Depression and suicidal behavior in acne patients treated with isotretinoin: a systematic review

Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2007 Dec;26(4):210-20. doi: 10.1016/j.sder.2008.03.005.


Isotretinoin (13-cis retinoic acid) is an effective treatment for severe cystic or recalcitrant acne vulgaris; however, concerns have been raised regarding its potential association with depression and suicidal behavior. We sought to explore the proposed relationship between isotretinoin use and the risk of depression and attempted and completed suicide in patients with acne vulgaris by performing a systematic literature search for studies reporting primary data on depression and suicidal behavior in patients treated with isotretinoin for acne vulgaris. Nine studies met the qualifying criteria for our analysis. Rates of depression among isotretinoin users ranged from 1% to 11% across studies, with similar rates in oral antibiotic control groups. Overall, studies comparing depression before and after treatment did not show a statistically significant increase in depression diagnoses or depressive symptoms. Some, in fact, demonstrated a trend toward fewer or less severe depressive symptoms after isotretinoin therapy. This decrease was particularly evident in patients with pretreatment scores in the moderate or clinical depression range. No correlation between isotretinoin use and suicidal behavior was reported, although only one retrospective study presented data on this topic. Although the current literature does not support a causative association between isotretinoin use and depression, there are important limitations to many of the studies. The available data on suicidal behavior during isotretinoin treatment are insufficient to establish a meaningful causative association.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acneiform Eruptions / drug therapy*
  • Acneiform Eruptions / epidemiology*
  • Acneiform Eruptions / psychology
  • Causality
  • Depression / chemically induced
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects
  • Isotretinoin / therapeutic use*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*


  • Isotretinoin