Conference Coverage

Q and A with Dr. Julie Harper: Treating acne and rosacea



– Julie C. Harper, MD, likes to warn her patients with acne about an unexpected possible side effect of treatment with isotretinoin. “You may become a dermatologist.”

Dr. Julie C. Harper

Dr. Julie C. Harper

After all, that’s exactly how Dr. Harper herself was inspired to pursue a career in dermatology. As a teenager, she had acne and was treated with isotretinoin three times. The experience was so influential that she went into dermatology with a specific goal of treating acne.

“I love all of it, and in my practice I treat everything,” said Dr. Harper, “but I have a special interest in helping people with acne be as clear as they can be.” Indeed, she helped found the American Acne and Rosacea Society, which she now serves as president.

Dr. Harper, who practices in Birmingham, Ala., spoke about her approach to acne and rosacea in an interview following one of her presentations at the annual Coastal Dermatology Symposium.

DERMATOLOGY NEWS: What drew you to focus on rosacea in addition to acne?

Dr. Harper: Acne and rosacea are often coupled together because both of them affect the face, and they create red bumps on the skin. But they’re very distinct diagnoses, and their pathogenesis is completely different. My interest in treating rosacea was secondary to acne, but I love to treat them both.

DN: Are they both equally challenging to treat?

Dr. Harper: In some ways, rosacea is more challenging to treat.

With acne, we have a pretty good algorithm for how we treat it. We can end with isotretinoin, which for many people is a cure. But we really don’t have that last step in rosacea.

DN: What are you doing differently with rosacea than you might not have done a few years ago?

Dr. Harper: More combination therapy. The trend is more toward a comprehensive combination approach to treat everything we see in rosacea: Hit this as hard as you can. Hit everything you see. Part of that is because we have some newer drugs like the alpha-adrenergic agonists that work differently than anything we’ve had before.

We have a couple of good combination studies. One study examined ivermectin plus brimonidine (J Drugs Dermatol. 2017 Sep 1;16[9]:909-16). Those two worked better together if you did not delay the brimonidine for 4 weeks and only used it with the ivermectin for part of the study.

There are also the newer studies that look at doxycycline plus ivermectin and compare it with ivermectin plus placebo. The combination works better, and it works faster (Adv Ther. 2016;33[9]:1481-1501; unpublished clinical trial data on file with Galderma, NCT03075891).

On top of those treatments, we may need to add laser for background redness, or an oral beta-blocker for flushing if the patient still complains of the symptoms.

DN: What’s most challenging to treat in rosacea?

Dr. Harper: The redness and phymatous changes are the hardest. Once you get phymatous changes, you have to do a physical modality.

Most of us think that if we treat rosacea aggressively up front, maybe we can prevent the phymatous changes. Prevention is key, just like prevention of acne scarring is easier than getting rid of scars once you have it.

Other than phyma, it’s the redness. Even the Food and Drug Administration–approved products we have for redness don’t work for flushing. Patients stand up to give up a presentation and “Oh no, here comes a red face.” That’s the hardest part to manage.

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