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Can you drink alcohol while taking acne medication?

22nd May 2020

It’s a commonly known fact that you shouldn’t drink alcohol while taking antibiotics. However, most antibiotics are only taken for a week or so. What about if instead of a one-off infection, you’re taking antibiotics for months at a time? Antibiotics are commonly used to treat acne and it's usually a fairly long-term option.

Acne treatments

When it comes to treating acne, there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy. What may work for one person, may be no help whatsoever for another. This is why acne treatment often involves some degree of trial and error before finding a medication that’s right for you.

You should always start at the bottom as you want to find the lowest effective dose, so this means perhaps starting with an over the counter solution. Comparatively, if you had an ache or a pain, you wouldn’t be prescribed opioid painkillers before first trying some over the counter paracetamol. 

If over the counter acne solutions such as Clearasil haven’t helped then you may want to try a pharmacy grade product like Acnecide gel. But if you’re still seeing no results then you should speak to a doctor about your condition and they may recommend a prescription-only medicine.

Prescription-only acne treatments are pretty much split into two categories; topical and non-topical. Topical treatments include Differin cream, Treclin gel and Zineryt lotion. Non-topical treatments usually come in the form of antibiotic tablets such as Lymecycline and Oxytetracycline. But for women, certain contraceptive pills may also be an option.

Can you drink alcohol while taking acne medication?

Whether or not you can drink alcohol while taking acne medication is very much dependent on the one that you’re taking. Topical treatments do not interact with alcohol that’s consumed so you’re fine to drink in moderation if you’re using a cream or a gel.

However, some oral acne medications do interact with alcohol and you’ll need to therefore check with your specific treatment by asking a medical professional or checking the patient information leaflet.

Lymecycline

Lymecycline (and the brand version Tetralysal) doesn’t come with any kind of ‘do not drink alcohol’ warning so it’s generally ok to drink while taking it. However, this is simply due to there being no direct interaction between alcohol and the drug.

If you experience side effects from taking Lymecycline (such as headaches, dizziness or stomach upset) then drinking alcohol can make these symptoms worse. If you do feel unwell while taking lymecycline then it may be best to discuss this with your doctor to see if it’s the best option for you.

Oxytetracycline

Like Lymecycline, Oxytetracycline is a tetracycline-type antibiotic and generally, these do not carry ‘do not drink alcohol’ warnings as it doesn’t interact with the drug itself. Again, should you feel at all unwell though you should refrain from drinking and speak to a professional is side effects persist.

Minocycline

Minocycline is another tetracycline-type antibiotic and it is not known to interact with alcohol. You should be fine to drink if you’re taking this medicine (whether that’s the generic or the branded Minocin) but be careful to only drink in moderation and take note of any side effects.

Isotretinoin

Isotretinoin is a strong drug and is only prescribed in cases of severe acne that haven’t been improved by other treatments. However, it’s very effective and gets to work in as little as a week with 4 out of 5 people reporting clear skin after taking it.

This medication is not without challenges though. Not only will you need regular blood tests during treatment and to be supervised by a specialist, but it can have some pretty harsh side effects. Your skin can become very dry and sensitive to sunlight, your risk of depression or suicidal thoughts increases and can be harmful to unborn babies (so it’s important that pregnant women or women wanting to get pregnant don’t take it).

If you are taking Isotretinoin then you should avoid drinking alcohol for the duration of your treatment. This is because the combination can cause some unwanted side effects such as a fast heart rate, nausea or vomiting.

If you are using a topical retinoid treatment (like Isotrexin gel) then this interaction does not apply, and you should be ok to consume alcohol (but you should always check with your doctor).

Contraceptive pills

For women who suffer from acne, the cause can often be linked to hormones and therefore a number of contraceptive pills can be considered as effective treatments. 

Dianette and Clairette are both anti-androgen pills, which means they reduce the number of hormones that lead to excess sebum on the skin (a leading cause of acne spots). There is no special guidance about alcohol and anti-androgen pills so you should be fine to drink but again, always just double check if you’re unsure.