Haider A, Shaw JC. Treatment of Acne Vulgaris. JAMA. 2004;292(6):726-735. doi:10.1001/jama.292.6.726
Author Affiliations: Division of Dermatology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
Section Editor: Michael S. Lauer, MD, Contributing
Editor. We encourage authors to submit papers for consideration as a Clinical
Review. Please contact Michael S. Lauer, MD, at email@example.com.
Context Management of acne vulgaris by nondermatologists is increasing. Current
understanding of the different presentations of acne allows for individualized
treatments and improved outcomes.
Objective To review the best evidence available for individualized treatment of
Data Sources Search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane database to search for all
English-language articles on acne treatment from 1966 to 2004.
Study Selection Well-designed randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, and other
systematic reviews are the focus of this article.
Data Extraction Acne literature is characterized by a lack of standardization with respect
to outcome measures and methods used to grade disease severity.
Data Synthesis Main outcome measures of 29 randomized double-blind trials that were
evaluated included reductions in inflammatory, noninflammatory, and total
acne lesion counts. Topical retinoids reduce the number of comedones and inflammatory
lesions in the range of 40% to 70%. These agents are the mainstay of therapy
in patients with comedones only. Other agents, including topical antimicrobials,
oral antibiotics, hormonal therapy (in women), and isotretinoin all yield
high response rates. Patients with mild to moderate severity inflammatory
acne with papules and pustules should be treated with topical antibiotics
combined with retinoids. Oral antibiotics are first-line therapy in patients
with moderate to severe inflammatory acne while oral isotretinoin is indicated
for severe nodular acne, treatment failures, scarring, frequent relapses,
or in cases of severe psychological distress. Long-term topical or oral antibiotic
therapy should be avoided when feasible to minimize occurrence of bacterial
resistance. Isotretinoin is a powerful teratogen mandating strict precautions
for use among women of childbearing age.
Conclusions Acne responses to treatment vary considerably. Frequently more than
1 treatment modality is used concomitantly. Best results are seen when treatments
are individualized on the basis of clinical presentation.
The management of acne vulgaris by nondermatologists is
increasing.1 In this article we attempt to answer the question:
what treatments in acne vulgaris have proven efficacy and how are these treatments
best administered and individualized to optimize results and minimize complications?
We considered the efficacy and safety of topical retinoids, topical antimicrobials,
systemic antibiotics, hormonal treatments for women, and oral isotretinoin.
A librarian-assisted literature search was performed for English-language
randomized clinical trials. We used MEDLINE and EMBASE to identify all therapeutic
clinical trials, meta-analyses, and systematic analyses concerning acne vulgaris
from 1966 to 2004. We further cross-referenced bibliographies of identified
articles. This search strategy identified 248 articles. We then evaluated
titles and abstracts, and excluded studies that were not blinded, were not
randomized, had sample sizes of fewer than 50, did not provide adequate information
with respect to objective outcomes measures, contained no original data, pertained
to treatments that are not available, did not involve humans, or were therapeutic
failures. We used the following search words: acne vulgaris, acne, tretinoin, tazarotene, adapalene, clindamycin, erythromycin, tetracycline, azelaic acid, benzoyl
peroxide, minocycline, doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, flutamide, spironolactone, cyproterone-acetate, oral contraceptives, isotretinoin, clinical
trials, review, therapy, treatment, and randomized
We identified 29 randomized double-blind trials, which comprise the
focus of this article. Where possible, data concerning responses to treatment
were put in terms of percent reduction of inflammatory lesions, noninflammatory
lesions (comedones), and total lesions.
A recent methodological literature review of acne therapy trials over
the last 50 years found that methods of grading acne severity and methods
of assessing outcome measures are highly inconsistent.2 There
are more than 25 methods of assessing acne severity and more than 19 methods
for counting lesions. Our literature review verifies the lack of standardized
of methodology. Nevertheless, analysis of acne therapy data does allow conclusions
to be drawn that can direct therapeutic decisions.
