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What’s New In Acne Medication?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Probably you already know about benzoyl peroxide, Accutane, and minocycline for acne. But have you heard about gold nanoparticles for acne or Compound 71? This article discusses medicine on the horizon for acne treatment.

Coconut Oil and Acne
Coconut oil may be a good alternative acne treatment.


  • Scientists are constantly developing new treatments for acne.
  • Gold nanoparticles are being developed to deliver potent acne medications directly to pores without causing inflammation over the rest of the skin.
  • A synthetic form of the antioxidant curcumin is in the final stage of clinical trials for approval as an acne treatment.
  • A new form of lauric acid, found in virgin coconut oil, may make an effective acne treatment.
  • A “trash tree,” the Eastern red cedar, has been discovered to contain 17 different compounds that may fight both acne and staph bacteria.
  • Potent medications for treating the severe form of acne known as acne conglobata may also be useful for treating milder forms of the disease.

Gold Nanoparticles For Acne Treatment

Gold has been used for treating skin ailments for hundreds of years, but it is only in the last 20 years that scientists have understood how gold works as a skin treatment.

The problem with most skin treatments is that the medication is water-soluble but the skin is water-resistant. Gold nanoparticles are useful1 as liposomes for carrying water-soluble medications into the skin because they are “tunable.” Gold does not bond with water-soluble medications when the surrounding environment has a pH of 7 or higher. It won’t deliver a medication to most of your skin. If your skin is not medicated, it won’t be irritated by the medication.

The pH of the fluids inside skin pores, however, is 5 or lower. At this pH, gold bonds to water-soluble medications, helping them flow deep into pores, where they are needed. Research scientists at the University of California at San Diego are developing2 gold nanoparticles to deliver potent acne medications directly into pores without causing irritation or inflammation on healthy skin.

Compound 71

Compound 71 is a synthetic chemical resembling curcumin, the antioxidant found in the yellow-orange curry spice turmeric. Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for acne for thousands of years. Nothing that occurs naturally in turmeric can be patented (and subsequently sold at a higher price). A chemical very similar to curcumin dubbed both ACJ-9 and Compound 71, however, is being tested as a treatment for acne by Androscience Labs3 in San Diego, California.

Compound 71 works by stimulating the degradation of testosterone receptors in the skin. When testosterone levels in the body increase, they activate receptors in the skin that instruct sebaceous glands to make more oil to release into pores. Reducing the production of skin oil reduces the number and size of whiteheads and blackheads. Compound 71 has passed the first rounds of clinical testing and is scheduled for final clinical trials in 2012.

Water-Soluble Lauric Acid

Lauric acid is found in virgin coconut oil. It has some really remarkable curative powers. It can kill Listeria bacteria and the bacteria that spoil food, and it also kills acne bacteria on contact. The benefit of lauric acid is that it kills acne bacteria without irritating skin the way benzoyl peroxide can irritate skin. The problem with using lauric acid or coconut oil as a skin treatment for acne is that the lauric acid is not soluble in water so it’s very difficult to spread across the skin.

Scientists at the University of California at La Jolla are developing4 liposomes that will help lauric acid dissolve in the somewhat watery contents of skin pores. As a liposome, lauric acid fuses with the lining of the pore and offers continuous protection against acne infection without causing irritation or flaking of the skin.

Compound In Eastern Red Cedar May Yield Acne Treatment

From the Midwest to the Atlantic coast, farmers in the United States are plagued by Eastern red cedar, a “trash tree” that grows like a weed and that cannot be used for lumber or firewood. A scientist at the University of Missouri at Columbia, however, has found an antibacterial chemical in this variety of cedar that may control antibiotic-resistant staph infections and acne5.

Dr. Chung Ho-Lin and colleagues have isolated 17 compounds in this species of cedar that can kill bacteria. One of them kills methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in concentrations as low as 5 micrograms per milliliter. It may be as long as 10 years, however, before any of the 500,000,000 Eastern red cedar trees infesting American farms will be harvested to make acne treatments.

Cholesterol-Lowering Medications Unsuccessful In Treating PCOS Acne

Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often develop acne, due to overproduction of testosterone. Since the basic building block of testosterone is cholesterol, scientists at the Shrimati Kaumudiniben Health Outcome Research Group in India have been testing the use of statin drugs6 to treat PCOS acne.

A clinical trial involving 244 women who had acne caused by PCOS who were given the statin drugs simvastatin (Zocor) or atorvastatin (Lipitor). The scientists’ hypothesis that statin drugs would lower testosterone levels proved to be correct, but none of the women who had lowered testosterone levels experienced improvement in acne.

A study at the University of California at Davis7, however, found that treating PCOS acne with a combination of atorvastatin (Lipitor) and metformin, a medication more commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, did reduce testosterone levels and also reduce acne and unwanted hair growth.

New Combination Therapies For Acne

Some dermatologists are finding that the treatment usually reserved for the most severe forms of acne are also helpful in mild to moderate acne.

Acne conglobata is a skin condition in which pimples pop out in groups of two or three and coalesce to form a single large lesion that may be as much as an inch (25 mm) across. Almost the only medication that treats this form of acne is dapsone, an intense antibacterial drug that is also used to treat leprosy.

Doctors have discovered that smaller doses of dapsone along with the pore-opening drug Differin can treat mild to moderate common acne8 when other treatments fail. The most likely candidates for this drug combination are people who are allergic to other antibiotics and women who are or who may become pregnant who do not respond to other therapies.

An older combination therapy for acne, however, may be appropriate for far more users. Try Exposed Skin Care.


  1. Gupta S., Bansal R., Gupta S., Jindal N., Jindal A. Nanocarriers and nanoparticles for skin care and dermatological treatments. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2013;4(4):267-72.
  2. Gao W., Thamphiwatana S., Angsantikul P., Zhang L. Nanoparticle Approaches against Bacterial Infections. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. 2014;6(6):532-47.
  3. Lee K.H. Discovery and Development of Natural Product-derived Chemotherapeutic Agents Based on a Medicinal Chemistry Approach. Journal of Natural Products. 2010;73(3):500-16.
  4. Yang D., Pornpattananangkul D., Nakatsuji T., Chan M., Carson D., Huang C.M., Zhang L. The Antimicrobial Activity of Liposomal Lauric Acids Against Propionibacterium acnes. Biomaterials. 2009;30(30):6035-40.
  5. Fisher B. Chemical Compounds in Trees Can Fight Deadly Staph Infections in Humans, MU Researchers Find. News Bureau—University of Missouri. 2011.
  6. Raval A.D., Hunter T., Stuckey B., Hart R.J. Statins for women with polycystic ovary syndrome not actively trying to conceive. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011.
  7. Banaszewska B., Pawelczyk L., Spaczynski R.Z., Duleba A.J. Effects of Simvastatin and Metformin on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome after Six Months of Treatment. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. 2011;96(11):3493-501.
  8. Fleischer A.B. Jr., Shalita A., Eichenfield L.F., Abramovits W., Lucky A., Garrett S., Dapsone Gel in Combination Treatment Study Group. Dapsone gel 5% in combination with adapalene gel 0.1%, benzoyl peroxide gel 4% or moisturizer for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a 12-week, randomized, double-blind study. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2010;9(1):33-40.
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