– When it comes to acne in adult women, look past the jawline, beyond traditional medications, and toward greater control. That’s the message of a dermatologist who spoke at Skin Disease Education Foundation’s Women’s & Pediatric Dermatology Seminar.

Dr. Linda F. Stein Gold is director of dermatology research at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit

Dr. Linda F. Stein Gold

“We should be aiming to get our patients to clear or almost clear, and we have the tools necessary to help that happen,” said Linda Stein Gold, MD, director of dermatology research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Research suggests that acne is more common in adult women than in men, a gap that widens after age 29 years, she noted. Acne appears to affect 51% of women aged 20-29 years, she said, and prevalence dips to 15% in women older than 50 years.

About 80% of cases continue from adolescence, compared with about 20% that are new-onset during adulthood, she said. According to studies, she added, “most adult women have acne on multiple different areas of their face, not just the jawline. It’s similar to what we see in the adolescent population.”

Dr. Stein Gold offered these tips about treatment in this group of patients:


Researchers now consider that “all acne is inflammatory acne.” Be aggressive with anti-inflammatory treatment, and “continue even after the lesion is resolved” if needed to prevent scarring.

Oral contraceptives (OCs)

OCs can be helpful, but “we have to proceed with caution,” she said. A 2012 Cochrane Library review of 31 trials found that six combination OCs (COCs) “evaluated in placebo-controlled trials are effective in reducing inflammatory and noninflammatory facial acne lesions. Few important and consistent differences were found between COC types in their effectiveness for treating acne,” the review concluded (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 11;[7]:CD004425).

Results take time, however, and it “can take 3 months to see an effect, and 6 months for full effect,” Dr. Stein Gold noted.

There are multiple contraindications to the use of OCs, and they’ve been linked – controversially – to an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer. However, risk of thrombosis also spikes – to significantly higher levels than with OC use – during pregnancy and the postpartum period, she said.


This antihypertensive drug can be helpful, Dr. Stein Gold noted, although the one study in a 2009 Cochrane review that had acne as an outcome failed to find evidence of efficacy versus placebo (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;[2]:CD000194). Be aware of the boxed warning about links to cancer in rat studies, and consider the risk of potassium elevation in certain populations, she added. Watch the dose: fewer side effects are seen at 50-100 mg daily, although they’re still common, and it can take 3 months or more for improvements to appear, she said.

Truncal acne

Patients may be hesitant to mention they have acne on their chest and back. “They may not tell you about it, and you may not ask about it but [some patients] expect you to know about it and treat it,” Dr. Stein Gold said. She referred to trifarotene, a topical retinoid cream that, although not yet approved, appears to be safe and effective in treating acne on the face and trunk in phase 3 studies.

“Some people will say the trunk will get too irritated if you put a retinoid on it. But it absolutely can be used on the chest and back. The first thing I say to my patients is to expect to have redness and scaling for first 2 weeks. People pay money for that. It’s a chemical peel! It’s okay to have some sloughing; use an oil-free moisturizer.”

Dr. Stein Gold disclosed relationships with Galderma, Foamix, and Sol Gel (investigator, consultant); Valeant (consultant, speaker); and Dermira (investigator, speaker).

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