In addition to the randomized controlled trials (RCTs), we reviewed
selected articles that included data collected or analyzed after the trial,
including meta-analyses and other systematic reviews. We also mention selected
non-RCTs when they represent best evidence concerning established therapies
that have not yet been studied in well-designed RCTs.
Quiz Ref IDThe origin of acne vulgaris is complex and incompletely
understood. At least 4 pathophysiologic events take place within acne-infected
hair follicles: (1) androgen-mediated stimulation of sebaceous gland activity,
(2) abnormal keratinization leading to follicular plugging (comedo formation),
(3) proliferation of the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes within the follicle, and (4) inflammation. In addition to
these 4 basic mechanisms, genetic factors,3 stress,4 and possibly diet may influence the development and
severity of acne.5
Retinoids, first shown in the 1970s to be of value for treating acne,
are derivatives of vitamin A that prevent comedone formation by normalizing
desquamation of follicular epithelium. The 3 main topical retinoids are tretinoin,
adapalene, and tazarotene.
Tretinoin has long been considered the gold standard with which new
products are compared. A meta-analysis of 5 multicenter randomized investigator-blinded
trials involving 900 patients6 confirmed that
total lesion counts reduced by 53% with tretinoin 0.05% gel and 57% with adapalene
0.1% gel (Table 1). Adapalene
gel causes less irritation than tretinoin 0.05% gel, 0.1% microspere gel,
or 0.05% cream.6- 9 Tazarotene
0.1% gel had proven efficacy in an RCT showing 52% total acne reduction of
total lesions compared with 33% with vehicle.10 Tretinoin
was compared with tazarotene in a 12-week RCT with 169 patients.11 Tazarotene
0.1% gel produced reductions in acne severity of 36% vs 26% with tretinoin
0.1% gel (P = .02). In another comparison trial,
tazarotene 0.1% gel was more effective than tretinoin 0.025% gel in reducing
noninflammatory lesion counts (55% vs 42%; P = .042)
and equally effective in reducing inflammatory lesions.12 In
a multicenter RCT, adapalene 0.1% cream demonstrated a 38% reduction in total
lesion counts vs 20% with vehicle.13 In a 12-week
RCT with 145 patients tazarotene 0.1% gel was significantly better than adapalene
0.1% gel in terms of mean reductions in overall disease severity (44% vs 24%; P<.001), noninflammatory lesion count (71% vs 48%; P<.0001), and inflammatory lesion count (70% vs 55%; P = .0002).14 Alternate-day
application of tazarotene 0.1% gel was equally effective to daily adapalene
0.1% gel in a 15-week RCT15 (Table 1).
Tretinoin, is available as a gel (0.01% and 0.025%), cream (0.025%,
0.05%, and 0.1%), and liquid (0.05%). Cutaneous erythema, peeling, and edema
with tretinoin are dose-related adverse effects. Adapalene 0.1% is available
as a cream, gel, and solution, all with similar efficacy.16 Tazarotene
is available as 0.1% cream or gel formulations.
Quiz Ref IDIn summary, all topical retinoids effectively reduce
the number of comedones and inflammatory lesions in the range of 40% to 70%
(Table 1). Adapalene is less likely
to cause skin irritation and is better tolerated than tretinoin or tazarotene,
but tazarotene appears to be most efficacious.
Currently available topical antimicrobials include clindamycin, erythromycin,
tetracycline, and benzoyl peroxide. Azelaic acid may also be considered within
this group because it has demonstrated antibacterial activity against intrafollicular P acnes.17 Our discussion
focuses on 5 well-designed, randomized, double-blind trials assessing the
effectiveness of topical antibiotics in acne. Newer formulations have been
studied most rigorously.
