Users Online: 173
Home Print this page Email this page
Home About us Editorial board Search Browse articles Submit article Ahead of Print Instructions Subscribe Contacts Login 

Previous article Browse articles Next article 
Adv Biomed Res 2014,  3:262

The efficacy of oral isotretinoin versus cyproterone compound in female patients with acne and the triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism: A randomized clinical trial

1 Department of Dermatology, Skin Diseases and Leishmaniasis Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran
2 Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine, Ilam University of Medical Sciences, Ilam, Iran
3 Department of Dermatology Center, Noorand Ali Asghar Hospital, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Date of Submission10-Jan-2014
Date of Acceptance20-Feb-2014
Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2014

Correspondence Address:
Kioumars Jamshidi
Department of Dermatology, Al-Zahra Hospital, Soffeh Blvd, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: Skin Diseases and Leishmaniasis Research Center, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2277-9175.148236

Clinical trial registration IRCT2013110315246N1

Rights and Permissions

Background: SAHA (Seborrhea, Acne, Hirsutism and Androgenetic Alopecia) syndrome is a dermatologic disorder, with variant response to treatment. Triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism included nodulocystic or severe acne, female pattern hair loss and hirsutism.
Aim: The aim of this study is to compare the effectiveness of isotretinoin and cyproterone compound in the treatment of nodulocystic acne, in patients with SAHA syndrome or triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism.
Materials and Methods: 30 female patients with SAHA syndrome were divided randomly into two groups. Group A was treated with cyproterone compound from day 5 of menstrual cycle onwards for 3 weeks and a week without it and group B received isotretinoin, with a dose of 0.75 mg/kg per day from the beginning of menses onwards for 4 months. The results were evaluated by a blind dermatologist using Acne Severity Index (ASI) score at baseline and monthly for 4 months.
Results: Despite a continuous reduction in ASI score in both the groups, according to both physician (P = 0.63) and patient (P = 0.25) assessment, cyproterone compound was not statistically more effective than conventional treatment of nodulocystic acne at the end of the study. Side-effects were reported in patients in both groups, generally being mild and tolerable except in two subjects.
Conclusion: This study indicates that cyproterone compound is not superior to isotretinoin in the treatment of nodulocystic acne in patient with SAHA syndrome or triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism. Indeed, other studies are needed to evaluate the effect of cyproterone compound (regardless of androgen level) and isotretinoin in subjects with only nodulocystic acne.

Keywords: Acne, cyproterone compound, hyperandrogenism, isotretinoin, SAHA

How to cite this article:
Faghihi G, Jamshidi K, Tajmirriahi N, Abtahi-Naeini B, Nilforoshzadeh M, Radan M, Hosseini SM. The efficacy of oral isotretinoin versus cyproterone compound in female patients with acne and the triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism: A randomized clinical trial. Adv Biomed Res 2014;3:262

How to cite this URL:
Faghihi G, Jamshidi K, Tajmirriahi N, Abtahi-Naeini B, Nilforoshzadeh M, Radan M, Hosseini SM. The efficacy of oral isotretinoin versus cyproterone compound in female patients with acne and the triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism: A randomized clinical trial. Adv Biomed Res [serial online] 2014 [cited 2020 Aug 12];3:262. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Acne as a common dermatologic disorder occurs worldwide. The conventional treatments, such as topical and systemic antibiotics and retinoids, remain the benchmark for the new proposed modalities to be compared with them. Among the common agents, isotretinoin is widely used. However, cyproterone compound plays its role by an antiandrogenic effect in patients with SAHA syndrome.

Clinical manifestations of androgen excess including seborrhea, androgenetic alopecia, hirsutism and acne are very common distressing symptoms in women of reproductive age. SAHA (Seborrhea, Acne, Hirsutism and Androgenetic Alopecia) syndrome is coined for this complex dermatological androgenization syndrome (Seborrhea, Acne, Hirsutism and possibly also, Androgenetic Alopecia). [1],[2],[3] The development of sudden-onset acne, acne associated with hirsutism or irregular menses, treatment-resistant acne, acne onset as adult, premenstrual acne flare-ups and inflammatory acne on mandibular line and neck may be associated with hyperandrogenism from several different causes. [4] The two most causes of which are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. [5],[6],[7] The combination of cyproterone acetate (2 mg) and ethinyl estradiol (35 μg) is of proven efficacy in management of symptoms of androgenic alopecia and hirsutism in females. Cyproterone acetate inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and blocks androgen receptors. Due to menstrual alteration and the threat of male fetus feminization, adding of ethinyl estradiol in the compound form is recommended. [8] After the advent of isotretinoin in the early 1970s, a revolution occurred in the treatment of nodulocystic acne and acne unresponsive to oral antibiotics. [9],[10] The aim of this study is to compare the effectiveness of isotretinoin and cyproterone compound in patients with SAHA syndrome or triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism.

