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Everything You Need to Know about Clindamycin for Acne

Dealing with acne (known medically as acne vulgaris) can be a frustrating experience—especially if you feel like you’ve tried everything on the market.

It becomes even more unpleasant when acne becomes inflamed and painful, often caused by certain kinds of bacteria. 

This is why many forms of acne are treated with topical antibiotics like clindamycin.


  • Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic that's effective at reducing the symptoms and appearance of acne.
  • Clindamycin has both bacteriostatic and bactericidal qualities, meaning that it works to stop bacteria from multiplying and kill harmful cells directly. 
  • Clindamycin is one of the ingredients that Nava MD's dermatologists can use in our customer prescription acne formulations.

Topical clindamycin works to reduce the number of bacteria that cause acne and has several anti-inflammatory benefits.

Below we go into detail about clindamycin, why it’s effective for treating acne, and how dermatologists recommend incorporating clindamycin into your skincare routine.

Young woman examining her acne

What Is Clindamycin?

Clindamycin is part of the lincomycin antibiotic family and prevents the growth of bacteria that cause acne to multiply on your skin. 

As an FDA-approved treatment, clindamycin also works to manage and decrease the swelling that many people experience during an acne breakout. 

Many dermatologists recommend topical clindamycin because it’s one of the most effective ways to treat mild to moderate acne. 

Clindamycin is prescribed in two forms: an oral form that treats bacterial infections in the reproductive system and lungs, and a topical solution for treating mild to severe acne breakouts.

Topical clindamycin is typically administered in the form of a 1% gel or lotion.

What Causes an Acne Breakout?

To better understand how topical clindamycin can treat acne, you first need to know how it develops on the skin. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common causes of an acne breakout. 

Excess Sebum Production

Sebum is a naturally occurring mixture of oil, fatty acids, and waxes that are produced by your body’s sebaceous glands. 

Although this substance is needed to protect and moisturize your skin, excessive amounts of sebum often cause clogged pores and acne to develop. 

When dead skin cells on the skin’s surface mix with sebum, it leads to the formation of blackheads and pimples. 

Unfortunately, the causes of excess sebum production are largely out of your control. 

This is because genetics, hormonal changes, and sometimes even stress can increase the production of sebum and lead to more frequent acne breakouts. 

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria on the skin can also get trapped inside your hair follicles and cause existing acne to become infected, leading to more severe breakouts. 

There are several different types of bacteria that can cause acne to become worse—one of the most common is Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).

This bacteria causes acne to appear more inflamed and makes the skin painful and irritated to the touch. 

An angry red inflamed pimple

How Does Clindamycin Work to Fight Acne?

Clindamycin works to treat acne by reducing the number of harmful bacteria that cause mild to moderate breakouts. 

Using clindamycin for acne can also ease the pain and inflammation of infected acne caused by P. acnes. 

Topical clindamycin is both bacteriostatic and bactericidal. This means that it works two ways: it stops bacteria from multiplying and kills these harmful cells directly. 

It also prevents bacteria and sebum from clogging your pores and shuts down protein production. 

Proteins are one of the main nutrients that bacteria need to multiply. By preventing protein production, clindamycin slows down bacterial growth that causes acne to develop. 

Not only does clindamycin improve the appearance of inflamed acne, but it has also been shown to improve the skin’s inflammatory response to acne and infection. This means that the skin is able to prevent damage from spreading to nearby skin cells, recover from inflammation faster, and clear pores more efficiently. 

Over time this results in fewer acne breakouts, as well as healthier and smoother-looking skin. 

To avoid antibiotic resistance, clindamycin is often prescribed with other acne medications. 

This includes products like benzoyl peroxide and topical retinoids. We’ll take a closer look at these ingredients later in this article.

How Do I Use Clindamycin for Acne?

As with all skincare treatments, there’s a right and wrong way to use topical antibiotics. 

That’s why we recommend talking to a professional who can help you understand your skin and its sensitivities. This is the most effective way to address your skin concerns and get the most out of your prescribed acne treatment. 

Although using clindamycin for acne is an effective way to manage breakouts and treat acne, it must be prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider.

It’s important to note that clindamycin is often prescribed with other acne treatments. This is because topical antibiotics aren’t usually as effective on their own. When combined with other active ingredients, clindamycin kills bacteria, reduces inflammation, and gets rid of painful acne more efficiently. 