Original placebo-controlled RCTs with clindamycin and erythromycin showed
a 46% to 70% reduction in inflammatory lesions18- 21 (Table 1). In another RCT, an erythromycin–4%-zinc
combination reduced inflammatory lesions by 85% vs a 46% reduction using 2%
erythromycin alone (P<.001).22 Recent
interest has centered around combinations of topical antimicrobials with benzoyl
peroxide or retinoids. Support for combining erythromycin or clindamycin with
benzoyl peroxide includes a randomized, 10-week, multicenter, single-blind
trial that enrolled 492 patients in which treatment with the combination products
used twice daily was more effective than benzoyl peroxide alone.23 Additionally,
a review of 3 clinical studies involving 1259 patients concluded that the
combination of clindamycin 1% benzoyl–peroxide 5% was more effective
than either drug used alone in reducing lesions and suppressing P acnes.24 In 2 RCTs 334 patients were
treated once nightly with either a combination clindamycin–benzoyl peroxide
gel, benzoyl peroxide alone, clindamycin alone, or vehicle25 (Table 1). After 11 weeks, 66% of patients
in the clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide group experienced a good or excellent
response compared with 41% in the benzoyl peroxide group, 36% in the clindamycin
group, and 10% in the vehicle group. A similar 16-week trial showed a 53%
lesion reduction with clindamycin 1% benzoyl–peroxide 5% vs 28% with
clindamycin alone (P = .013).26
Combining topical antibiotics with topical retinoids is also effective.
Adapalene gel 0.1% plus clindamycin 1% was studied in a 12-week RCT involving
249 patients with mild to moderate acne. A significantly greater reduction
in total (P<.001), inflammatory (P = .004), and noninflammatory lesions (P<.001)
was seen in the clindamycin-plus-adapalene group than in the clindamycin-plus-vehicle
group.27 Other trials with clindamycin-tretinoin
and erythromycin-tretinoin have shown similar results.28- 32
Azelaic acid 20%, in an RCT that enrolled patients with moderate acne
resulted in a 72% reduction of inflammatory lesions vs 47% with placebo.33 Two RCTs compared oral tetracycline with topical
azelaic acid 20%.34 Reductions in inflammatory
lesion counts were 83% for azelaic acid and 86% for oral tetracycline in one
study and 79% for both drugs in another (Table 1). The efficacy of azelaic acid in mild to moderate acne
matches that of tretinoin 0.05%, benzoyl peroxide 5%, or topical erythromycin
Adverse effects of topical antibiotics include erythema, peeling, dryness,
and burning.35 Benzoyl peroxide can also cause
an irritant dermatitis and bleach hair, clothes, and bed linens. Quiz Ref IDA recent consensus has recommended that topical antibiotics should
not be used alone due to the potential for bacterial resistance and relatively
slow onset of action.35 Antimicrobial resistance
with benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid has not been reported. Combining
antibiotics with benzoyl peroxide is the most common practice. A minimum of
6 to 8 weeks of treatment is recommended.35
Quiz Ref IDSystemic antibiotics used in acne vulgaris have both
antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. They reduce P acnes within follicles, thereby inhibiting production of bacterial-induced
inflammatory cytokines.36 Tetracycline and
erythromycin suppress leukocyte chemotaxis37 and
bacterial lipase activity38 while minocycline
and doxycycline inhibit cytokines and matrix metalloproteinases thought to
contribute to inflammation and tissue breakdown.39 The
main systemic antibiotics used in acne vulgaris are tetracycline, doxycycline,
minocycline, and erythromycin.
Relatively few RCTs have studied the use of oral antibiotics in treating
acne. A 12-week RCT involving 200 patients40 showed
a reduction in inflammatory lesions by 64% with tetracycline vs 67% with erythromycin
and a reduction in noninflammatory lesion counts by 34% with tetracycline
vs 22% with erythromycin (Table 2).
In another comparison trial topical clindamycin 1% showed a 72% reduction
vs a 57% reduction using oral tetracycline and a 12% reduction with placebo.41
Doxycycline was recently studied in a RCT in which 51 patients received
either a submicrobicidal dose (20 mg twice daily) for 6 months or placebo.
Mean reduction in total lesions was 52% with doxycycline vs 18% with placebo
2).42 Even low doses of doxycycline
may be effective by inhibition of collagenases including matrix metalloproteinases.39 Doxycycline is frequently dosed at 100 mg/d for acne
treatment although best evidence for those doses comes from small studies.43
The efficacy of minocycline was assessed in a Cochrane review,43 which concluded that minocycline is an effective
therapy for moderate acne, but its efficacy compared with other acne therapies
could not be reliably determined due to methodological flaws in the comparative
trials. In a 3-month double-blind RCT, minocycline was somewhat more effective
in reducing inflammatory lesion counts compared with zinc gluconate (67% vs
50%; P<.001).44 Antimicrobial
effects against P acnes are greater with minocycline
than with doxycycline or tetracycline,45 and
higher lipid solubility favors its bioavailability in pilosebaceous units.
Oral tetracycline is usually prescribed at a dosage of 500 mg twice
a day. The absorption of tetracycline is reduced by food and dairy products;
therefore, it must be taken on an empty stomach. Adverse effects include gastrointestinal
tract dyspepsia, vaginal candidiasis in women, and a small risk of photosensitivity.
In children younger than 10 years, tetracycline can cause enamel hypoplasia
and a yellowish discoloration of the forming teeth.46 Doxycycline
has traditionally been used at a dose of 50 to 100 mg twice daily. Success
with 20 mg/d may change clinical practice over time.42 Doxycycline
causes gastrointestinal tract upset and is more likely than tetracycline to
cause photosensitivity.46 Doxycycline can be
taken with food. Tetracyclines should not be taken immediately before sleep
because the pills may lodge in the esophagus and cause ulceration.
Minocycline is prescribed in a dosage range of 50 to 100 mg twice daily.
Adverse effects include vertigo, dizziness, ataxia, and rarely a bluish discoloration
of the skin.46 Minocycline has also been reported
to be associated with drug induced lupus, autoimmune hepatitis, and a hypersensitivity
syndrome.47 The relative risk of developing
a lupuslike syndrome with minocycline is 8.5 (95% confidence interval [CI],
2.1-35.0) compared with 1.7 (95% CI, 0.4-8.1) for other tetracyclines.48
Antibiotic-resistant strains of P acnes have
increased steadily since the 1970s and are now found in more than 50% of cases
in Europe and the United Kingdom.49 Resistance
of P acnes to oral antibiotics is associated with
treatment failures.50 The effect of resistance
to P acnes with topical antimicrobial use is unclear.51 Resistance to tetracyclines is less common than to
erythromycin49 and is least with minocycline.52
Recommendations for reducing antibiotic resistance in acne have been
published recently and include using combined topical therapy—such as
retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or both when using topical antibiotics—and
avoiding long-term use of topical or oral antibiotics when feasible.35
Hormonal treatments for acne are tolerated in women only. These treatments,
which decrease androgen expression, are based on the requirement for androgens
in the pathophysiologic development of acne.53,54 A
direct relationship between levels of circulating androgens and acne severity
has not been established although prior studies suggest some degree of hyperandrogenemia
in women with acne.55- 57
Antiandrogenic compounds include oral contraceptives (OCs) and androgen-receptor
blockers such as flutamide, spironolactone, and cyproterone acetate. Several
OCs are now approved for use in acne. All contain 35 µg of estrogen
or less. None of the androgen-receptor blockers are approved by the US Food
and Drug Administration for use in the treatment of acne.
Oral contraceptives suppress ovarian androgens and reduce bioavailable
testosterone by an estrogen-mediated increase in steroid hormone binding globulin.
After 6 months, 2 multicenter RCTs involving 507 women with moderate acne
found that triphasic norgestimate and ethinyl estradiol (EE, Orthotri-cyclin
[Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc, Raritan, NJ]) had decreased inflammatory
lesions by approximately 50% compared with a 30% reduction with placebo.58,59 Two RCTs studying the efficacy of
20 µg of EE plus 100 µg of levonorgestrel (Alesse [Wyeth, Madison,
NJ]) showed total acne improvement of 23% to 40% compared with 9% to 23% with
placebo (Table 2).60,61 A
recent RCT involving 128 women showed an acne-lesion count reduction of 63%
using the combination drugs of 35 µg of EE plus 3 mg of drospirenone
(Yasmin [Berlex, Montreal, Quebec]) and a 59% reduction using 35 µg
of EE plus 2 mg of cyproterone acetate (Diane-35 [Berlex]).62 Neither
Alesse nor Yasmin is marketed for acne although both are used extensively
for that indication.
