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Clindamycin for skin: Everything you need to know

Topical clindamycin is an acne-fighting powerhouse.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
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.

When it comes to fighting acne, topical clindamycin may just be what your skin needs. This potent antibiotic is a go-to for treating breakouts, thanks to its ability to stop bacteria from growing. But how exactly does it work on the skin? And how many different forms does it come in? 

We asked our experts to dive into the nitty-gritty of this ingredient, and the results are interesting, to say the least. Here’s a closer look at clindamycin for skin—what it is, how to use it in your skincare routine, and its potential side effects. 

What is clindamycin? 

According to our dermatology providers, clindamycin for acne treatment can be quite the game-changer. Clindamycin, a bacteriostatic or bactericidal antibiotic,¹ helps to treat acne by preventing the growth of C. acnes, a bacteria commonly found on the skin that may contribute to blemishes. These bacteria feed on the oil in pores, which may contribute to the inflammation that causes deep, painful pimples. Clindamycin has anti-inflammatory properties that may decrease acne-related swelling² but it’s not recommended as monotherapy due to the risk of bacterial resistance³—basically, it shouldn’t be your only line of defense against acne.

Medical providers sometimes use clindamycin for skin infections and other purposes. Clindamycin is a lincosamide antibiotic approved by the FDA for treating a variety of infections, including those caused by streptococcal and staphylococcal bacteria. It can also treat septicemia (a blood infection), as well as intra-abdominal, lower respiratory, gynecological, bone and joint, and skin or skin structure infections.⁴

If you’re looking to incorporate this antibiotic into your skincare routine, you’re in luck—many of the acne formulas offered by Curology include topical clindamycin as an active ingredient. 

What are the different types of topical clindamycin?

Clindamycin may effectively treat acne,⁵ and it’s commonly prescribed at 1% strength in a variety of forms. Clindamycin can be combined with other acne-fighting ingredients to make brand-name medications like Acanya, which includes benzoyl peroxide, and Ziana, which includes tretinoin. If your dermatology provider prescribes this antibiotic, you may end up using one of these different formulations:⁶ 

  • Foam: Clindamycin is available as a foam, which spreads easily across the skin surface. Though, foams offer little hydration and may cause stinging or burning for some. 

  • Gel: Clindamycin phosphate gel is another option. Gels are easy to apply and tend to be less greasy. Though, they don’t provide much moisture so they may not be best for those with dry or sensitive skin.  

  • Pledget: A pledget is a Clindamycin-coated swab. Each pledget is used once and then discarded.   

  • Lotion: Clindamycin lotion is another popular form of this antibiotic. Lotions may provide a cooling effect but generally aren’t as hydrating as a cream. 

  • Solution: Clindamycin solution is liquid and may come in a bottle with an applicator tip. Solutions are easy to use but can be messy and don’t offer much hydration.

  • Cream: Clindamycin in a cream form tends to spread easily and offers more hydration than the other options.⁷

Because clindamycin is a prescription antibiotic, your medical or dermatology provider can advise you on the correct dosage and the proper way to apply it to maximize its potential benefits and minimize its possible side effects, which we’ll discuss in a bit. Regardless of formulation, avoid getting topical clindamycin in your mouth, nose, or eyes—if this happens, rinse thoroughly with water. 

Using clindamycin for acne 

Clindamycin is a popular choice among dermatology providers for treating acne, with many prescribing a 1% solution or gel. When you use topical antibiotics to fight breakouts, the antibiotics accumulate in the follicle—it’s thought that these treatments are effective because they may be antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.⁸ 

As noted above, topical antibiotics aren't recommended as a singular acne treatment because of the possibility of antibiotic resistance. That’s why many dermatology providers combine topical antibiotics with other acne treatments like topical retinoids (in some cases, tretinoin) and benzoyl peroxide.⁹ In one 12-week study, a combination of clindamycin and tretinoin called Clin-RA was shown to improve acne.¹⁰ In another review of multiple studies, a combination of benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin was shown to be more effective at fighting acne than clindamycin alone.¹¹

At Curology, anti-acne formulas containing clindamycin are paired with other antimicrobial agents, such as azelaic acid or zinc pyrithione to help prevent antibiotic resistance. 