  Materials and methods Top

This prospective randomized, double-blinded study was conducted at the department of dermatology, Al-Zahra Hospital in Isfahan, Iran, during April 2012-February 2014. The study was approved by the ethical committee of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. The research project number was 291042 and it is adhered with the deceleration of Helsinki. We enrolled and assessed the subjects (from 15 to 45 years old) with inflammatory moderate to severe or very severe nodulocystic acne that really need antiandrogens or isotretinoin medico-legally as mild types are not justified to be treated with such therapeutic agents.

Patients with contraindications to receive cyproterone compound including smoking, migraine headaches with aura, and hypertension and contraindications to use isotretinoin including pregnancy, lactation and history of related hypersensitivity were excluded from the study. With regard to type I error (alpha) = 0.05, study power = 80%, and expected difference of 30% in response rate, sample size was calculated as 15 subjects in each group.

The diagnosis was established on the basis of clinical findings. In each group, 15 patients were enrolled. The patients were divided into two different treatment groups, using a table of random numbers to receive either oral isotretinoin or cyproterone compound pills. The patients in group A received cyproterone compound (35 μg ethinyl estradiol and 2 mg cyproterone acetate; Aburaihan pharmaceutical company) from day 5 of menstrual cycle onwards (for 3 weeks on, and a week off) and the patients in group B received isotretinoin (Iso-Tret; Hexal Company, Germany), at a dose of 0.75 mg/kg per day. The latter drug was administered from the beginning of menses onwards. All the recruited patients received azithromycin (250 mg daily for 2 weeks each month for 4 months) plus topical clindamycin 1% solution on routine basis. The duration of treatment was 4 months in both groups. The clinical response was evaluated by a dermatologist blinded to the clinical trial identifications before the initiation of the treatment and monthly for 4 months using Acne Severity Index score (ASI) [11] . According to this method, ASI is calculated as below:

2 × pustules + papules + 1/4 × comedones

In order to perform patient satisfaction surveys, the assessment of the treatment was conducted by patient-based satisfaction at the 16th week of treatment (Patient Global Assessment [PGA]). The improvement was scored from 0 (as no improvement) to 10 (as the best possible improvement).

For isotretinoin users, laboratory tests including serum levels of fasting lipids and liver function (LFT) were performed at the beginning and monthly throughout the course of treatment. The statistical analysis was done by SPSS by using chi-square, repeated measures ANOVA and independent t-test. The significance level was set at a P value of less than 0.05.

  Results Top

The demographic characteristics of our patients are shown in [Table 1]. At the end of the study two subjects (two from thirty) failed to complete the study. There were one subject with severe nausea and gastrointestinal upset in group A and one subject in group B with severe headaches. We recruited the eligible patients and designed a flow-chart diagram through our study as shown in [Figure 1]. The remaining (28 from 30) completed the study. The mean age of patients was 25.2±8.1 years in group A and 26.6±6.3 years in group B. The mean ASI score before treatment was not statistically different between the two groups (P = 0.73). A steady decrease in the mean ASI score in both groups was detected. By means of repeated measure ANOVA test, the reduction in ASI values from the base to the end of the study in both group A (P = 0.01) and group B (P = 0.015) was confirmed. By Independent t test, at the end of first month, patients in group A were more likely experienced improvement (P = 0.003), but no statistically significant difference at the end of second month (P = 0.41), third month (P = 0.503) and forth month (P = 0.62) was noted [Table 2]. With regard to the scores from 0 to 10 by the PGA at the end of the study, patients reported scores greater than 5 were 12 (86%) and 10 (71%) subjects in group A and group B, respectively [Table 3]. In addition, nobody in both groups reported satisfaction less than 4 according to PGA score. However, by means of independent t test, patient's satisfaction survey was compatible with dermatologist evaluation. Side-effects reported in patients in group A were generally mild and tolerable, except one subject with severe nausea and gastrointestinal upset that gave up the study. Other side effects in group A include: Breakthrough and premature bleeding, mild breast tenderness and hardness, headache. In group B, only one subject with severe headache gave up the study and other side effects in this group were generally mild (e.g. cheilitis, xerosis).
Figure 1: Consort chart of the study

Click here to view
Table 1: Demographic characteristics of patients in two treatment groups

Click here to view
Table 2: Acne parameters of comparison of cyproterone compound and isotretinoin

Click here to view
Table 3: Comparison of distribution pattern of PGA between two treatment groups (Significant score level >5)

