A topical azithromycin preparation for the treatment of acne vulgaris and rosacea

J Dermatolog Treat. 2004 Sep;15(5):295-302. doi: 10.1080/09546630410033808.


Background: Erythromycin is a common therapy for acne and rosacea. A newer macrolide, azithromycin, offers superior tissue distribution and cellular concentration and is an effective oral anti-acne agent. Topical formulations such as erythromycin have been a major clinical therapy for acne. To date, no topical solution of azithromycin is available for the treatment of acne.

Objective: To prepare a stable topical 2% azithromycin formulation that could be used in an acne clinical trial to determine the efficacy of topical azithromycin in treating subjects with acne vulgaris and acne rosacea.

Methods: The study was divided into two phases. In phase I, azithromycin was prepared over a range of ethanol/water concentrations to determine solubility. The stability of a 2% azithromycin in 60% ethanol/water preparation was assessed by high-pressure liquid chromatography. The temperature, light, and pH dependence of the stability was also assessed. In phase II, a single center, randomized, double-blind, treatment-controlled study compared once-nightly application of topical 2% azithromycin versus 2% erythromycin. A total of 20 subjects with moderate inflammatory acne and 20 with rosacea were examined clinically at 0, 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks for a 12-week period. Efficacy was evaluated with the Physician's Visual Analog Scale evaluation (PVAS), the papulopustule count, and acne severity rating (in subjects with acne).

Results: In phase I, azithromycin was soluble in 60% ethanol/water. A 2% azithromycin in 60% ethanol/water solution maintained stability at room temperature for up to 26 weeks but at 37 degrees C there was some decay (16%) at 26 weeks. The stability was greatest at pH 6.8 and was unaffected by ambient light exposure. In phase II, the number of inflammatory lesions decreased in both acne and rosacea subjects treated with 2% erythromycin (7.56, p=0.03 and 4.4, p=0.01, respectively). Azithromycin was not as effective for the treatment of rosacea. Both azithromycin (p=0.01) and erythromycin (p=0.03) treatment significantly reduced the inflammatory lesion count in acne vulgaris. No significant adverse events were identified in the acne group. In patients with rosacea, transient irritation occurred in five patients.

Conclusions: A 2% azithromycin in 60% ethanol/water solution can be prepared and is stable for at least 6 months at room temperature. The methodology and power of the study were adequate to identify improvement in acne vulgaris and rosacea. Though it appears the formulation of topical azithromycin was at least comparable with topical erythromycin, larger studies would be needed to determine whether topical azithromycin has any significant advantage over topical erythromycin.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Acne Vulgaris / pathology
  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Azithromycin / administration & dosage*
  • Azithromycin / adverse effects
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Child
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Stability
  • Erythromycin / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Rosacea / drug therapy*
  • Rosacea / pathology
  • Solutions


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Solutions
  • Erythromycin
  • Azithromycin