1. Education of the patient
Education on proper use of medications and cosmetics is paramount. Because lesions take 4–6 weeks to improve, clinical improvement should be measured by the number of new lesions forming after 6–8 weeks of therapy. Additional time (3–4 months) will be required to see improvement on the back and chest, as these areas are slowest to respond. Avoid topical exposure to oils, cocoa butter (theobroma oil), and greases in cosmetics, including hair products. Scarring may occur with or without the patient manipulating the lesions. It is essential that the patient be educated in a supportive way about this complication. Anxiety and depression are common in patients with excoriated acne.
A low glycemic diet has been associated with improvement and lower incidence of acne. This improvement was associated with a reduction in insulin resistance. Hyperinsulinemia has also been associated with acne in both eumenorrheic women and individuals with PCOS.
Treatment of acne is based on the type and severity of lesions. Comedones require treatment different from that of pustules and cystic lesions. In assessing severity, take the sequelae of the lesions into account. An individual who gets only a few new lesions per month that scar or leave postinflammatory hyperpigmentation must be treated much more aggressively than a comparable patient whose lesions clear without sequelae. Hygiene plays little role in acne treatment, and a mild soap is almost always recommended. The agents effective in comedonal acne are listed below in the order in which they should be tried.
Tretinoin is very effective for comedonal acne or for treatment of the comedonal component of more severe acne, but its usefulness is limited by irritation. Start with 0.025% cream (not gel) and have the patient use it at first twice weekly at night, increasing frequency to nightly as tolerated. A few patients cannot use even this low-strength preparation more than three times weekly but even that may cause improvement. A lentil-sized amount is sufficient to cover the entire face. To avoid irritation, have the patient wait 20 minutes after washing to apply. Adapalene gel 0.1% and reformulated tretinoin (Renova, Retin A Micro, Avita) are other options for patients irritated by standard tretinoin preparations. Although the absorption of tretinoin is minimal, its use during pregnancy is contraindicated. Patients should be warned that their acne may flare in the first 4 weeks of treatment.
Benzoyl peroxide products are available in concentrations of 2.5%, 4%, 5%, 8%, and 10%, but 2.5% is as effective as 10% and less irritating. In general, water-based and not alcohol-based gels should be used to decrease irritation. Single formulations of benzoyl peroxide in combination with several other topical agents, including adapalene and topical antibiotics (erythromycin, clindamycin phosphate), are available.
C. Papular or Cystic Inflammatory Acne
Brief treatment (3 weeks to 3 months) with topical or oral antibiotics is the mainstay for treatment of inflammatory acne that does not respond to topical therapy with retinoids or benzoyl peroxide. Topical clindamycin phosphate and erythromycin are used only for mild papular acne that can be controlled by topicals alone or for patients who refuse or cannot tolerate oral antibiotics. To decrease resistance, benzoyl peroxide should be used in combination with the topical antibiotic.
The first choice of topical antibiotics in terms of efficacy and relative lack of induction of resistant P acnes is the combination of erythromycin or clindamycin with benzoyl peroxide topical gel or wash (Table 6–2). These may be used once or twice daily. The addition of tretinoin cream or gel at night may increase improvement, since it works via a different mechanism. Topical retinoids ideally are used as a long-term maintenance therapy.
Common oral antibiotics used for acne include doxycycline (100 mg twice daily), minocycline (50–100 mg once or twice daily), TMP-SMZ (one double-strength tablet twice daily), or a cephalosporin (cefadroxil or cephalexin 500 mg twice daily), which should be used in combination with benzoyl peroxide to minimize development of antibiotic resistance. It may take 3 months or more for truncal acne to resolve with oral antibiotic treatment. In general, discontinuing antibiotics immediately without adjunctive topical therapy results in prompt recurrence. Topical retinoids are excellent for long-term maintenance following antibiotics. Subantimicrobial dosing of doxycycline (40–50 mg orally daily) can be used in patients who require long-term systemic therapy. Combination oral contraceptives or spironolactone (50–200 mg orally daily) are highly effective alternatives in women with treatment-resistant acne. Tetracycline, minocycline, and doxycycline are contraindicated in pregnancy, but certain oral erythromycins or cephalosporins may be used.
A vitamin A analog, isotretinoin is used for the treatment of severe acne that has not responded to conventional therapy. An oral dosage of 0.5–1 mg/kg/day for 20 weeks for a cumulative dose of at least 120 mg/kg is usually adequate for severe cystic acne. Patients should be offered isotretinoin therapy before they experience significant scarring if they are not promptly and adequately controlled by antibiotics. The medication is absolutely contraindicated during pregnancy because of its teratogenicity. Two forms of effective contraception must be used; abstinence is an acceptable alternative. Informed consent must be obtained before its use, and patients must be enrolled in a monitoring program (iPledge). In addition to its teratogenicity, isotretinoin has numerous serious side effects and should only be prescribed by clinicians (usually dermatologists) well aware of these issues. Cheilitis, dry skin, and photosensitivity are almost universal side effects. If headache occurs, pseudotumor cerebri must be considered. Depression and other mood disorders has been reported. Hypertriglyceridemia will develop in about 25% of patients. Mild transaminitis may develop in some patients. Fasting blood sugar may be elevated. Miscellaneous adverse reactions include decreased night vision, musculoskeletal symptoms, thinning of hair, exuberant granulation tissue in lesions, and bony hyperostoses (seen only with very high doses or with long duration of therapy). Moderate to severe myalgias rarely necessitate decreasing the dosage or stopping the medication. Inflammatory bowel disease has first appeared after acne treatment with both tetracyclines and isotretinoin at a rate of 1:1000 cases treated or less. Causality of this association has not been established. Young adults with severe acne who are potential candidates for isotretinoin should be asked about any bowel symptoms prior to starting isotretinoin. Consider ordering laboratory tests, including total cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and liver enzyme tests (particularly alanine aminotransferase, which is the most liver-specific enzyme), in patients before treatment and after achieving therapeutic dosing; monitoring through the entire treatment may not be high value.
Abnormal laboratory tests, especially elevated liver enzymes and triglyceride levels, return to normal quickly upon conclusion of therapy. The medication may induce long-term remissions in 40–60%, or acne may recur that is more easily controlled with conventional therapy. Occasionally, a second course is needed if acne does not respond or recurs.
B. INTRALESIONAL INJECTION
Intralesional injection of dilute suspensions of triamcinolone acetonide (2.5 mg/mL, 0.05 mL per lesion) will often hasten the resolution of deeper papules and occasional cysts.
Cosmetic improvement may be achieved by excision and punch-grafting of deep scars and by physical or chemical abrasion of inactive acne lesions, particularly flat, superficial scars.