The use of isotretinoin for acne – an update on optimal dosing, surveillance, and adverse effects


Introduction: Acne is a chronic, inflammatory, and immune mediated disease of pilosebaceous unit, highly prevalent in adolescents. It involves face, trunk, and back; may leave scars and affect quality of life. Early, effective, and safe treatment is the key for disease resolution. Oral isotretinoin is the unique treatment for cure or prolonged remission for moderate and severe acne, preventing psychosocial impact and scars. It inhibits sebaceous glands activity and has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties.

Areas covered: We performed a comprehensive literature search on PubMed database, up to March 2020, regarding oral isotretinoin for acne treatment. We synthetized data about acne pathogenesis and mechanism of action, efficacy, and safety of isotretinoin.

Expert opinion: This drug is effective, despite common, controllable, and reversible mucocutaneous side effects. Serious adverse events are rare and represent individual reactions. Teratogenicity is the most severe, requiring rigorous control. We believe that no other therapeutic option, even topicals combined to oral antibiotics accomplish same results. Recurrence after treatments other than isotretinoin is the rule, prolonging risk of scars, compromising skin appearance, and causing emotional distress in teenagers. If there is no absolute contraindication, isotretinoin should be the first line treatment for moderate to severe inflammatory acne.

Keywords: Isotretinoin; acne vulgaris; adverse effects; clinical efficacy; inflammation; post-marketing; product surveillance; therapeutics.


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