Outside of the United States, the OC containing 35 µg of EE plus
2 mg of cyproterone acetate is the combination to which newer OCs have usually
been compared for acne treatment. The progestin, cyproterone is an effective
androgen-receptor blocker when used at higher doses in men with prostate cancer63 and in women with acne, hirsutism, and polycystic
ovary syndrome.64 Best evidence for the use
of this combination for acne comes from open studies or comparison trials
with newer OCs containing levonorgestrel, drospirenone, and desogestrel. At
least 60% improvement was demonstrated with all the above OCs.62,65,66 In
Europe, the antiandrogen–progestin chlormadinone has been combined with
EE in an oral contraceptive (Belara [Grunenthal, Aachen, Germany]) and has
been shown to be superior to an OC containing levonorgestrel in treating acne.67
Safety profiles are reasonable for OCs containing 35 µg of EE
or less. Cardiovascular risks are not significantly increased in nonsmokers,68 and breast cancer risks have not been shown to be
increased overall.69 The risk of deep-vein
thrombosis increases from 1 per 10 000 woman-years to 3.4 per 10 000
woman-years during the first year and decreases therafter.70 Contraindications
to using OCs in an otherwise healthy woman include smoking, migraine headaches
with aura, and hypertension.71
Androgen-receptor blockers used in acne include spironolactone, flutamide,
and cyproterone acetate. Spironolactone is well established as an aldosterone-blocking
agent at doses of 25 mg/d in patients with heart failure.72 Higher
doses (50-100 mg/d) are required for androgen-receptor blockade. Cyproterone
acetate, in addition to being used as the progestin in the OC Diane-35, is
used in doses of 50 to 100 mg/d in women with hirsutism (not available in
the United States). Flutamide, a nonsteroidal androgen-receptor blocker commonly
used in prostate cancer is used in women with hirsutism and acne at doses
of 250 to 500 mg/d.
Best evidence for the use of spironolactone in acne comes from 4 studies
in which spironolactone alone or as an adjunct in doses of 50 to 200 mg/d
showed 50% to 70% improvement of acne.73- 76 A
randomized comparison study of 53 participants showed a 50% improvement in
acne and seborrhea among those who received a combination of 100 mg/d of spironolactone
with an OC vs an 80% improvement among those who received 250 mg of flutamide
with an OC.77 Together with OCs, cyproterone
acetate 50 to 100 mg/d is also effective in treating acne.78,79 Cyproterone
acetate is, however, most commonly used in the low-dose formulation (2 mg)
as part of an oral contraceptive.
Isotretinoin, a naturally occurring metabolite of vitamin A, inhibits
sebaceous gland differentiation and proliferation, reduces sebaceous gland
size, suppresses sebum production, and normalizes follicular epithelial desquamation.
Isotretinoin is indicated in severe nodular acne and acne unresponsive to
other therapies. It is used at a dosage of 0.5 to 1 mg/kg per day with a cumulative
dosage of 120 to 150 mg/kg over a 4- to 6-month treatment period.
Isotretinoin was first shown to be effective in a nonrandomized clinical
trial at an average dose of 2 mg/kg per day for 4 months in 14 patients with
severe acne.80 Complete clearing occurred in
13 of 14 patients and all 14 had prolonged remissions. A dose-response RCT
involving 76 patients showed that at 4 months, total acne lesions were reduced
by 80% with a treatment of 0.1 mg/kg per day or 0.5 mg/kg per day and by 89%
with 1.0 mg/kg per day.81 A significantly greater
treatment failure rate (45%) was observed with the lowest dose (0.1 mg/kg
per day dosage). A related dose-comparison trial in 150 patients found that
retreatment was required in 42% of patients receiving 0.1 mg/kg per day and
only 10% of patients receiving 1 mg/kg per day (Table 2).82 A new micronized formulation
of isotretinoin (0.4 mg/kg per day) was equivalent in efficacy and safety
to standard isotretinoin (1 mg/kg per day).83,84
A 10-year follow-up of 88 patients who received isotretinoin in an initial
dose of 0.5 or 1 mg/kg per day showed that 23% required a second course of
isotretinoin,85 usually within 3 years of stopping
therapy. The daily and cumulative dosage was an important factor in determining
relapse rate. Patients receiving 0.5 mg/kg per day had a relapse rate of 39%
vs 22% in those taking 1 mg/kg per day (P<.05).
