The Role of Topical Retinoids in Prevention and Treatment of Atrophic Acne Scarring: Understanding the Importance of Early Effective Treatment

J Drugs Dermatol. 2019 Mar 1;18(3):255-260.


Atrophic acne scarring is a frequent occurrence among acne patients. These facial marks are often very emotionally distressing for the patient and can result in adverse impact to quality of life. While most clinicians consider scarring as a sequela of moderate to severe acne, recent studies have found that scars are also associated with mild acne. Risk factors include time to effective treatment, severity of acne, family history, and excoriations. New data shows that early and effective acne treatment can reduce the development of new scars, confirming the widespread perception of this approach in prevention. It is also becoming clear that the inflammatory process drives both the development of acne lesions and atrophic scars. This implies that inhibiting activation of inflammatory pathways early is key to preventing scars. Data also suggests a useful role for adapalene for the treatment of well-established acne scars with scar remodeling accompanied by the production of new collagen and elastic tissue. Acne guidelines and recommendations continue to highlight the central role of retinoids, with fixed-dose combination retinoids being particularly important due to targeting of multiple inflammatory pathophysiologic factors and for patient convenience. Higher concentrations of retinoids such as adapalene 0.3%/benzoyl peroxide 2.5% (A0.3/BPO2.5) have shown increased efficacy, particularly among patients with moderately severe and severe acne – a population at high risk for scarring. Further, controlled study of A0.3/BPO2.5 in patients with moderate acne (mean, 40 acne lesions per half face) and mild-moderate scarring demonstrated A0.3/BPO2.5 was significantly superior to vehicle in reducing scar counts from baseline over 24 weeks. While scar counts lessened on the A0.3/BPO2.5 side, counts increased on the vehicle side during the study. This occurred in the setting of active acne, where the efficacy of A/BPO is well known, emphasizing the dual actions of A0.3/BPO2.5 in both treatment and prevention. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(3):255-260.

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / complications
  • Acne Vulgaris / diagnosis
  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Adapalene, Benzoyl Peroxide Drug Combination / administration & dosage
  • Adapalene, Benzoyl Peroxide Drug Combination / standards
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Cicatrix / drug therapy
  • Cicatrix / etiology
  • Cicatrix / prevention & control*
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dermatologic Agents / standards
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Quality of Life
  • Retinoids / administration & dosage*
  • Retinoids / standards
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Time-to-Treatment / standards*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adapalene, Benzoyl Peroxide Drug Combination
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Retinoids