Types of Topical Clindamycin

Topical clindamycin is available in a variety of forms. This includes: 

  • A foam or gel moisturizer
  • A clindamycin-coated patch or pad
  • A lotion

Your dermatologist will advise you on how regularly to use clindamycin, as well as what form is best for your skin. 

You may have heard of clindamycin’s most common brand names. These include ClindaMax, Clindagel, Evoclin and Clinda-Derm, to name just a few. Today, most clindamycin used is generic, meaning it costs much less than name-brand versions.

How to Incorporate Clindamycin into Your Skincare Routine

“It’s normal to want to get the most out of your topical antibiotics right away,” says Dr. Lilliana Ramirez Garcia, a board-certified dermatologist and the Director of Skincare Success at Nava MD. “However, the key is following the correct application process and allowing your skin to build up a tolerance to these topicals.” 

Below we’ve included some tips from Dr. Ramirez to help you incorporate clindamycin into your daily skincare routine.

Give Your Treatments a Chance to Absorb

Topical antibiotics are usually used in the initial stages of a skincare routine, which can affect their chances to fully absorb. 

To make sure you get the most out of your acne medications, we recommend waiting about five minutes before applying other products to get the most out of the treatment. 

Less Is More 

If you want to get the most out of prescription treatments, avoid saturating your skin with other products beforehand. 

It’s a delicate balance, as you want to hydrate your skin before applying stronger products, but you also don’t want to prevent the antibiotic from absorbing fully. 

This is why we recommend applying one layer of your moisturizer or toner to your skin before a topical antibiotic. 

Not only will this ensure that your skin stays hydrated, but it will also give any topical antibiotics the best possible chance of being absorbed. 

Keep Communicating

Overcoming acne is a team effort between you and your dermatologist. 

The best way to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your treatments is to keep communicating with your doctor.

An open line of communication also allows you to address problems or negative reactions that you may experience early on. 

This can help your doctor adjust your acne medications and treatment plan accordingly.

A Step-by-Step Skincare Routine

One of the challenges of using a topical antibiotic like clindamycin to treat acne is knowing when to use it in your daily skincare routine.

To give you a better idea of where clindamycin fits into your skincare regimen, we’ve outlined a step-by-step routine below. 

Step 1:

All good skincare routines start with cleansing. In the morning and evening, make sure that you wash your face gently for 30 seconds to get rid of excess oil, makeups, and dirt. 

Step 2:

Once you’ve finished cleansing your skin, dry your face by patting it dry with a soft towel. Using harsh materials can irritate your skin even more.

Apply your clindamycin formula and wait a few minutes for your skin to absorb the product fully. At Nava MD, our formulas have moisturizer included, but if you’re using another clindamycin formulation you’ll want to moisturize now.

Step 3:

After you’ve let the clindamycin absorb properly, apply your favorite serums. We also recommend investing in an SPF 30 or 50 sunscreen for the daytime. This is because topical acne treatments can make the skin extra-sensitive and vulnerable to environmental damage. 

Are There Any Side Effects to Using Clindamycin?

Although clindamycin is an FDA-approved acne treatment, all antibiotics do have the potential to cause side effects. 

Some of the most common side effects of clindamycin include:

  • Dry and/or peeling skin
  • Oily skin 
  • Skin itchiness 
  • Slight burning or redness

Remember, clindamycin is generally well-tolerated among users and rarely causes any serious side effects.

At Nava MD, we specialize in creating personalized treatment plans based on each patient’s unique needs and sensitivities. 

This allows you to use trusted ingredients of variable strengths to suit your skin type and ensure that you have little to no side effects.

If you have any questions or concerns about your personalized skincare treatment, one of our expert clinicians is easily contactable through our Patient Portal. 

Clindamycin and Combination Treatments

As we mentioned earlier, topical clindamycin is sometimes prescribed with other acne treatments to enhance its effectiveness.

However, when clindamycin is combined with other active ingredients people see results much faster. 

In this section, we take a look at some of the most common acne treatments clindamycin is prescribed with. 

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment that helps to eliminate bacteria from the surface of the skin. 

It also reduces the production of sebum to prevent clogged pores and the formation of acne. Benzoyl peroxide dries the skin slightly so that excess oil and dirt can be washed away. 

When used with clindamycin, the topical antibiotic prevents excess bacteria from multiplying on the skin and causing inflamed or infected acne breakouts. 

Simply put, clindamycin prevents bacteria from receiving the proteins they need to multiply while benzoyl peroxide is an effective cleansing tool to sweep them away from the skin. 

