Doxycycline for Acne

In This Article

Doxycycline is an antibiotic that belongs to a group of antibiotics called tetracyclines. It is the most commonly prescribed oral antibiotic (pill or capsule) for acne and rosacea. Doxycycline is sold under the brand names Doryx, Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, and many more. It’s also sold as generic doxycycline.

Doxycycline Uses

Doxycycline is used to treat moderate to severe inflammatory acne, or mild inflammatory acne that isn’t getting better with other treatments. It is also used to treat cellulitis or skin infections.

As an oral medication, you'll take doxycycline by mouth in pill or capsule form. This makes it a good choice if you have back or body breakouts where it's hard to reach to apply topical medications.

Doxycycline works by controlling bacteria. Although acne isn’t an infection, and it’s not contagious, antibiotics can help clear up breakouts by reducing the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin—in this case, Propionibacterium acnes.

Doxycycline also reduces inflammation, so it helps improve the red bumps and pus-filled bumps known as pustules and cysts. It is less effective at treat non-inflamed acne lesions like blackheads or milia, though. You'll need a different type of acne treatment to get those blemishes under control.

How to Use It

doxycycline for acne
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Doses vary from as low as 40 milligrams (mg) once a day (rare) to 100 mg twice daily. Most likely, you’ll use doxycycline along with another topical acne medication or two, like benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids. You'll see better, and faster, results this way.

Doxycycline does a good job at reducing inflammation and bacteria, but these aren't the only factors that trigger breakouts. Acne is also caused by excess oil forming a plug, called a comedo, in the pore. This plug is the beginning of every acne blemish.

Doxycycline doesn't stop these plugs from forming, but medications like topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide do. Plus, using doxycycline along with a non-antibiotic topical acne medication helps reduce the chance of developing antibiotic resistance.

Short-term use of doxycycline is the goal. Once your skin has improved noticeably, your doctor will take you off doxycycline. You’ll continue to use topical acne treatments longterm to keep breakouts away.

Some people, though, may need to use doxycycline for longer periods of time to keep acne under control. It all depends on your specific situation.

Doxycycline can take two to three months to improve your acne.

Who Should Not Take Doxycycline

Doxycycline is only prescribed in certain cases, and it might not be the right treatment for you if:

  • You’re pregnant. Doxycycline can harm a developing fetus. There are better acne treatment medications for pregnant moms, so make sure you let your dermatologist know if you’re expecting.
  • You (or your child) are under 8 years old. Doxycycline shouldn't be used by young children because it can affect growth and cause permanent tooth discoloration.
  • You’re allergic to tetracyclines. Doxycycline is a tetracycline antibiotic, so you can't safely use it if you're allergic to tetracyclines.

If doxycycline isn't an option for you, no worries. There are other antibiotics that treat acne that will be more appropriate for you.

Side Effects

Your dermatologist will give you a rundown of all possible side effects when prescribing your medication, but here are some of the most common.

Upset Stomach and/or Diarrhea

Doxycycline can cause nausea and stomach upset. Eating non-dairy food before ingesting the pill can help. Dairy makes doxycycline less effective so it's best to wait at least an hour to ingest dairy products.

Indigestion or Pill Esophagitis

Doxycycline can irritate your esophagus, causing heartburn-like pain and making it hurt when you swallow. To avoid this, take your pill with a big glass of water.

Also, don’t lay down for about an hour after taking it. Plan on taking your medication well before bedtime. 

Photosensitivity

Here’s a side effect that you probably didn’t consider. Doxycycline can make the skin all over your body more sensitive to the sun. While you're taking doxycycline you'll be more prone to sunburn, so take care.

Wear sunscreen every day and reapply frequently whenever you’re spending time outside. It's a good idea to wear sunscreen daily anyway. It keeps your skin looking younger and helps protect you from skin cancer.

A Word from Verywell

It can take two to three months of using doxycycline before you really start seeing results. During this time, it's normal to continue to see new breakouts. Don't let this discourage you. Try to be patient and continue using your medication.

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns about treating your acne with doxycycline, your dermatologist is always available to help you out. So don’t be shy; if you have questions, give your dermatologist a call.

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Article Sources
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  1. Del rosso JQ. Oral Doxycycline in the Management of Acne Vulgaris: Current Perspectives on Clinical Use and Recent Findings with a New Double-scored Small Tablet Formulation. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015;8(5):19-26.

  2. Cross R, Ling C, Day NP, Mcgready R, Paris DH. Revisiting doxycycline in pregnancy and early childhood--time to rebuild its reputation? Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2016;15(3):367-82. doi:10.1517/14740338.2016.1133584

  3. Velušček M, Bajrović FF, Strle F, Stupica D. Doxycycline-induced photosensitivity in patients treated for erythema migrans. BMC Infect Dis. 2018;18(1):365.  doi:10.1186/s12879-018-3270-y


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