50 Years of Topical Retinoids for Acne: Evolution of Treatment

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Since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tretinoin in 1971, retinoids alone or combined with other agents have become the mainstay of acne treatment. Retinoids act through binding to retinoic acid receptors, altering expression levels of hundreds of cellular proteins affecting multiple pathways involved in acne pathogenesis. Retinoids have evolved from first-generation agents, such as tretinoin, through chemical modifications resulting in a second generation (etretinate and acitretin for psoriasis), a third generation (adapalene and tazarotene) and, most recently, a fourth (trifarotene). For all topical retinoids, local irritation has been associated with poor tolerability and suboptimal adherence. Efforts to improve tolerability have utilized novel delivery systems and/or novel agents. This qualitative literature review summarizes the evolution of the four topical single-agent retinoids available for the treatment of acne in the US today and their various formulations, presenting the rationale behind their development and data from key studies.

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