Acne is caused by follicular hyperproliferation and abnormal desquamation, excess sebum production, proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes, and inflammation.
First-line agents. An expert guideline developed under the auspices of the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that topical agents including retinoids and antimicrobials be first-line treatments for acne.9,10
Topical retinoids are the primary component of topical acne treatment and can be used as monotherapy or in combination with topical antimicrobials (TABLE 1). Three topical retinoids are approved for use in the United States: tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene. Adapalene is available by prescription, 0.1% and 0.3% gel, and over the counter, 0.1% gel (Differin Gel) (TABLE 2). The topical retinoids are applied once daily at bedtime and can cause local skin irritation and dryness. Pregnant women should not be treated with topical retinoids.
Topical antimicrobials for the treatment of acne include: benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, azelaic acid, and dapsone. Clindamycin is only recommended for use in combination with benzoyl peroxide in order to reduce the development of bacterial resistance to the antibiotic.
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Approach to mild, moderate, and severe acne. In adolescents with mild acne a topical retinoid or benzoyl peroxide can be used as monotherapy or used together. Referral to a dermatologist is recommended for moderate to severe acne. Moderate acne is treated with combination topical therapy (benzoyl peroxide plus a topical retinoid, a topical antibiotic, or both). Severe acne is treated with 3 months of oral antibiotics plus topical combination therapy (benzoyl peroxide plus a topical retinoid, a topical antibiotic, or both). In cases of severe nodular acne or acne that produces scarring the patient may require oral isotretinoin treatment.