Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/21/2022
If you have acne or a bacterial infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication called doxycycline to treat your symptoms, stop bacterial growth and help you recover.
Doxycycline can work wonders for your skin if you’re prone to inflamed acne. However, due to its effects on photosensitivity (your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight), it can also be your skin’s worst enemy if you spend lots of time outdoors in a bright, sunny environment.
Below, we’ve explained what doxycycline is, as well as why your healthcare provider may give you this medication.
We’ve also explained the effects that doxycycline can have on your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and shared simple but effective techniques that you can use to shield your skin from UV-related damage while using doxycycline.
Doxycycline is a common medication that’s used to treat bacterial infections. It’s part of a class of drugs called tetracycline antibiotics. Like other antibiotics, doxycycline works by preventing certain types of bacteria from growing and spreading throughout your body.
Although doxycycline is often used to kill the bacteria that cause severe acne, it doesn’t stop all acne. Because of this, it’s usually prescribed with other medications to target acne from multiple angles.
In addition to treating inflamed acne, doxycycline is used to treat bacterial skin infections, Lyme disease and several sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.
Doxycycline is also used to prevent and treat malaria, and as a treatment for outbreaks of some infectious diseases.
Doxycycline is available as a capsule, tablet and liquid. If you’re prescribed doxycycline to treat acne or any other condition, make sure to use it as directed by your healthcare provider.
Doxycycline is a safe, effective medication for most people when it’s used as directed. However, like all medications, it can cause side effects.
One of the most common side effects of doxycycline is photosensitivity, or an increased level of sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight.
UV radiation is composed of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. When these rays come into contact with your skin, they cause damage at the DNA level. Over time, this damage can cause genetic mutations that increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Both types of UV rays are harmful, but their effects on your skin are slightly different. UVA rays are primarily responsible for structural skin damage and premature aging, while UVB rays can cause your skin to develop a bad sunburn.
Because doxycycline increases your skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation from bright sunlight, even a short amount of time spent out in the sun without protection may cause a severe sunburn.
Unlike a typical sunburn, the type of burn you may develop while using doxycycline can feature erythematous plaques (red, elevated patches of skin) and acne-like papules. It’s often painful and itchy, making it an unpleasant experience to deal with.
If you have a skin condition that’s aggravated by sunlight, such as rosacea, melasma or atopic dermatitis (eczema), it may become more severe when exposed to sunlight while you’re using doxycycline.
As treatments for acne, doxycycline and similar medications are usually prescribed for three to four months. During this period, you’ll need to take steps to protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of sunburn.
It’s worth noting that doxycycline isn’t the only medication that can increase your skin’s level of sensitivity to sunlight. Many other common medications, including some used in skin care, are also associated with increased photosensitivity and phototoxic reactions.
The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains a list of medications that can cause photosensitivity that you can use to check if other drugs you use may affect your UV sensitivity.
If you’re prescribed doxycycline, it’s important to protect your skin from the effects of excessive sun exposure. Use the tips below to keep your skin protected and lower your risk of sunburn or other skin reactions:
Avoid spending time in bright, direct sunlight. By far the most effective way to avoid sun-related skin damage while using doxycycline is to limit your exposure to sunlight. When you’re outdoors, try to spend time in the shade. It’s especially important to spend time in the shade from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which is when sunlight is strongest and UV levels are highest.
Wear sunscreen. Sunscreen protects your skin from UV radiation, making it especially important if you use doxycycline. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF 30+, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen.Not only does broad-spectrum sunscreen reduce your risk of developing a sunburn, but it can also help to slow down the development of fine lines, wrinkles, age spots and other signs of skin aging caused by UVA radiation.
Choose clothing and accessories that shield your skin. To avoid burning your arms and legs, choose a long-sleeved top and pants. When possible, wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face from direct sun exposure.In general, thick clothing — particularly clothing made from tightly-woven denim, wool or polyester — provides more protection from sunlight than thin, light clothing.
When possible, choose shoes that cover your feet. It’s easy to forget about your feet, especially in summer. To stay protected, either apply sunscreen to your feet or choose a pair of shoes that protect the tops of your feet from sun exposure.
Use sun protection even in winter. Although the temperature might drop in winter, UV radiation levels are still high. In fact, high altitudes and reflections mean that your risk of sunburn is actually higher if you engage in winter sports like skiing or snowboarding.Make sure to protect your skin even during winter by applying sunscreen, especially on your ears, nose, the back of your neck and other exposed areas.
If you develop very severe or painful sunburn while using doxycycline, you should contact your healthcare provider. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends relieving discomfort from sunburn by:
Using a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to soothe painful skin.
Taking a bath or showering in cool water to reduce pain and discomfort.
Allowing blisters to heal on their own, rather than popping them.
Drinking more water than usual, as sunburn can draw fluid out from your skin.
Avoiding any further sun exposure and covering the skin with protective clothing.
In addition to increasing your level of sensitivity to sunlight, doxycycline may also cause other side effects. Potential adverse effects of doxycycline include:
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Irritated and/or sore throat
Rectum or vaginal itching
Changes in your skin, nail, eye or mouth color
Doxycycline may potentially cause more serious side effects and allergic reactions, including the following:
Skin rashes that involve swollen glands and/or fever
Redness, peeling and blistering of the skin
Swelling that affects your eyes, lips, face, throat and/or tongue
Double vision, blurred vision or vision loss
Difficulty breathing and/or swallowing
Abnormal bruising and/or bleeding
Stomach cramps, watery stool and digestive issues
Changes in the color of your teeth
Pain that affects your joints and/or chest
It’s important to contact your healthcare provider if you experience any severe adverse reactions while using doxycycline, or if you have any concerns about your medication.
Your healthcare provider will discuss these side effects with you before prescribing doxycycline and inform you about how to use your medication safely.
If you’re prone to breakouts of inflamed or cystic acne, your healthcare provider may prescribe a daily dose of doxycycline to clear your skin and prevent your acne from returning.
It’s important to protect your skin from the sun while using doxycycline, especially if you also use other skin care medications that affect your sensitivity to sunlight. Use the techniques above and make sure to inform your healthcare provider if you develop sunburn or other skin reactions.
Interested in dealing with acne and caring for your skin? Our list of dermatologist-recommended skin care tips shares proven tactics that you can use to make smarter skin care decisions, while our range of skin care products includes tailored options formulated with your needs in mind.