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Ingredient Deep Dive: Clindamycin

If you haven’t heard of clindamycin, a powerful skincare hero, it’s probably because you won’t find it on the high street. This active ingredient is a favourite amongst dermatologists for its spot-fighting qualities, but it can’t be bought over the counter – it needs to be prescribed by a medical professional. 

Read on for a deep dive on clindamycin, including its history, benefits and the science behind this acne-busting champion.

What is clindamycin?

Clindamycin is an antibiotic medication that is commonly used to treat bacterial infections. It can be used topically (rubbed onto the skin), taken orally (taken as a capsule or tablet), or administered intravenously (via a needle).

Clindamycin was first discovered in 1966 by scientists at the Upjohn Company, which is now part of Pfizer. It was derived from lincomycin, another antibiotic discovered in the late 1950s.

The first clinical trials of clindamycin were conducted in the early 1970s. Since then it has been widely used to treat various bacterial infections, including those of the skin, respiratory tract and bones. 

Dermatologists commonly use clindamycin to treat acne and spots. The antibiotic fights the bacteria that causes acne – Cutibacterium acnes (C. Acnes), as well as soothing any swelling and redness caused by it. It is often used in combination with tretinoin, a member of the retinoid family that speeds up cell turnover, and azelaic acid, an antioxidant with antibacterial and exfoliating properties. 

How does clindamycin work?

Acne occurs when pores are filled with dead skin cells and excess oil. Normally harmless bacteria can then infect the clogged follicles, leading to inflammation, pustules, blackheads, and whiteheads. 

Clindamycin helps stop the growth of acne-causing bacteria, previously known as propionibacterium acnes. Not only does clindamycin target this bacteria, but it also helps to reduce inflammation in the skin, reducing redness and swelling.  Research shows that after two months of using clindamycin, patients counted less papules and pustules. They also rated their own skin as looking better after eight weeks of treatment – so, clindamycin drives visible results.

Combining clindamycin with other ingredients

To reduce the possibility of antibacterial resistance, clindamycin is best combined with other ingredients. If your skin goals include clearing your spots then your Skin + Me Daily Doser might include both clindamycin and azelaic acid in combination. Together, they’re a great acne-targeting duo.

Clindamycin is also often combined with tretinoin. A 2019 study found that the combination improves the appearance of facial acne over the course of 12 weeks. Participants also reported that their quality of life had improved during this time too. 

As Head of Medical at Skin + Me, Dr Jason Thomson explains, “We often combine ingredients when treating dermatological conditions such as acne, a complex condition that may have multiple underlying causes. By combining ingredients we can target the condition in multiple, complementary ways… Having a multi-pronged approach to treating skin conditions has been shown to lead to better results.”

How to use clindamycin 

If you’re prescribed a cream containing clindamycin, then there are a few things to know. Your Pharmacist Clinician will let you know how long to use clindamycin for, and you should always follow their directions. Be consistent with your dosage and application schedule for the best results. 

Gently cleanse your face before applying your clindamycin cream, and rub it into your skin using clean hands. Avoid applying it near your eyes, mouth or any open wounds as it may cause irritation.

And, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive then it’s not recommended that you use clindamycin, as there is only limited data available about its safety during pregnancy. Make sure you give your Pharmacist Clinician a heads up if your pregnancy status changes when you’re using clindamycin. 

Clindamycin side effects

Clindamycin is usually very well tolerated, but like all active ingredients it can occasionally cause some irritation when you first begin using it. 

For this reason, Dr Jason advises, “In terms of improving tolerability, ingredients that can have potential irritating side effects are often combined with ingredients that can boost moisture and protect the skin barrier such as niacinamide.” 

Common side effects of topical clindamycin include dryness, itching, burning, redness, and peeling of the skin. Get in touch with your Pharmacist Clinician if you’re experiencing any of these side effects  – simply send an email to and they’ll be able to help. 

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