[Acne therapy with topical benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and azelaic acid]

J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2006 Apr;4(4):293-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2006.05931.x.
[Article in German]


Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) was introduced in the treatment of acne in 1934. Despite the fact that only few randomized trials have been published, BPO is considered the standard in topical acne treatment. Anaerobic bacteria are reduced by oxidative mechanisms and the induction of resistant strains is reduced. Topical formulations are available at concentrations of 2.5, 5, 10 and 20 %. The effect is dose-dependent, but the irritation increases with higher concentrations. Usually 5 % BPO is sufficient to control acne grade I-II. Due to its strong oxidative potential, patients should be advised that BPO may bleach colored and dark clothing, bedding and even hair. BPO is safe for use in pregnant and lactating females because it is degraded to benzoic acid. It is a cost-effective treatment for acne grade I-II. Patients with papulopustular acne grade I-II, particularly with marked inflammation, show satisfactory improvement with topical antibiotic treatment. The following compounds are available and effective: erythromycin, clindamycin and tetracycline (the latter being less frequently used). A review in 1990 suggested that topical tetracycline was ineffective in the treatment of acne. Along with eliminating Propionibacterium acnes, the main mechanism of topical antibiotics is their antiinflammatory effect. All three penetrate the epidermal barrier well and are similarly efficacious. Randomized trials have shown that in concentrations of 2-4 %, their effects are comparable to oral tetracycline and minocycline. Combination therapy with retinoids or benzoyl peroxide (BPO) increases efficacy. Retinoids increase penetration and reduce comedones, while topical antibiotics primarily address inflammation. One side effect of topical antibacterial treatment is an increase in drug-resistant resident skin flora with gram-negative microorganisms prevailing, which can lead to gram-negative folliculitis. All three antibiotics fluoresce under black light which may produce interesting effects in a discotheque. There are two reports of topical clindamycin causing pseudomembranous colitis after long-term and widespread usage. Azelaic acid has a predominant antibacterial action, although it is not considered as an antibiotic in the classical sense. Furthermore, it possesses a modest comedolytic effect. Burning upon application is common. Since azelaic acid is naturally present, systemic side effects are not likely to occur, making it safe for acne treatment during pregnancy and lactation.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / diagnosis
  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Administration, Topical
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Benzoyl Peroxide / administration & dosage*
  • Benzoyl Peroxide / adverse effects
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dicarboxylic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Dicarboxylic Acids / adverse effects
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Dicarboxylic Acids
  • azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide