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If you have inflammatory acne, cystic acne or just get persistent acne breakouts that don’t seem to get better with conventional treatments, your healthcare provider might suggest using the oral antibiotic doxycycline.
Doxycycline works by preventing certain types of bacteria from growing. It’s used to treat a wide range of different bacterial infections, including the growth of P. acnes bacteria that can cause or contribute to acne breakouts.
Using doxycycline is simple, but there are a few things that you should know before you add this prescription medication to your acne and skin care toolkit.
We’ve discussed these below, from how to use doxycycline to side effects and interactions you’ll want to know about before taking doxycycline for acne.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic that’s used to treat bacterial infections, inflammatory skin diseases and to prevent malaria. It belongs to a class of medications called tetracyclines and works by killing certain types of bacteria that can grow on your skin and inside your body.
As an acne treatment, doxycycline works by targeting the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) that can grow on your skin and inside clogged pores.
Our guide to doxycycline provides more information about how this medication works, what it’s used to treat, common doses, side effects and more.
Doxycycline is available as a standard or delayed-release capsule, tablet or suspension (liquid) for oral use. Your healthcare provider will inform you about how to use the form of doxycycline you’re prescribed.
Follow the instructions below to use doxycycline effectively for acne:
Take doxycycline at the dosage provided by your healthcare provider. Doxycycline is typically prescribed to treat acne at a dosage of 50mg to 100mg per day. Our doxycyline dosage for acne guide goes into more detail. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and do not exceed the prescribed dose.
Take doxycycline one or two times per day. Doxycycline is typically prescribed for use one or two times a day. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and make sure to take doxycycline at the recommended time.
Do not crush, chew or break doxycycline capsules. If you’re prescribed doxycycline in capsule or tablet form, swallow the medication whole. Do not chew, open or crush the doxycycline capsules or tablets.
Shake doxycycline suspension before use. If you’re prescribed doxycycline in liquid form (doxycycline suspension or syrup), shake the medication before use to ensure it’s mixed evenly.
Drink a full glass of water with each dose of doxycycline. Drinking water doesn’t just help with swallowing doxycycline capsules or tablets — it also helps the medication pass from your mouth into your digestive system.
Drink a full glass of water every time you take doxycycline. Make sure to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day by maintaining a steady intake or water and other drinks.
If necessary, take doxycycline with food or a glass of milk. Doxycycline may cause an upset stomach. If you feel sick after using doxycycline, ask your healthcare provider about taking your medication with a small meal or a glass of milk.
If you miss a dose of doxycycline, take it as soon as you remember. If it’s almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose of doxycycline. Do not take two doses of doxycycline at once to make up for a missed dose.
Continue eating your normal diet while using doxycycline. It’s best to keep eating your normal diet while using this medication, unless your healthcare provider instructs you to make dietary changes.
Keep using doxycycline after your acne clears. Acne takes time to completely clear, and stopping doxycycline too early can increase your risk of dealing with recurrent acne breakouts.
Make sure to continue using doxycycline for your full treatment plan. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend using doxycycline for three to four months to get rid of your acne and clear your skin.
If necessary, use doxycycline with other medications. Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe other medications, such as tretinoin or other topical retinoids, for you to use with doxycycline.
Make sure to take all of the medication in your acne treatment plan. Doxycycline is far more effective when used with other acne medications than by itself, and using it with other medications may reduce your risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
After stopping doxycycline, continue using other skin care treatments. After you stop doxycycline, you may need to continue using other acne medications to stop your breakouts from coming back.
Doxycycline can cause side effects, including some that may affect your wellbeing and quality of life. Common side effects of doxycycline include:
Nausea and vomiting
Itching that affects your rectum and/or vagina
Throat irritation and sore throat
Loss of appetite
Changes in your skin, nail, eye or mouth color
Make sure to inform your healthcare provider if any of these adverse effects are severe or fail to improve over time.
Doxycycline can cause photosensitivity — an increased level of sensitivity to sunlight. You may notice that you burn more easily after exposure to sunlight while taking doxycycline, or that your skin feels especially painful when sunburned.
