Tetracycline Sumycin Acne


The Basics

Type of Treatment: Rx MedicationAntibiotic (Topical and Oral) – Tetracycline Family

How It Works: Tetracycline is an antibiotic. Antibiotics can improve acne symptoms by limiting the growth of bacteria that contribute to Acne Vulgaris.

When is this medication used? Tetracycline is occasionally used as a treatment for acne.  Tetracycline (and most other oral antibiotics) are usually used to treat moderate to severe acne vulgaris (Acne Types: 2-4).  Oral tetracycline therapy is often combined with a complimentary topical treatment, such as a topical retinoid or topical antibiotic.  Topical tetracycline is used for all types of acne vulgaris (Acne Types: 1-4), although it is generally used in combination with an oral antibiotic or oral retinoid for the treatment of moderate to severe acne (Acne Types: 3-4).

Frequency of Tetracycline Resistant P. acnes Bacteria: Common. (What does this mean?)

Official Name: Tetracycline.
Popular Brand Names: Sumycin, Tetracap, Topicycline, Hostacyclin, Lupitetra.
Related Medications: Doxycycline, Minocycline, Lymecycline, Oxytetracycline, (Tigecycline).

Important Note: The information provided on this site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. The Science of Acne strongly encourages you to consult a qualified medical professional before making any treatment decisions. For the complete disclaimer, click here.

Tetracycline and Acne

Historically, tetracycline was one of the most popular treatments for acne vulgaris, but recently the use of oral tetracycline in the treatment of acne is becoming less common, especially in the United States and Europe.  Oral tetracycline does effectively control acne symptoms for some patients, but it is ineffective for many others.  In recent studies and surveys, less than 50% of acne patients have reported significant improvement in symptoms as a result of tetracycline therapy.

The primary reason for the ineffectiveness of tetracycline-based acne treatments is the emergence of tetracycline-resistant bacteria.  Propionibacterium acnes that are not sensitive to tetracycline are becoming increasingly common in many places, particularly in the developed countries of North America and Europe.

Another major limitation to oral tetracycline is the relatively high rates of adverse effects experienced by patients taking tetracycline.  Topical tetracycline is also known to cause higher rates of skin irritation than other topical antibiotics.  However, some newer formulations of topical tetracycline have been introduced that are supposed to cause fewer problems.  Recent studies have shown that many patients respond well to these new formulations.  Nonetheless, topical tetracycline remains a fairly unpopular acne treatment.

Patient Reviews of Tetracycline

Tetracycline is a medication that is occasionally used to treat acne vulgaris.  Tetracycline appears to be moderately effective for treating acne vulgaris. Generally, doxycycline and minocycline are used instead of tetracycline because they tend to have fewer side effects and produce better results.  Tetracycline works well for some acne patients, but poorly for others.  These differences in effectiveness may be the result of antibiotic resistant Propionibacterium acnes.

Outside Reviews of Tetracycline

The following is a list of links to pages that review or discuss the use of this medication. Note: Some of these reviews are not specific to the use of this medication in the treatment of Acne Vulgaris.

Additional Patient Reviews of Tetracycline: Acne.org, WebMDDrugs.com, EverydayHealth.com, DrugLib.com, DailyStrength.org, Treato.com, RateADrug.com.

Cost and Availability of Tetracycline

If possible, tetracycline should be obtained through consultation of a physician. Most doctors and dermatologists are familiar with this medication, but are likely to prefer the use of either doxycycline or minocycline.  Tetracycline is widely available in brand name and generic formulations and is one of the most inexpensive antibiotics available.

Tetracycline Side Effects

The most common side effect experienced by tetracycline users is gastro-intestinal problems.  This discomfort, while rarely serious, often leads to a discontinuation of therapy.  As with other antibiotics, some patients experience allergic reactions to tetracycline treatment.  The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction are skin rashes, hives, fever, headache, nausea and joint pain.  More severe allergic reactions may include swelling of the throat and airways, and anaphylaxis.

Tetracycline is inactivated by many metal ions, like calcium, zinc and iron.  As a result, it cannot be taken with most foods, which contributes to stomach problems.  Tetracycline may also causes a permanent yellow staining of the teeth, particularly when it is administered to infants and children.  Tetracycline, doxycycline and minocycline are all photo-sensitizers, which increase an individual’s susceptibility to sunburn.   This group of antibiotics is contraindicated during pregnancy.

Long term use of tetracycline family antibiotics (particularly in younger children) can cause a yellow staining of the teeth

For more in-depth information about potential side effects of tetracycline treatment, refer to the physician’s insert for oral tetracycline, or consult a medical professional.  For more information about contraindications in general, refer to Avoiding Negative Drug Interactions.

Tetracycline Background

Tetracycline (Sumycin) Molecule

Tetracycline was one of the first broad spectrum antibiotics developed and was once the antibiotic of choice for a broad range of bacterial infections. Additionally, topical tetracycline was among the first medications specifically approved for the treatment of acne vulgaris.

Tetracycline is a polyketide antibiotic, which is a family of medications (tetracycline family) that also includes the popular anti-acne antibiotics doxycycline and minocycline. Polyketide antibiotics work by preventing susceptible bacteria from synthesizing new proteins (which prevents them from growing). They do this by binding to the 30S ribosomal sub-unit and inhibiting its ability to translate RNA into protein.

In recent years, doxycycline and minocycline have largely replaced tetracycline in the treatment of acne because of they both tend to be more effective and have fewer side effects.  However, tetracycline is still used in the treatment of many types of bacterial infections, including urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases (eg. chlamydia).  Bacterial resistance to tetracycline, doxycycline and minocycline has become a major problem in some countries and has lead to decreasing usage of this class of antibiotics in affected areas.

Tetracycline may also be called: Achromycin V, Acromicina, Ala-Tet, Ambramicina, Bristacycline, Brodspec, Ciclobiotico, Dumocycline, Emtet-500, Hostacyclin, Hostacycline, Imex, Latycin, Mediacycline, Metacycline, Optycin, Oricyclin, Panmycin, Polfamycin, Recycline, Resteclin, Robitet 500, Sumycin, Tefilin, Tetra 500, Tetracap, Tetraciclina, Tetraciclinã, Tetracyclin, Tétracycline, Tetracycline HCl, Tetracyclini, Tetracyclinum, Tetracyklin, Tetracon, Tetradar, Tetramax, Tetrex, Terramycin, Tetracyn, Topicycline and Upitetra.

Important Note: The information provided on this site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases. The Science of Acne strongly encourages you to consult a qualified medical professional before making any treatment decisions. For the complete disclaimer, click here.

Related Articles from The Science of Acne

Tetracycline Patient Reviews (Comprehensive)
Avoiding Negative Drug Interactions
A Guide to Buying Prescription Medications on the Internet
Prescription Medications Used in Acne Treatment
What causes acne?

References and Sources


PDR Staff Writers. 2011. 2011 Physicians’ Desk Reference
Gallagher. 2011. Antibiotics Simplified, Second Edition
Habif. 2009. Clinical Dermatology
Goodheart. 2006. Acne For Dummies
Bartlett. 2012. Johns Hopkins Antibiotics Guide 2012 (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Online Resources

PubMed Health – The National Institute of Health (US)
Tetracycline @ Wikipedia
Physician’s Insert for Oral Tetracycline

Scientific Research Articles

  1. Eady, et al. 2006. Superior antibacterial action and reduced incidence of bacterial resistance in minocycline compared to tetracycline-treated acne patients.
  2. Eady, et al. 2006. Tetracycline-resistant propionibacteria from acne patients are cross-resistant to doxycycline, but sensitive to minocycline.
  3. Gammon, et al. 1986. Comparative efficacy of oral erythromycin versus oral tetracycline in the treatment of acne vulgaris. A double-blind study.
  4. Hubbell, et al. 1982. Efficacy of minocycline compared with tetracycline in treatment of acne vulgaris.
  5. Blaney, et al. 1976. Topical use of tetracycline in the treatment of acne: a double-blind study comparing topical and oral tetracycline therapy and placebo.
  6. Leyden, et al. 1983. Propionibacterium acnes resistance to antibiotics in acne patients.
  7. Rafiei, et al. 2006. Azithromycin versus tetracycline in the treatment of acne vulgaris.
  8. Gratton, et al. 1982. Topical clindamycin versus systemic tetracycline in the treatment of acne: Results of a multiclinic trial.
  9. Adişen, et al. 2008. Topical tetracycline in the treatment of acne vulgaris.
  10. Knaggs, et al. 1993. The role of oral minocycline and erythromycin in tetracycline therapy-resistant acne—a retrospective study and a review.
  11. Gardner, et al. 2006. Variation in comedonal antibiotic concentrations following application of topical tetracycline for acne vulgaris.