What are the Pros and Cons of Taking Tetracycline for Acne?

M. Walker
M. Walker
Tetracycline can cause gastrointestinal problems.
Tetracycline can cause gastrointestinal problems.

Many healthcare professionals will prescribe a pill form of tetracycline for acne that is moderate to severe. The dosage is usually low, around 500 to 1,000 mg each day, and the treatment is usually over the span of months to years. Some of the advantages of taking tetracycline include dramatic reduction of acne in some patients, a decrease in swelling and inflammation associated with cystic acne, and results that last for a long period of time. Some of the main disadvantages of using this drug include usage constraints as well as side effects including sun sensitivity, tooth discoloration, and nausea.

Pregnant women are strongly cautioned against taking tetracycline.
Pregnant women are strongly cautioned against taking tetracycline.

For patients who have found topical acne treatment to be unsuccessful, tetracycline and tetracycline derivatives, such as doxycycline and minocycline, may greatly reduce the problem. These antibiotics work by killing the types of bacteria associated with acne flare-ups. They also act to lessen the inflammation associated with pustular and cystic acne, flattening the surface of acne cysts and making the acne less noticeable. Taking tetracycline for several months or years has also been found to prevent future acne in addition to reducing existing pimples. Another advantage of taking this drug is the ability to combine it with topical treatments for more severe cases, so that acne is being combated by two different methods.

Tetracycline might be taken for months to years to treat moderate to severe acne.
Tetracycline might be taken for months to years to treat moderate to severe acne.

Tetracycline side effects sometimes outweigh the benefits, and some patients find themselves experiencing gastric distress or nausea after taking the pill. Since this medication is most effective when taken on an empty stomach, patients might experience sensitivity to it without the buffering effects of food. Additionally, tetracycline is an antibiotic that might harm natural intestinal bacteria, creating gastric distress over the long term. A few patients might experience yeast infections as a result of tetracycline’s antibiotic effects that reduce the number of natural vaginal bacteria. Sun sensitivity and tooth discoloration are also side effects that some patients will experience.

Tetracycline may be combined with topical treatments to treat severe acne.
Tetracycline may be combined with topical treatments to treat severe acne.

The usage constraints of tetracycline also might dissuade some patients from taking the drug. Pregnant women are strongly cautioned against taking tetracycline, as it could cause tooth discoloration or even bone defects in the developing baby. Breastfeeding mothers should also avoid it, as it can be passed on to the nursing baby through the breast milk causing poor tooth and bone development. Tetracycline is also inactivated by dairy products or food that contains calcium, iron, or zinc, and some patients find this constraint to be difficult when taking it.

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Discussion Comments


Don't take antibiotics for acne. They wipe out everything in your gut including what is good and healthy and required for healthy living and allow bad bacteria and yeast to overgrow even causing other problems on top of your acne. I know from my own personal experience.

You haven't got acne due to a lack of drugs. There is something obviously wrong inside of the body which needs to be solved.

The problem is as human beings, we look for the easiest and least complicated solution to a health problem with no idea of what we are taking and if it is genuinely doing us any good. If you still feel the need to take this drug please do some research on what you are taking and the long term effects. Also look into the benefit of probiotics and what candida is. Good luck.


Low grade tetracycline sounds like a recipe made in heaven if you want to create drug resistant bacteria and develop kidney problems. Sounds like some of you already have MRSA. Have any of you considered herbal antibiotics? They are far more effective and bacteria do not develop resistance. Of course, most medical web sites and Doctors won't mention them because they're funded by Big Pharm.

I would recommend a sida cordifolia (or rhombifolia or acuta known as "Bala" in India) tea three times a day, used in conjunction with fresh ginger root tea and honey once a day. Treat any bad topical infections with any good honey covered with a plaster. But hey, don't listen to me. Just keep popping the pills.


This doesn't work, for me anyway. I went on this for seven months, with zero difference. Oh and I remained so optimistic, but just like what happens with every other treatment I take, it doesn't work.

