Can Clindamycin Effectively Treat Psoriasis?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition of the skin that causes a buildup of cells on the skin’s surface. For people without psoriasis, skin cells rise to the surface and fall off naturally. But for people with psoriasis, the production of skin cells is rapidly increased. Because these cells aren’t ready to fall off, the excess cells begin to build up on the skin.

This buildup causes scales or thick patches of skin. These scales may be red and inflamed, or they may have a white, scaly appearance. In some cases, the scales may dry out, crack, or bleed.

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Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition, currently without a cure. However, there are many treatment options available to help ease symptoms and end outbreaks when they occur. One possible treatment option for psoriasis complications is a drug called clindamycin. Here’s what you need to know about how and why this drug may be used to treat psoriasis.

What is clindamycin?

Clindamycin (Cleocin) is an antibiotic medication. It’s generally used to treat a variety of infections caused by bacteria. These include infections of the:

  • internal organs
  • blood
  • lungs

The topical version of this medication, which is applied to the skin, is often prescribed to treat certain severe forms of acne including acne rosacea. It’s also used to treat bacterial infections on the skin. In recent years, it’s gained traction as a possible treatment for psoriasis that’s complicated by a bacterial infection.

Off-label use of clindamycin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved clindamycin in 1970 to treat bacterial infections. Since then, it has grown in popularity, and drug manufacturers have created several versions of the drug.

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All topical forms of clindamycin are approved to treat bacterial infections, but none are approved to treat psoriasis. Instead, if clindamycin is used for that purpose, it’s used off-label. That means the drug has been approved by the FDA for one purpose but is being used for a different purpose.

Your doctor is permitted to decide if you might benefit from a drug prescribed for you off-label. This means that if you have psoriasis that’s complicated by a bacterial infection, your doctor can prescribe clindamycin for you. The practice of using drugs off-label means your doctor has more options in deciding on your treatment plan.

What can clindamycin treat?

As an antibiotic, clindamycin is prescribed to treat infections caused by bacteria. It doesn’t work against infections caused by viruses, so it can’t be used to treat a cold or flu.

In actuality, clindamycin and other antibiotics are rarely used to treat psoriasis. That’s because psoriasis isn’t believed to be the result of a bacterial infection.

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Instead, doctors believe that psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, which means it’s the result of an overreaction by your body’s immune system. With psoriasis, the immune system mistakes healthy skin cells as foreign, harmful substances, and it attacks. This causes the overproduction of skin cells and the skin cell buildup that’s associated with psoriasis.

However, some recent research suggests that individuals with psoriasis may have a higher bacterial count. This is believed to be especially true of those with guttate psoriasis and chronic plaque psoriasis. More research is needed before doctors can begin recommending antibiotics as a mainstream treatment option for psoriasis.

Today, some doctors prescribe this medication if they suspect a person’s psoriasis is made worse by bacterial infections. That’s not because it’s believed that a bacterial infection is responsible for psoriasis. Rather, it’s because some people with psoriasis may experience increased symptoms if they also have a bacterial infection.

What are the side effects of clindamycin?

The most common side effect related to the use of clindamycin is diarrhea. In some cases, this diarrhea may be severe, causing dehydration and decreased urination. Call your doctor for guidance if you experience severe diarrhea or any other unusual symptoms while taking clindamycin.

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Other side effects of clindamycin can include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • pain when swallowing
  • joint pain
  • scaly, white patches in the mouth
  • red, dry, or peeling skin
  • vaginal discharge that’s thick and white
  • swelling, burning, or itching in the vagina

How much should I take?

Your individual dosage depends on several factors. These factors include:

  • the condition being treated
  • the version of the medication you’re using
  • your weight
  • your age
  • the severity of the infection
  • your personal health history

If you’re using the topical version of clindamycin, you’ll likely apply it directly to your skin two to four times per day. Be sure to wash your hands immediately afterward unless you’re treating an infection on your hands.

These are general dosage tips, so be sure to follow your doctor’s specific instructions on how to use clindamycin. And ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you may have about your prescription and how to use it.

What are the risks?

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There are a few things to keep in mind if your doctor prescribes clindamycin for you:

  • Avoid certain types of birth control. Women using hormonal birth control methods should talk to their doctor before using clindamycin. These methods include the pill, the vaginal ring, and the patch. Antibiotic medications such as clindamycin may decrease the effectiveness of these forms of birth control. You should take extra precaution when having sex.
  • Avoid live vaccines. You should avoid getting any vaccines that contain live bacteria. This includes vaccines for typhoid and cholera. These vaccines may not be effective if you receive them while you’re using an antibiotic.
  • Avoid taking multiple antibiotics. Don’t take more than one type of antibiotic without guidance from your doctor. These medications can interact and cause serious side effects and complications.
  • Avoid mixing medications that can interact. Certain medications should never be mixed because of the risk of serious complications. Be sure to tell your doctor and your pharmacist about all the medications you’re taking so that they can check for any potential interactions.

Talk to your doctor

If you have psoriasis and you’re interested in using clindamycin to help reduce your symptoms, talk with your doctor. Antibiotics are rarely prescribed to treat psoriasis, but clindamycin may work for you if a bacterial infection is making your symptoms worse.

Many psoriasis treatments are available, so if you’re not finding success with what you’re using now, keep trying. Together, you and your doctor can find a treatment plan that helps ease your symptoms and reduce your outbreaks.

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