Studies have shown that using clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide together is an effective long-term acne treatment. This is because bacteria are unable to form a resistance to these topical antibiotics, meaning that the treatment can work more effectively for longer. 

Although benzoyl peroxide doesn’t require a prescription, you should consider consulting a medical professional before using it to eliminate the risk of reactions and to understand how it might work with your skin.


Retinoids are a group of substances that are all derivatives of vitamin A.

Over the past two decades, retinoids have become popular acne and anti-aging treatments because of how effectively they improve the complexion and unclog pores. 

Clindamycin and retinoids are often prescribed together to treat mild to moderate acne. 

This is because topical clindamycin slows down the growth of bacteria and reduces inflammation, while retinoids repair skin damage and discoloration caused by acne lesions. 

Over time, this results in clearer and more flawless-looking skin. 

In the section below, we go into more detail about a topical and an oral retinoid that are often prescribed with clindamycin and explain how they fight acne.


Tretinoin is a topical retinoid and is one of the most proven acne and anti-aging treatments on the market. 

This active ingredient accelerates the skin’s cell turnover process, meaning that it increases the rate at which impurities are removed and new cells are produced. 

Over time, this results in excess oil and bacteria being pushed to the skin’s surface faster—leading to cleaner pores, less acne, and fewer dark spots. It also helps repair damage from acne lesions.

However, one of the most common side effects of using tretinoin is skin irritation and redness.

Clindamycin’s anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce the appearance of these side effects, while slowing down the growth of acne-causing bacteria. 

This combination prevents acne from developing and becoming infected, as well as improving the appearance of inflamed and irritated skin. 

Because of its anti-scarring and wrinkle-smoothing capabilities, tretinoin has some clear anti-aging benefits from too.

This is because tretinoin increases the production of collagen and elastin, which helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles. 


Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid, often prescribed as the last option to treat severe acne that hasn’t improved after using other medications. You may have heard of the isotretinoin brand names Accutane and Accutin. 

Isotretinoin decreases the size of the skin’s sebaceous glands which are responsible for producing sebum—the oil that clogs pores and causes acne breakouts. 

When the skin is unable to produce excess sebum, the pores remain clear and there is less chance of acne forming or becoming infected. 

Similar to tretinoin, isotretinoin has been known to cause dry, sensitive, and sometimes flaky skin. 

When used with this oral retinoid, clindamycin helps improve the appearance of inflamed and infected acne. It also prevents acne-causing bacteria from multiplying and causing breakouts. 

Not only do isotretinoin and clindamycin prevent future breakouts, but they also improve the complexion of people with severe, cystic acne. 

If your dermatologist prescribes oral antibiotics with isotretinoin, it’s important that they monitor you closely for any side effects. 


Niacinamide is a vitamin B-3 derivative with powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

This ingredient is often prescribed with tretinoin and other retinoids to ease potential side effects. 

Not only does niacinamide prevent your skin from becoming tight and flaky, but it also helps the skin tolerate topical retinoids better. 

Where acne treatments penetrate the skin to slow down sebum production and the growth of acne-causing bacteria, niacinamide can help to soothe and repair damage.

Topical clindamycin and niacinamide can also work together to reduce skin redness, swelling, and irritation before and after an acne breakout. 

Azelaic Acid

Although azelaic acid is usually prescribed for hyperpigmentation, it’s also able to treat mild to moderate forms of acne and acne lesions. 

In fact, azelaic acid has shown to be as effective as acne treatments like tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide. 

While azelaic acid is not as potent as the acne treatments above, it can still cause skin irritation, dryness, and peeling. 

To help manage these side effects, some dermatologists prescribe topical clindamycin with azelaic acid to reduce the side effects mentioned above. 

An All-in-One Acne Solution

At Nava MD, we know that finding the right acne treatment for your skin’s needs and sensitivities can be challenging. If you feel like you’ve tried every acne-fighting product on the market and are still not seeing any improvement, we’re here to help.

Our acne treatments are formulated with proven prescription ingredients like tretinoin, niacinamide, and clindamycin. Nava MD’s expert clinicians have chosen these acne-fighting ingredients for their ability to clear acne-prone skin and improve complexion. 

When they’re combined into an all-in-one formulation, they pack a punch. 

And at Nava MD, we make it easy to get the best skincare advice from licensed medical professionals. After an online consultation, our clinicians can prescribe the right products for your skin’s needs and sensitivities—all from the comfort of your own home.

The best part of all? We deliver your products straight to your door, if approved. Take our free online skin consultation and start your journey to better skin today.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency