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The right prescription of antibiotics given to the right person can be life-saving, but there’s good reason to practice caution when considering it for an acne outbreak. Don’t address the other underlying causes of your breakout? You won’t get a long-lasting solution.
Having a painful case of acne may hurry you into a panic, but even so, choose your cures carefully.
There’s been a rise in the use of antibiotics to treat acne. But not all acne is due to bacterial growth, and a recent UK study has shown that the bacteria associated with acne has become increasingly resistant to drugs.
Additionally, using antibiotics long-term has the following dangers:
- A weakened digestive system
- Longer recovery after illnesses
- More expensive treatments required to combat illnesses
- Heightened sensitivity to the sun
- Issues with oesophagal reflux
To understand why antibiotics won’t work as a cure-all for acne, we need to take a closer look at what causes Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes to want to stick around and be a nuisance on your face, back, or chest.

Common causes of acne

- Overproduction of sebum—Sebum combined with the moisture from your sweat glands forms natural
protection for your skin, protecting you from exterior germs and providing a waterproof layer. A fluctuation in hormone levels will cause your body to overproduce this oil, resulting in a perfect breeding ground for the P. acnes bacteria.
- Pore blockages or clogs—When your sebaceous glands overproduce oil, this can lead to a blockage of the sebaceous duct, causing blackheads or whiteheads to form. Acne occurs when bacteria cause these blackheads or whiteheads to become infected.
- Bacterial inflammation—When the bacterial growth gets out of hand, it forms cysts and nodules deeper under the skin, kicking your body’s inflammatory response into high gear.

These are the main causes. But there are others.

Soul-searching time, dear reader. When was the last time you sanitized your phone? Or your headphones? Any item that brushes up against your face (that includes hats and sunglasses) should get a regular wipe down to rid it of germs. Your makeup, makeup brushes, the beauty products you use,
even your haircare routine, anything that touches your skin could be instigating acne if it is pulling double duty as a germ carrier. Also, if you are habitually touching your face with unwashed hands, then the cause of your acne could be much closer to home than you first thought.

After breaking down the causes of acne, it should be clear that prescribing antibiotics is only a half-cure.
Particularly when a lot of the problem stems from poor habits. Sure, there are certain cases when a dermatologist might prescribe antibiotic treatment for your acne (for example, when your acne has reached the cystic stage). But without addressing all these other concerns, you will only be doing your body long-term harm with little to show for it.

Simple steps to fight acne right now

- For light breakouts of whiteheads or blackheads, find a cleanser or topical treatment that contains
benzoyl peroxide, which kills p. acnes bacteria. Or a product with salicylic acid that removes excess
oil and is a heavy-duty exfoliator.
- Do a body check of your hormone levels. Right before menstruation, hormones are in flux. Stressful
situations can also cause our hormone levels to spike and cause a surge of oil production. Consider
the cause and see what measures you can take to address the primary source.
- Monitor yourself. Make sure that you aren’t inadvertently putting germs on your face.

—Eun-Ha Park

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