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Dermatology Online Journal

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The use of oral vitamin A in acne management: a review


Background: Changes to the iPLEDGE platform on December 13, 2021 made isotretinoin virtually inaccessible for many patients. Prior to the FDA approval of isotretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A, in 1982, vitamin A was used for severe acne. Objective: To review the efficacy, safety, affordability, and practicality of vitamin A as a substitute for isotretinoin when the latter is inaccessible. Methods: A literature review of PubMed was conducted using the key words: oral vitamin A, retinol, isotretinoin, Accutane, acne, iPLEDGE, hypervitaminosis A, and side effects. Results: We identified 9 studies (8 clinical trials and one case report); acne improved in 8 studies. Dosages ranged from 36,000IU daily to 500,000IU with 100,000IU as the most common. Mean duration until clinical improvement was 7 weeks to four months after initiation of therapy. Mucocutaneous side effects were most common, along with headaches, which resolved with either continued treatment or cessation. Conclusion: Oral vitamin A is efficacious for the treatment of acne vulgaris, although the available studies have limited controls and outcomes. Side effects are qualitatively similar to those of isotretinoin and avoiding pregnancy for at least three months after stopping treatment is critical; like isotretinoin, vitamin A is a teratogen.

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