N-acetylcysteine in dermatology

Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. Nov-Dec 2018;84(6):652-659. doi: 10.4103/ijdvl.IJDVL_33_18.


N-acetylcysteine is a mucolytic drug which is commonly used as an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity. It is a thiol compound, which acts as a donor of cysteine, leading to replenishment of glutathione and thus acts as an antioxidant. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, alters the levels of neurotransmitters, inhibits proliferation of fibroblasts and keratinocytes and causes vasodilatation. Due to these actions, n-acetylcysteine has found use in several dermatologic conditions in systemic and topical form. The drug has been used as an adjuvant in the management of conditions such as toxic epidermal necrolysis, drug hypersensitivity syndrome, trichotillomania, skin picking disorders and onychotillomania, ichthyoses, contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, melasma, pseudoporphyria, connective tissue diseases, wound healing and alopecia. It also has a role in protection from radiation-induced skin damage including photo-ageing, photocarcinogenesis and radiation dermatitis. Most indications in dermatology are supported by case reports, small case series and small trials. Higher quality of evidence is needed for its wider use. The drug is cheap and is generally safe with few adverse effects. Thus a greater role is possible for use of n-acetylcysteine in various skin conditions. This review explores the various uses of n-acetylcysteine in the field of dermatology, the evidence supporting the same, the possible mechanisms of action and the adverse effects of the drug.

Keywords: Antioxidant; drug reaction; n-acetylcysteine; trichotillomania.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / administration & dosage*
  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacokinetics
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / pharmacokinetics
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Dermatology / trends*
  • Humans
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Skin Diseases / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Acetylcysteine