Drug Therapy

Status Report From the American Acne & Rosacea Society on Medical Management of Acne in Adult Women, Part 3: Oral Therapies

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Spironolactone is a category C drug and thus should be avoided during pregnancy, primarily due to animal data suggesting risks of hypospadias and feminization in male fetuses.9 Importantly, there is an absence of reports linking exposure during pregnancy with congenital defects in humans, including in 2 known cases of high-dose exposures for maternal Bartter syndrome.9

The active metabolite, canrenone, is known to be present in breast milk at 0.2% of the maternal daily dose, but breastfeeding is generally believed to be safe with spironolactone based on evidence to date.9

Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotic therapy may be used in combination with a topical regimen to treat AV in adult women, keeping in mind some important caveats.1-7 For instance, monotherapy with oral antibiotics should be avoided, and concomitant use of benzoyl peroxide is suggested to reduce emergence of antibiotic-resistant Propionibacterium acnes strains.3,4 A therapeutic exit plan also is suggested when prescribing oral antibiotics to limit treatment to 3 to 4 months, if possible, to help mitigate the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (eg, staphylococci and streptococci).3-5,51

Tetracyclines, especially doxycycline and minocycline, are the most commonly prescribed agents. Doxycycline use warrants patient education on measures to limit the risks of esophageal and GI side effects and phototoxicity; enteric-coated and small tablet formulations have been shown to reduce GI side effects, especially when administered with food.3,52-55 In addition to vestibular side effects and hyperpigmentation, minocycline may be associated with rare but potentially severe adverse reactions such as drug hypersensitivity syndrome, autoimmune hepatitis, and lupus-like syndrome, which are reported more commonly in women.5,52,54 Vestibular side effects have been shown to decrease with use of extended-release tablets with weight-based dosing.53

Oral Isotretinoin

Oral isotretinoin is well established as highly effective for treatment of severe, recalcitrant AV, including nodular acne on the face and trunk.4,56 Currently available oral isotretinoins are branded generic formulations based on the pharmacokinetic profile of the original brand (Accutane [Roche Pharmaceuticals]) and with the use of Lidose Technology (Absorica [Cipher Pharmaceuticals]), which substantially increases GI absorption of isotretinoin in the absence of ingestion with a high-calorie, high-fat meal.57 The short- and long-term efficacy, dosing regimens, safety considerations, and serious teratogenic risks for oral isotretinoin are well published.4,56-58 Importantly, oral isotretinoin must be prescribed with strict adherence to the federally mandated iPLEDGE risk management program.

Low-dose oral isotretinoin therapy (<0.5 mg/kg–1 mg/kg daily) administered over several months longer than conventional regimens (ie, 16–20 weeks) has been suggested with demonstrated efficacy.57 However, this approach is not optimal due to the lack of established sustained clearance of AV after discontinuation of therapy and the greater potential for exposure to isotretinoin during pregnancy. Recurrences of AV do occur after completion of isotretinoin therapy, especially if cumulative systemic exposure to the drug during the initial course of treatment was inadequate.56,57

Oral isotretinoin has been shown to be effective in AV in adult women with or without PCOS with 0.5 mg/kg to 1 mg/kg daily and a total cumulative exposure of 120 mg/kg to 150 mg/kg.59 In one study, the presence of PCOS and greater number of nodules at baseline were predictive of a higher risk of relapse during the second year posttreatment.59


All oral therapies that are used to treat AV in adult women warrant individual consideration of possible benefits versus risks. Careful attention to possible side effects, patient-related risk factors, and potential drug-drug interactions is important. End points of therapy are not well established, with the exception of oral isotretinoin therapy. Clinicians must use their judgment in each case along with obtaining feedback from patients regarding the selection of therapy after a discussion of the available options.

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