Diagnosis and treatment of acne

Am Fam Physician. 2012 Oct 15;86(8):734-40.


Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that is the most common skin disorder in the United States. Therapy targets the four factors responsible for lesion formation: increased sebum production, hyperkeratinization, colonization by Propionibacterium acnes, and the resultant inflammatory reaction. Treatment goals include scar prevention, reduction of psychological morbidity, and resolution of lesions. Grading acne based on lesion type and severity can help guide treatment. Topical retinoids are effective in treating inflammatory and noninflammatory lesions by preventing comedones, reducing existing comedones, and targeting inflammation. Benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter bactericidal agent that does not lead to bacterial resistance. Topical and oral antibiotics are effective as monotherapy, but are more effective when combined with topical retinoids. The addition of benzoyl peroxide to antibiotic therapy reduces the risk of bacterial resistance. Oral isotretinoin is approved for the treatment of severe recalcitrant acne and can be safely administered using the iPLEDGE program. After treatment goals are reached, maintenance therapy should be initiated. There is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of laser and light therapies. Referral to a dermatologist should be considered if treatment goals are not met.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / diagnosis*
  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy
  • Acne Vulgaris / therapy
  • Administration, Topical
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Dermatologic Agents