Clindamycin Gel

This fact sheet includes important information about how to use topical clindamycin, potential side effects and where you can get it in Australia

Written by
Julia Hammond
Medically reviewed by
Dr Claudia Xiao
min read
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Clindamycin Gel

Clindamycin phosphate is the name of a medication that is often prescribed to treat acne. This fact sheet includes important information about how to use topical clindamycin, the potential side effects and where you can get clindamycin phosphate in Australia.

What is clindamycin phosphate?

Clindamycin phosphate is the name of a common antibiotic. It may be used to treat many different conditions, including those in your skin [5].

Skin conditions are often treated with topical antibiotics — ones that you apply to the skin. Topical formulas are typically preferred over oral antibiotics because they tend to have fewer side effects [1].

What is clindamycin used to treat?

Clindamycin is one of the most prescribed antibiotics for treating acne. It is effective on inflammatory acne, such as pustules, nodules and cysts [1][4].

Topical clindamycin is considered a safe medication for all skin types. There are many different formulas of clindamycin you may be prescribed, such as a topical foam, gel, lotion, solution or wipe. A gel is often prescribed for people with oily skin, while a lotion is recommended for people with dry skin [5].

Your doctor may also prescribe clindamycin phosphate in combination with other medications, like retinoids or benzoyl peroxide. One common brand of medication is a dual-action formula that includes both clindamycin phosphate and benzoyl peroxide as active ingredients [1][2].

How does clindamycin work?

Antibiotics like clindamycin work by limiting the growth of bacteria on your skin. This stops your pores from becoming blocked and helps reduce acne lesions [1][3].

Topical antibiotics can also have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce redness, swelling and pain [1].

Is clindamycin safe during pregnancy?

Topical clindamycin is generally considered safe to use for the first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy [4]. It is important to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, so they can help you choose a safe and effective medicine.

Clindamycin phosphate gel may be safe to use while breastfeeding if it is not applied to the chest area [4]. It may be possible for clindamycin to be passed on through breast milk, which is why it is best to avoid using this medicine on your chest.

Again, it is important to tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding so they can advise on an appropriate medication for you.

What are the side effects of clindamycin?

As with any medication, some minor side effects can occur. Common side effects include [2]:

  • Dry skin and redness
  • Headaches
  • Burning or itchy skin

Using an oil-free moisturiser may help relieve some of these symptoms [3].

Your doctor might also recommend starting treatment slowly to help your skin tolerate the new medication. This could mean applying clindamycin every second night, instead of every night to begin with [1].

Clindamycin can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so wearing sunscreen and protective clothing is recommended [2].

If you are concerned by side effects at any time, it is best to tell your doctor. If you experience rare side effects like nausea, vomiting or severe diarrhoea, you should call your doctor immediately [2].

Allergic reactions and clindamycin

It is rare, but possible to have an allergic reaction to clindamycin. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include a rash, red skin, itching or trouble breathing. If you think you are having an allergic reaction, call your doctor.

Things to check before using clindamycin phosphate

Before using any medication, you should speak with your doctor about your medical history. They can advise on whether a medication is safe for you or whether it might have adverse effects.

For example, clindamycin is not recommended for people with an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or colitis [2][3].

Clindamycin can also interact with other drugs. It's important to let your doctor know if you are using any medicated soaps, cosmetic products with strong drying effects or other medicines for your skin [2]. Your doctor may adjust how you use clindamycin or offer you another medicine altogether.

Clindamycin phosphate dosage

Most brands of clindamycin phosphate gel are available in 15g, 25g or 30g tubes. These medications typically contain 1% clindamycin [2][3].

Clindamycin and antibiotic resistance

It is possible for your skin to build antibiotic resistance, which means the treatment will stop working. There are certain ways to reduce this risk, such as [1][5]:

  • Use clindamycin in short courses of 3-6 months
  • Take the full course of medicine that your doctor prescribes
  • Apply the medicine as directed by your doctor or pharmacist
  • Use a combined medication that includes both clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide

It is also important to use the right amount of product. It is best to use a thin film applied to the entire affected area.

For your face, this means around 1 fingertip of product. This is measured from the tip of your finger to the first joint line. For your face and back, 2 and a half fingertips are recommended [2]. 

If the gel is not rubbing into your skin easily, it may mean you are using too much.

How to use clindamycin phosphate to treat acne

Topical clindamycin is a medicine for external use only. It is applied to the skin and left on — not washed off [1].

Applying clindamycin to a cool, dry face can help avoid symptoms like irritation and dryness. You only need a thin film of the product once or twice daily [1].

Your doctor or pharmacist will provide instructions on how to use the medicine and these should be followed carefully. Sometimes, these instructions are different to the ones found in the patient information leaflet — but it's recommended you follow your practitioner's instructions [1][2].

 In general, the way to apply topical clindamycin is [2][3]:

  • Wash your face and pat dry
  • Apply a thin layer of clindamycin to the entire affected area

If you forget or are unsure of how to apply the medicine, you can usually find instructions on the prescription label. You can also follow up with your doctor or pharmacist.

Do I apply clindamycin all over my face?

Clindamycin is not a spot treatment, which means you should apply it to your entire face. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria across any affected areas, which can stop new acne from forming as well [1].

Be careful to avoid contact with your lips, mouth, eyes and similar areas when applying clindamycin. If you do get the product in your eyes, wash it away with plenty of cool tap water [2].

You should also avoid applying clindamycin to irritated or broken skin including cuts, grazes, sunburn or eczema [2].

Do you put clindamycin on before or after moisturiser?

Clindamycin phosphate should be applied to clean, dry skin. This means it is applied before your other products, including moisturiser. Once you have finished applying clindamycin, you can use a gentle moisturiser to help relieve side effects like irritation or dryness [5].

A non-greasy makeup may also be used after clindamycin has been successfully applied [2].

What if you forget to use clindamycin?

This depends on how close you are to the next dose. If it is nearly time for your next dose of clindamycin, then you can skip the missed dose [2]. Simply apply a thin layer of medicine as normal when you are next due.

If it is not yet time for your next dose, you can apply clindamycin as soon as you remember. After this, you can return to your regular dosing schedule.

You do not need to apply a double dose of medicine or use clindamycin more than usual to make up for the missed dose [2][3]. Using too much clindamycin can make symptoms worse, so it's best to continue using this medication as prescribed.

How long does it take clindamycin to work?

Like many other medications, clindamycin phosphate can take a few weeks to work. Anywhere from 4-12 weeks of consistent use may be needed to see improvement from the medication [1][2].

What happens if you stop using this medication?

It is important that you continue to use clindamycin phosphate for the full course as prescribed by your doctor. If you stop using clindamycin too soon, the antibacterial effect can wear off and acne may return [3].

However, if your doctor tells you to stop using this medicine for any reason, you should follow their advice. If you have unused medication left over, you can ask your pharmacist how to properly discard it [2][3].

Where can I buy clindamycin phosphate gel in Australia?

Clindamycin phosphate is a prescription medicine. This means it must be prescribed to you by a registered practitioner. This can be prescribed in person by a GP or via telehealth.

Once you have a valid prescription, you can purchase topical clindamycin from your local pharmacy or online.

How to safely store clindamycin gel

In general, it is not recommended to keep clindamycin in the bathroom as heat and dampness can destroy the medicine [2].

Like most medications, you should keep it in a safe place that is away from children. If you believe someone has swallowed clindamycin, you should call your doctor or the local poison control centre. In Australia, the number for poison control is 13 11 26 [2][3].

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