A cumulative dosage of less than 120 mg/kg had a significantly higher relapse
rate than those given a larger dose (82% vs 30%, respectively; P<.01). A recent chart review of 179 patients who had received 1
course of isotretinoin revealed that at the 3-year follow up, 35% had no recurrence;
16% required topical therapy; 27% required the use of oral antibiotics, and
23% required more isotretinoin.86
Adverse effects of isotretinoin include dry lips, dry skin, dry eyes,
decreased night vision, headache, epistaxis, and backache. Less common adverse
effects include benign intracranial hypertension, so therapy must be stopped
if a patient experiences persistent headaches. Isotretinoin can also be associated
with a mild to moderate elevation in liver enzymes and in serum lipid indices,
especially triglycerides.87 It is generally
well accepted that baseline cholesterol, fasting triglycerides, and liver
function tests be done. Follow-up tests are recommended at weeks 4 and 8.
If these test results are normal, further testing at week 12 may not be necessary.
Quiz Ref IDIsotretinoin is a proven teratogen, and its use necessitates
adequate contraception during and 6 weeks after therapy, as well as baseline
and monthly pregnancy tests. Major malformations occur in 40% of infants exposed
to isotretinoin in the first trimester.88 It
is strongly recommended that patients have 2 negative pregnancy tests before
starting isotretinoin and regular monthly pregnancy tests thereafter. Current
prescribing regulations in the United States require physicians to identify
on each prescription that patients have met the above qualifications and have
signed a consent form. Further measures are being discussed to mandate a single,
centralized registration and tracking system for all health care professionals
involved with isotretinoin. A recent evidence-based review examined the issue
of an increasing number of reported cases of depression and suicide associated
with isotretinoin.89 Epidemiological evidence
for an association between isotretinoin and depression is currently lacking.89 Furthermore, there is a 24.7% and 13.3% prevalence
of anxiety and depression, respectively, in patients with acne.90 Until
well-designed studies are conducted, patients and their relatives must be
informed about depressive symptoms, and screening for depression should be
an essential part of each visit.
The diagnosis of acne vulgaris is usually uncomplicated. Differential
diagnoses mainly include rosacea, perioral dermatitis, bacterial folliculitis,
and drug-induced acneiform eruptions. The presence of comedones confirms the
diagnosis of acne vulgaris.
Evidence-based literature in acne treatment is growing, and there is
sufficient evidence to justify specific treatments for most clinical presentations.
Successful outcomes frequently require nuance in management and a thorough
understanding of all treatment modalities. Good outcomes are based on what
is perceived by the patient as well as what can be measured. Since morbidity
in acne is primarily emotional (psychological), different degrees of success
may satisfy different individuals. Acne severity fluctuates over time and
treatments often need to change accordingly.
For this treatment, topical retinoids are the mainstay of treatment.
Choices include tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene (Figure 1, A). Treatment response expectations are in the range of
a 40% to 70% reduction in number of comedones within 12 weeks.6,11,14 Creams
and lower concentrations of retinoids are less irritating but may take longer
for a response than higher concentrations and gels. Short-contact therapy,
starting with 30 seconds and building up to 1 hour or more followed by washing,
was demonstrated effective and safe in a study with tazarotene gel91 and could be considered with all topical retinoids.
Application should be to the entire area of involvement. Maintenance treatment
is usually required.
Topical antibiotics are the treatment of choice for these patients (Figure 1, B). Choices include benzoyl peroxide,
azelaic acid, clindamycin, erythromycin, and dual agents combining benzoyl
peroxide with either erythromycin or clindamycin. Current recommendations
favor combining topical antimicrobial products with topical retinoids if they
can be tolerated by patients.27,35,92 Benzoyl
peroxide, 2% to 10%, is an inexpensive and effective antimicrobial that is
not associated with antimicrobial resistance.93 The
dual-agent products combining topical antibiotics (clindamycin, erythromycin)
with benzoyl peroxide are more effective than antibiotics alone.23- 25,93 Best
results require 8 to 12 weeks and maintenance therapy is usually required.