While you’re using doxycycline, make sure to protect yourself from the sun. Apply an SPF 30+, broad-spectrum sunscreen before you spend time outdoors in peak sunlight hours, spend time in the shade whenever possible and avoid tanning beds and other sources of UV radiation.
In some cases, doxycycline may cause more serious side effects. Seek medical help or contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following side effects:
Double vision, blurred vision or vision loss
Skin rash that occurs with swollen glands or fever
Swelling that affects your eyes, face, throat, lips or tongue
Joint pain or chest pain
Hives, skin redness, peeling or blisters
Unusual bleeding and/or bruising
Severe stomach pain, bloody stools or fever
Signs of a recurrent bacterial infection
Permanent tooth discoloration
Doxycycline can interact with other medications, including common prescription medications like birth control pills. Some interactions may make doxycycline or other medications less effective in your body, while others may potentially cause side effects.
Medications that can interact with doxycycline include acitretin, anticoagulants (blood thinners), barbiturates, bismuth subsalicylate, carbamazepine, isotretinoin, penicillin antibiotics, phenytoin and proton pump inhibitors used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcers.
To lower your risk of experiencing interactions from doxycycline, inform your healthcare provider about all medications and supplements you currently use or have recently used before you start treatment with this medication.
Doxycycline may make hormonal contraceptives less effective. Inform your healthcare provider if you currently use the birth control pill, patch, ring or injection. Your healthcare provider may suggest using an alternative or secondary form of contraception.
Some over-the-counter medications and supplements, including calcium supplements, antacids containing magnesium, aluminum or calcium, laxatives and iron supplements, may interfere with doxycycline and make it less effective.
If you use any of these products, it’s best to let your healthcare provider know. They may inform you about how to use these dietary supplements without affecting doxycycline absorption.
Doxycycline can cause birth defects, including damage to a child’s teeth, when it’s taken during pregnancy. Make sure to inform your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or you plan to become pregnant in the near future.
If you become pregnant while using doxycycline, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Keep doxycycline inside its original container. Make sure to tightly close the container after you take your medication, and store it in a safe, secure location that’s out of reach of children and/or pets.
Store doxycycline at room temperature away from excessive moisture, bright light or heat. Avoid storing doxycycline or other medications in the bathroom.
If you need to dispose of unused medicine, follow these steps from the FDA for safe medication disposal.
Doxycycline and other antibiotics can play important roles in getting your acne breakouts under control. However, there’s more to treating acne than just using antibiotics. Follow the tips below to get better results from your acne treatment and prevention routine:
Wash your face twice a day. It’s common to sweat throughout the day — an issue that can make your acne worse. Make sure to wash acne-prone skin twice a day, as well as after workouts, sports and other activities that cause you to perspire.
Avoid scrubbing your skin. Scrubbing can cause irritation, which may make your acne breakouts worse. Be gentle with your skin and use your fingertips to apply cleansers and other products. Avoid using a sponge, washcloth or other potentially abrasive items.
Use doxycycline with other acne treatments. Although doxycycline kills acne-causing bacteria, it doesn’t stop the production of sebum and dead skin cells that triggers acne in the first place.
For best results, your healthcare provider will usually recommend combining doxycycline with a topical retinoid, benzoyl peroxide or other science-based acne treatments.
Avoid popping pimples at home. Squeezing or popping pimples can increase your risk of developing an infection, painful acne or permanent acne scarring. Let your acne heal on its own. If you have persistent acne, ask your dermatologist about acne extraction.
If your acne doesn’t improve, see a dermatologist. Acne can take time to get better, even with medications like doxycycline. If your acne doesn’t clear after several months, consider talking to a dermatologist about your treatment options.
Our guide to reducing acne shares more tips that you can use to deal with breakouts and get rid of acne for good.
Using doxycycline to treat acne is fairly simple. Make sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and use the tips above to take doxycycline safely.
It may take several months for your acne breakouts to improve while using doxycycline. Keep using doxycycline for as long as your healthcare provider recommends, even if your breakouts clear up early.
Worried about acne? We offer a customized, prescription acne cream that you can use to treat breakouts and maintain clear skin throughout the year, either on its own or in combination with other acne treatments.
You can also learn more about acne in our detailed guide to acne types, causes and treatment options.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.