A randomized, double-blind, multicentre study was performed to compare the efficacy of acitretin (50 mg/day) with hydroxychloroquine (400 mg/day) in 28 and 30 patients, respectively, suffering from cutaneous lupus erythematosus (LE). The study was carried out over an 8-week period. Improvement of facial LE lesions after treatment with acitretin and hydroxychloroquine was assessed using several clinical parameters. In the acitretin group there was marked improvement or clearing of erythema in 10/24 patients (42%), of infiltration in 15/24 (63%) and of scaling/hyperkeratosis in 12/20 (60%). In the hydroxychloroquine group there was complete clearing or marked improvement of erythema in 17/25 patients (68%), of infiltration in 17/25 (68%) and of scaling/hyperkeratosis in 15/23 (65%). Overall improvement occurred in 13/28 patients (46%) treated with acitretin and in 15/30 patients (50%) with hydroxychloroquine. The incidence of side-effects was higher in the acitretin group, and necessitated discontinuation of treatment in four patients. The present results demonstrate that both acitretin and hydroxychloroquine provide effective treatment in approximately 50% of cases of cutaneous LE.