Reasonable response expectations are in the range of 30% to 80%.17- 20,25,26
Oral antibiotics including the tetracyclines (minocycline, doxycycline,
tetracycline) are the first-line choices (Figure 1, C). Erythromycin is recommended less often because of
its association with resistant P acnes.94 Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxizole
has been reported to be successful, but there is an unacceptably high risk
of severe adverse events. Response expectations with oral antibiotics are
in the range of 64% to 86%.34,40
All oral antibiotics require a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks of treatment.
There are no strict regulations on duration of use, but the recent increase
in the prevalence of resistant organisms has resulted in current recommendations
to encourage using antibiotics for shorter periods and to avoid the long-term
use of antibiotics for maintenance therapy.35
Oral isotretinoin is indicated for severe papulonodular acne (Figure 1, D), treatment failures, scarring,
or frequently relapsing acne or in cases where psychological distress is severe.
Isotretinoin is used as a single-drug therapy except for women for whom concomitant
OCs are strongly recommended. Best responses are seen with daily doses of
1 mg/kg per day for a period of 20 weeks or a total accumulative dose of 120
A rare adverse effect of isotretinoin is called acne fulminans, characterized
by extensive erosive lesions, fever, arthralgias, and leukocytosis. Treatment
requires systemic corticosteroids. In a recent report of 25 cases of acne
fulminans, best responses were seen with 0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg of prednisone daily
for 4 to 6 weeks, with isotretinoin resumed on week 4, starting with 0.5 mg/kg
per day and increasing gradually.95
Hormonal treatments with OCs or androgen-receptor blockers have been
shown to be helpful and are reviewed elsewhere.96 For
a woman with acne who desires birth control, OCs are an excellent initial
choice. Oral contraceptives do not preclude using standard therapies if indicated.
Approved OCs for use for acne include Orthotri-cyclin (in the United States
and Canada), Estrostep (in the United States [Pfizer, New York, NY), and Diane-35
(Canada). The results of RCTs and other best evidence, expected improvement
with OCs alone is from 40% to greater than 70% (Table 3).
For those who do not respond to OCs, androgen-receptor blockers, alone
or as adjuncts to OCs, have response expectation in the range of 50% to 80%.
A treatment dosage of 50 to 100 mg/d of Spironolactone is well tolerated,
with adverse effects including diuretic effect, breast tenderness, and menstrual
irregularities if OCs are not used concomitantly.97 Another
well-tolerated treatment is 250 mg/d flutamide . Its potential adverse effects
include gastrointestinal tract upset and, at higher doses, hepatotoxicity.
Periodic liver function tests are recommended with any dose of flutamide.
Similar to spironolactone is 50 to 100 mg/d of cyproterone acetate. Hepatotoxicity
has been reported rarely in men receiving cyproterone acetate for prostate
cancer98 and in women receiving OCs containing
cyproterone acetate.99 Hormonal treatments
for acne treatment are usually prolonged, depending on response and tolerance.
For women with regular menstrual cycles, serum-androgen measurements
are not necessary. For those with rapid onset of hyperandrogenism and virilization,
an androgen-secreting ovarian or adrenal tumor can be excluded with a normal
total testosterone and dehydroepiandosterone sulfate levels, respectively.
Irregular menses, hirsutism, obesity, or a family history of type 2 diabetes
suggest a possible endocrinopathy, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. Further
studies may be indicated, which could include measurement of gonadotropins,
free testosterone, 17-hydroxy progesterone, prolactin, and androstenedione.57,100 Unfortunately, there is no widely
accepted best laboratory test in this setting.101
Current treatments in acne target one or more of the known mechanisms
involved in the disease. Combining more than 1 treatment frequently yields
optimal responses. Patients may require adjustment of therapies depending
on their degree of improvement and level of tolerance to the treatments.