How often can you use topical clindamycin?

Always follow your prescribing medical or dermatology provider’s instructions when using topical clindamycin for acne treatment. In general, adults and children over 12 years old can apply topical clindamycin to the acne-affected area up to twice daily.¹² But everyone’s skin is different, and some individuals may need to adjust the application frequency based on their individual needs and the guidance of their provider. 

How to use clindamycin in your skincare routine

It’s easy to incorporate topical clindamycin into your skincare routine. If your provider prescribes this antibiotic, here are a few tips for using it:

Apply after cleansing

Wash your face with your favorite gentle cleanser in the morning or evening, and let it dry completely. Next, apply a thin layer of clindamycin to the affected areas of the face and neck, using just enough to lightly cover the area.¹³ If you’re using a Curology formula, we usually recommend nighttime use. Apply the medicine to the entire acne-affected area, not just to the pimples. 

Use moisturizer

Add a layer of moisturizer after applying clindamycin to help keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated. If you’re experiencing irritation, applying moisturizer before clindamycin may help. It’s probably fine to keep using the over-the-counter moisturizer you have on hand—most skincare products and ingredients are safe to use alongside topical clindamycin. However, it is always best to talk with your provider if you have any concerns 

Follow directions

For best results, always follow medical advice. Most patients begin to see improvement after four to six weeks; full improvement may take up to eight weeks or longer. 

Potential side effects of topical clindamycin 

Like any topical acne treatment, clindamycin is associated with several potential adverse reactions. These side effects are similar to other prescription topicals that treat acne, like tretinoin. Potential side effects of topical clindamycin may include the following:¹⁴ 

  • Oily skin

  • Exfoliation

  • Burning

  • Redness (erythema)

  • Itching (pruritis)

  • Dryness (xeroderma)

Other side effects may include colitis, folliculitis, and photosensitivity reactions.¹⁵ A note from our providers: If you’ve used 1% clindamycin in the past and experienced dryness and irritation, you may get different results with Curology’s skincare. Our formulas are created to provide a moisturizing base for your medication.

You can trust Curology’s experts 

When it comes to skincare, professional advice can make all the difference. At Curology, we believe in the power of personalized formulas to help achieve clear, healthy skin. Topical clindamycin is one of the key ingredients in many of our custom formulas for acne. This ingredient is only available by prescription from a healthcare provider, and our licensed dermatology providers are happy to help. 

Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is suitable for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers, who will help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by determining the products you need to help you meet your skincare goals.

FAQs

What is clindamycin?

According to our dermatology providers, clindamycin for acne treatment can be quite the game-changer. Clindamycin, a bacteriostatic or bactericidal antibiotic, helps to treat acne by preventing the growth of C. acnes, a bacteria commonly found on the skin that may contribute to blemishes.

What are the different types of topical clindamycin?

Clindamycin may effectively treat acne, and it’s commonly prescribed at 1% strength in a variety of forms. Clindamycin can be combined with other acne-fighting ingredients to make brand-name medications like Acanya, which includes benzoyl peroxide, and Ziana, which includes tretinoin.

How often can you use topical clindamycin?

Always follow your prescribing medical or dermatology provider’s instructions when using topical clindamycin for acne treatment. In general, adults and children over 12 years old can apply topical clindamycin to the acne-affected area up to twice daily.

• • •

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

  1. Murphy, P.B., et al. Clindamycin. StatPearls. (2022).

  2. Del Rosso, J., et al. A Review of the Anti-inflammatory Properties of Clindamycin in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris. Cutis. (2010).

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

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

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

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

  7. Mayba, Julia N. and Melinda J. Gooderham. A Guide to Topical Vehicle Formulations. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery 22. (2018).

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

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

  10. Ohlson, J., et al. Observational Study of Clindamycin Phosphate and Tretinoin Gel for the Treatment of Acne. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. (2019).

  11. Seidlar, E., Kimball, A. Meta-analysis comparing efficacy of benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, benzoyl peroxide with salicylic acid, and combination benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin in acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2010).

  12. Food and Drug Administration. Cleocin T (CLINDAMYCIN PHOSPHATE) Label.

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

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

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

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. 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

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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