Effects of Isotretinoin on Meibomian Glands

Optom Vis Sci. 2015 Sep;92(9):925-30. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000000656.


The authors have reviewed the potential etiology and long-standing consequences of isotretinoin use in the development of dry eye symptoms in the absence of significant clinical findings. Despite the normal appearance of meibomian gland structure on meibography and minimal signs of eyelid margin inflammation, the secretory function of these glands is reduced and symptoms of dryness can greatly impact a patient's quality of life. The available literature indicates that isotretinoin's effect on the meibomian glands likely mimics its effects on the sebaceous glands of the skin in the treatment of acne. Several representative cases seen at the University of California Berkeley School of Optometry Dry Eye Clinic provide a clinical paradigm with the goal of raising awareness of the potential prevalence of this disease in patients who experience symptoms of dry eye. These cases highlight the importance of meibomian gland expression in determining whether there is poor quality and/or quantity of meibum secondary to reduced gland function. Currently, there is no definitive method to restore the structure and function of damaged meibomian glands; thus, treatment options for isotretinoin-associated meibomian gland dysfunction are primarily palliative to manage patient symptoms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacology
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / chemically induced*
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Eyelid Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Eyelid Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects*
  • Isotretinoin / pharmacology
  • Meibomian Glands / drug effects*
  • Meibomian Glands / physiopathology
  • Tears / physiology


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Isotretinoin