Lithium-Induced Acne: How To Deal With It

When I first started Lithium for my bipolar 1 disorder – a last-ditch attempt to stop the mood swings – I was warned about Lithium-induced acne. But I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it is.

I’ve always had acne on my back and chest, and when I heard that it was one of Lithium’s side effects, I shrugged. Eh, I’ve dealt with it my whole life, I thought.

But no. Lithium acne is a whole ‘nother beast.

Instead of the little whiteheads and blackheads I’d get for decades, I started having huge lumps that would explode or painful cysts that would sit and ache should I so much as brush upon them. 

I still have them, tbh. And the bipolar 1 mood swings have died down since starting Lithium, so I’ll take the zits with the W. But what causes Lithium acne? And how can you combat it when the cause is coming from the inside?

I’ve got the deets!


Why Does Lithium Cause Acne?

I’m gonna start with the bad news: doctors aren’t 100% sure why Lithium-induced acne is even a thing, so there’s no treatment for it. However, it’s hypothesized that Lithium causes neutrophils – white blood cells, which fight infections – to rise to the surface, causing inflammation and, therefore, your lumps and bumps.

While the good news is that this can be reversed, that also means stopping the med, so… not really helpful in my case, or many others’ cases – one-third of people taking Lithium will get the dreaded Lithium acne.

Taking Care Of Your Lithium-Induced Acne

If your Lithium acne is really, really bad despite your efforts, a visit to the dermatologist can be helpful. They have medical-grade products you can’t buy OTC – the good stuff, as I like to call it. Keep in mind that Lithium-induced acne IS more resistant to treatment than your typical hormonal acne, and some skin conditions may be almost completely resistant to treatment. I know, I know. 

Which leads me to my next important thing to do: keep seeing your therapist. Body image is a real thing that can lead many down dangerous paths. (The irony does not escape us with Lithium acne, thank you.) Speaking honestly with your therapist and finding ways to deal with your body image is not only beneficial for the acne – it can improve your overall wellbeing in other manners, too. Those other imperfections you used to worry about, on top of the acne? Meh. 

But Imma tell you the REAL secret to keeping your skin as clear as possible despite taking Lithium: a solid, consistent skincare routine.


I’m not talking fancy creams and sprays and all of that expensive s*it, though if you want to, go ahead and use it all! What I am talking is a good cleanser with salicylic acid to reduce swelling and unclog those pores, plus a moisturizer that keeps your skin from drying out.

We love these products for their anti-acne ingredients!



Do you deal with Lithium-induced acne? How do you treat it? Share your secrets in the comments!

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