Antibiotics for Skin Infections (Topical and Oral)

Antibiotics are medications used to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. 

Some common skin disorders are caused by or worsened by bacteria. These include:

  • Impetigo, folliculitis, and boils that are commonly caused by staphylococcal bacteria (“staph”)
  • Cellulitis that is commonly caused by streptococcal bacteria (strep) or staph
  • Acne that becomes inflamed when the hair follicles become infected with P. acnes bacteria

Antibiotics are only effective when used in the treatment of infections caused by bacteria. They are not effective against viral infections, such as chickenpox. They are also ineffective against fungal infections, such as ringworm or candida. In fact, antibiotics can increase the risk of a fungal infection by killing the “good bacteria” on the skin that help prevent fungal infections.

Topical antibiotics are those that are applied to the skin. They may be recommended if the infection is limited to a small area that is easy to reach.

Oral antibiotics are taken by mouth. These may be recommended when the infection is widespread, or deep in the skin which requires that the medication be delivered through the blood.

Some oral antibiotics, such as doxycline, may sometimes be used in low doses to reduce inflammation associated with some skin conditions, such as rosacea. The dose used is too low to kill bacteria, but helps to reduce inflammation without increasing the risk of bacterial resistance or other side effects. This approach to using oral antibiotic is referred to as low-dose doxycycline.

Oral antibiotics have some risk of allergy, photosensitivity, gastrointestinal disturbance (diarrhea), oral and vaginal thrush, and possible interference with oral contraceptives.

It is important that you take your antibiotic as prescribed by your doctor. Missing doses increases the risk that you will not get the infection under control.


© 2010 Vivacare. Last updated November 10, 2010.

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