I still have moderate acne, and it's been five years now! It's just great being seemingly the only person in college with acne! Oh well, the doctor won't allow me to go on accutane, so I guess I'll just sit out these next few months on Murad tablets which also will not work!


@animegal - While I am inclined to tell you to stick with your dermatologists instructions, I don't think there is any harm in getting a second opinion or exploring alternate treatments. From my experience with acne vulgaris I know how traumatic it can be to not be able to get a hold on your skin's appearance. I personally was desperate enough to get the acne laser treatment, despite the cost.

I had the acne laser treatment and was really pleased with the results. It was painless and with the follow up treatment for residual scarring I am now proud to look in the mirror.


If you are taking tetracycline for your acne do you think it is a good idea to pursue additional treatments if you aren't seeing the results you want?

My dermatologist is convinced that if i keep up with the medication and facial wash she prescribed that my skin will clear up. It has been nearly six weeks now and I am not seeing any real improvement. I actually find that my skin is sore from the wash.

I have been doing some reading online and am curious about the acne laser treatment. It seems that people are getting real good results, and quickly. I would love to try something that can give me faster results.


@turquoise-- I don't have stomach upset at all with this medicine, so I think the pros and cons really depends on the individual. I don't think that anyone should try or not try this medicine because of any generalizations. You really won't know until you try it out.

I have had a very good experience with tetracycline so far. My skin is a bit drier and more sensitive to the sun because of it but it's nothing that I can't manage. I just make sure to wear moisturizers with SPF. I also set my alarm on my cell so that I don't forget to take it. Considering the results I've gotten with tetracycline, these are not an issue at all.


I've been using tetracycline for one year. It has worked really well for me. I had severe cystic acne before I started this treatment. I still have acne but it's much more mild.

I am also unhappy about the gastric problems this medicine causes. I think I'm getting used to feeling nausea for a short while when I take it, but if I get stomach cramps, it can be unbearable.

Another issue I'm starting to worry about is how the constant use of tetracycline might affect my kidney. I have taken breaks from tetracycline since I started and every time I do, my acne worsens. As much as I don't mind taking this continuously, I'm worried about how my kidneys might be affected in the long term. I know that antibiotics are thrown out of our system through our kidneys and via urine.

Does anyone know anything about this?


@Oceana - While I was taking tetracycline, I didn't know about the dairy restriction. However, the only milk I ever consumed was a tiny bit in my cereal and coffee, and since I don't eat cheese at all, I don't think I got enough dairy to mess with my medicine's effectiveness.

The antibiotic made me acne free in five months. Perhaps it would have worked sooner, had I totally cut dairy out of my diet. Either way, it worked.

You know, you can get calcium from non-dairy products, too. Broccoli and orange juice are both good sources. You don't have to worry about a calcium deficiency if you incorporate things like this into your diet while on tetracycline.


Does anyone know if the amount of dairy products you consume while on tetracycline matters, or does even a tiny bit of dairy render it inactive? I just started taking the antibiotic, and I know I will be using it for many months. It will be really hard for me to give up dairy totally.

Isn't it dangerous to be without those sources of calcium for so long? In school, the teachers were always telling us to drink milk every day for strong bones, and they really pushed getting a balanced diet. I'm scared that cutting milk and yogurt out of my diet entirely for an extended period of time will make me unhealthy.


My dermatologist told me that he believes tetracycline is the best acne treatment on the market. He said that he gives it to all of his acne patients, and they all have seen stunning results.

He told me this on my first visit, while he was determining the best course of treatment for me. He decided that I should come in every couple of weeks for a chemical peel for the first two months, and he gave me tetracycline to take daily during this time.

After two months, I no longer needed chemical peels so frequently. He started giving me one a month, and I continued taking the antibiotic. After four months, my acne had cleared up so much that he told me I no longer needed tetracycline.


I didn't develop severe acne until I was twenty-six. I had a job by that time, so I was able to save up enough money to go to a dermatologist for help. This acne was out of control, and no over-the-counter medicine could affect it.

The dermatologist gave me tetracycline, which I took for six months. I did not want to stop taking it, because even though I also had a topical gel to help get rid of the acne, I believed that the antibiotic was doing the most good.

I was right. Once I stopped taking it, a little bit of my acne returned. The gel kept it from being severe, but I sure wished that I could have continued taking tetracycline forever.


I never had much trouble with acne when I was growing up. I had several friends who struggled with this, and I always felt bad for them.

I started having acne as I got older and couldn't figure out what was going on. This is something I never had trouble with before, so went to the doctor to see what was happening.

She said I had hormonal acne from all the hormonal changes that were happening in my body, and that adult acne is very common. I was given a prescription for minocycline for my acne, and this cleared it up right away.

I know this is very similar to tetracycline, but I ended up getting a yeast infection. This is something I had never experienced before either, and this was absolutely miserable.

What a vicious circle this is - taking an antibiotic for one thing only to get an infection where you need another antibiotic to clear that up.

Taking an antibiotic for acne can really help clear it up, but I would only take it for as short amount of time as possible.


I had really bad acne as a teenager, and still have some acne scars on my face from it. My mom finally took me to a dermatologist and I began taking tetracycline orally.

I was also given a prescription for an antibiotic cream to use along with the oral medication.

It only took about a week to see a huge difference. I felt so much more confident when my skin was clear.

The only side effect I had was that it didn't seem to continue to work as well after a few months. I think my body built up some kind of immunity to it, as they had to give me a different antibiotic to get the same results.

I remember staying on this for the rest of my high school years. It is probably not the best thing to be on an antibiotic long term like this, but what it difference it made in how I felt about myself.


I think one thing to watch out for when you're considering tetracycline, for adult acne or teen acne, is allergies. I know several people that are severely allergic to this type of antibiotic!

If you've ever taken anything ending in -cycline before and been OK, you're probably not allergic. But if you've never taken anything in this family of drugs, I think it would be a good idea to pay close attention to how you feel the first few days you're taking it.


@Monika - Interesting. I had a friend that took tetracycline in high school and didn't have any side effects. However, I'm still not sold on the idea of taking antibiotics for acne in the long term.

Your body has all kinds of bacteria in it-both good and bad. Antibiotics don't differentiate from the different kinds of bacteria. They just kill everything! That's why taking tetracycline can cause yeast infections: because it kills of all the good bacteria in the female reproductive system.

Killing off all the good bacteria in your body just can't be a good idea in the long term. I think if I was struggling with acne, or I was the parent of a teenager who was, I would look to a different solution.


When I was in high school, a good friend of mine had a pretty bad acne problem. We all know that acne in high school can be the worst. High school is the exact time that most people feel extremely self conscious about their appearance. My friend was no different from the average high schooler, so she tried several different kinds of acne medication, including tetracycline.

The side effects were too much for her to handle though. She had a ton of stomach problems-so much so that she would actually have to stay home from school. Then, she found out about the possibility of permanent tooth discoloration. At that point, she decided taking tetracycline for her acne just wasn't worth it.

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    • Tetracycline can cause gastrointestinal problems.
      Tetracycline can cause gastrointestinal problems.
    • Pregnant women are strongly cautioned against taking tetracycline.
      Pregnant women are strongly cautioned against taking tetracycline.
    • Tetracycline might be taken for months to years to treat moderate to severe acne.
      Tetracycline might be taken for months to years to treat moderate to severe acne.
    • Tetracycline may be combined with topical treatments to treat severe acne.
      Tetracycline may be combined with topical treatments to treat severe acne.
    • Some patients taking tetracycline for acne will experience a dramatic reduction of acne.
      Some patients taking tetracycline for acne will experience a dramatic reduction of acne.