Topical antibacterial treatments for acne vulgaris : comparative review and guide to selection

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2004;5(2):79-84. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200405020-00002.


Topical antibacterial agents are an essential part of the armamentarium for treating acne vulgaris. They are indicated for mild-to-moderate acne, and are a useful alternative for patients who cannot take systemic antibacterials. Topical antibacterials such as clindamycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline are bacteriostatic for Propionibacterium acnes, and have also been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory activities through inhibition of lipase production by P. acnes, as well as inhibition of leukocyte chemotaxis. Benzoyl peroxide is a non-antibiotic antibacterial agent that is bactericidal against P. acnes and has the distinct advantage that thus far, no resistance has been detected against it. Combined agents such as erythromycin/zinc, erythromycin/tretinoin, erythromycin/isotretinoin, erythromycin/benzoyl peroxide, and clindamycin/benzoyl peroxide are increasingly being used and have been proven to be effective. They generally demonstrate good overall tolerability and are useful in reducing the development of antibacterial resistance in P. acnes. The selection of a topical antibacterial agent should be tailored for specific patients by choosing an agent that matches the patient's skin characteristics and acne type. Topical antibacterial agents should generally not be used for extended periods beyond 3 months, and topical antibacterials should ideally not be combined with systemic antibacterial therapy for acne; in particular, the use of topical and systemic antibacterials is to be avoided as far as possible.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Acne Vulgaris / pathology
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Benzoyl Peroxide / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Benzoyl Peroxide