rinse. Just relax and let the bacteria-busting begin. 

Once you’re fully adjusted to your topical solution, you might consider adding salicylic acid to your routine for additional acne-busting benefits. This ingredient removes dead skin cells to help keep pores unclogged. 

For Curology members, message your dermatology provider with questions about clindamycin—we’re glad to offer guidance!

The side effects of clindamycin

While clindamycin is usually very effective, some people can experience local side effects, especially as their skin adjusts to it. Clindamycin gels may be more irritating than creams because gels often contain alcohol. Other common clindamycin for acne side effects include: 

  • Pruritus (itching)

  • Xeroderma (dryness)

  • Erythema (redness)

  • Burning 

  • Exfoliation

  • Oily skin

Always contact your dermatology provider if you’re worried about these or any other side effects or if you experience serious side effects like stomach pain or diarrhea (which is very rare). If you’re a Curology member, send a message to your provider. We’re always here for you.

By the way, it may not be safe to use clindamycin while pregnant or breastfeeding. That’s because we lack data that it’s safe to use in pregnant humans. Talk to your OBGYN about the best decision for you.

How to Use Tretinoin For Acne and Anti Aging Skincare

Just snap a few selfies and answer some questions about your skin. One of our in-house dermatology providers will evaluate your specific situation. If Curology is right for you, they’ll personalize a prescription formula with a mix of active ingredients for your unique skin concerns.

Your first month of Curology is free—you’ll just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. You can also add any of our recommended products for no extra cost. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Don’t want to bother with the trip to the dermatologist? Meet our dermatology experts online right now. Start your Curology free trial today. 

FAQs

When can I expect results with clindamycin?

It generally takes around two months to tell if a prescription acne treatment like clindamycin is working.¹² At Curology, many patients see an improvement after 6-8 weeks. But it can take even longer for acne to clear up. 

That phrase “healing isn’t linear” applies to your breakouts because bacteria isn’t the only factor at play. Your Curology provider is here to help you understand your skin, offer expert medical advice, and adjust your treatment as needed.  

Can I put moisturizer on over clindamycin?

Topical medications like clindamycin should typically be applied to a clean face before applying moisturizer. Moisturizer can help minimize possible irritation as well as decrease dryness.

Can clindamycin use prevent acne scars?

Clindamycin is an antibiotic and cannot prevent acne scars from forming. But antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat and help prevent stubborn acne, which can help prevent acne scarring. It’s possible that treating and helping to prevent acne can lead to fewer acne scars. Although there’s no direct use of clindamycin for acne scars, some studies have shown that, when used together, clindamycin and tretinoin can lighten post-acne dark spots (aka post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).¹³

How can I get clindamycin?

If you have acne, clindamycin is a treatment option. But like other antibiotics in the U.S., clindamycin is available by prescription only. That means you’ll have to meet with a licensed medical provider to obtain it. You can do that right now when you start your Curology free trial.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016, May 1).

  2. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Ibid. 

  3. James Q. Del Rosso, DO; Nicholas F. Schmidt, PhD. A Review of the Anti-inflammatory Properties of Clindamycin in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris. Drug Therapy Topics. (January 2010).

  4. Murphy, P.B., et al. Clindamycin. StatPearls. Ibid.

  5. Khodaeiani, E., et al. Topical 4% nicotinamide vs. 1% clindamycin in moderate inflammatory acne vulgaris.International Journal of Dermatology. (2013, June 20). 

  6. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  7. Toyoda, M. and Morohashi, M. Pathogenesis of acne.Medical Electron Microscope. (March 2001). 

  8. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Ibid.

  9. Ohlson, J., et al. Observational study of clindamycin phosphate and tretinoin gel for the treatment of acne. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (April 2019).

  10. Matin, T. and Goodman, M.B. Benzoyl peroxide.StatPearls. (2021, October 20).

  11. Murphy, P.B., et al. Clindamycin. StatPearls. Ibid.

  12. Becker, L.E., at al. Topical clindamycin therapy for acne vulgaris. A cooperative clinical study.Archives of Dermatology. (August 1981). 

  13. Callender, V.d., et al. Efficacy and safety of clindamycin phosphate 1.2% and tretinoin 0.025% gel for the treatment of acne and acne-induced post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in patients with skin of color.Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (July 2012).

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

This article was originally published on August 11, 2022, and updated on November 9, 2022.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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