Click here to view

  Discussion Top

Our results showed that there were no significant differences between using isotretinoin and cyproterone compounds in the treatment of acne in patients with SAHA syndrome or triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism. In fact, isotretinoin acts not only by inhibiting the maturation of the basal sebaceous gland cells, but also by normalization of follicular keratinization. [12],[13],[14],[15],[16] Hormonal effects on sebum secretion are the key to the pathogenesis of acne. The conjectural role of hormones has been revealed in the pathogenesis of acne by the detection of androgen receptors in the cells of the basal layer of the sebaceous gland and the outer root sheath of the hair follicle. [12] Despite the fact that isotretinoin is widely used as a conventional therapy for nodulocystic acne, the overall outcome remains incomplete and partially effective. Approximately 40-60 of patients demand therapy after a single course of isotretinoin. [4] Amichai et al. showed that isotretinoin 20 mg/day was effective in the treatment of moderate acne, with a low incidence of severe side effects. This study emphasized on the long-term low-dose isotretinoin in the treatment of acne. [17] In another study conducted by Sardana et al., 6 months of treatment with alternate-day isotretinoin 20 mg plus topical 1% clindamycin gel was effective in the treatment of moderate acne. [18] Some clinicians advocate the use of high-dose isotretinoin (>1.3 mg/kg/day) for treatment of severe nodulocystic acne and encourage large, prospective, multicenter studies into this therapeutic approach. [19] In Muhammad Tahir's study, clinical improvement was 100% at the end of 16 weeks treatment with isotretinoinin 250 ordinary acne patients (without obvious hyperandrogenism signs) but all of the patients (100%) had suffered from some adverse effects. [20] Treatment failures with isotretinoin in female patients are frequently related to endocrinological dysfunctions. Apart from isotretinoin, hormonal interventions are considered as the second-line treatment for female patients with acne, regardless of serum levels of androgens. [12] However, women with identifiable endocrinologic conditions and those with severe acne are the best candidates for hormonal therapy. [21],[22],[23],[24] In addition to inhibiting the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, another interesting mechanism by which cyproteronacetate is therapeutic is interfering with the binding of dihydrotestosterone to the androgen receptor due to the possibility of menstrual changes. [8] Despite the earlier reduction in the value of the ASI at the end of first month in the subjects of group A (P value = 0.03), by statistical analysis no significance difference was found between two groups at the end (P value = 0.62).

Despite the fact that hormonal modality is formed the second-line treatment for female patients with acne, in subjects with obvious hyperandrogenism, cyproterone compound makes the same response as the isotretinoin.

In summary, this study shows that cyproterone compound and isotretinoin begin to act from two different ways, meet in the middle and by the end have a nearly similar effect. On one hand, the use of oral isotretinoin should ensure excellent efficacy for acne lesions in patients with triad of cutaneous hyperandrogenism, and on the other hand, it is not necessary to demonstrate androgen excess to achieve the benefit from antiandrogen therapy in acne.

With regard to insignificant and negligible differences between the results of isotretinoin and cyproterone compound trial in the treatment of subjects with acne and hyperandrogenism in our study, it is advisable in future studies to compare cyproterone compound regardless of androgen level verses isotretinoin in subjects with only nodulocystic acne.


The greatest limitation of our study is in the field of case selection as the triad of hyperandrogenism should have been fulfilled clinically before entering into the study. The other one was the cost and also rarity of some brands of the drugs, and the vague public and folkloric view toward side effects of such oral therapy in cases of severe acne that made for us the great responsibility to verifying their recruitment for the trial.

  Acknowledgements Top

We are very grateful to dear staff of Sadaf dermatology Center of Isfahan for their helpful assistance.

  References Top

Camacho F. Constitutional hirsutism. The SAHA syndrome. In: Camacho F, Randall VA, Price VH, editors. Hair and its Disorders: Biology, Pathology and Management. London: Martin Dunitz; 2000. p. 359-67.  Back to cited text no. 1
Capitanio B, Sinagra JL, Bordignon V, Cordiali Fei P, Picardo M, Zouboulis CC. Underestimated clinical features of postadolescent acne. J Am Acad Dermatol 2010;63:782-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
Camacho F. SAHA syndrome. In: Camacho F, Montagna W, editors. TrichologyDiseases of the Pilosebaceous Follicle. Madrid: Aula Meédica; 1997. p. 673-90.  Back to cited text no. 3
Acne. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston D, editors. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin. 11 rd ed:china: Elsevier Saunders; 2011. p. 228-46.  Back to cited text no. 4
Rosenfield RL. What every physician should know about polycystic ovary syndrome. Dermatol Ther 2008;21:354-61.  Back to cited text no. 5
Landay M, Huang A, Azziz R. Degree of hyperinsulinemia, independent of androgen levels, is an important determinant of the severity of hirsutism in PCOS. Fertil Steril 2009;92:643-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
George R, Clarke S, Thiboutot D. Hormonal therapy for acne. Semin Cutan Med Surg 2008;27:188-96.  Back to cited text no. 7
van Wayjen RG, van den Ende A. Experience in the long-term treatment of patients with hirsutism and/or acne with cyproterone acetate-containing preparations: Efficacy, metabolic and endocrine effects. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes 1995;103:241-51.  Back to cited text no. 8
Goldsmith LA, Bolognia JL, Callen JP, Chen SC, Feldman SR, Lim HW, et al.; AmericanAcademyofDermatology. American Academy of Dermatology Consensus Conference on the safe and optimal use of isotretinoin: Summary and recommendations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2004;50:900-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
Pochi PE, Shalita AR, Strauss JS, Webster SB, Cunliffe WJ, Katz HI, et al. Report of the Consensus Conference on Acne Classification. Washington, D.C., March 24 and 25, 1990. J Am Acad Dermatol 1991;24:495-500.  Back to cited text no. 10
Magin P, Adams J, Heading G, Pond D, Smith W. Psychological sequelae of acne vulgaris: Results of a qualitative study. Can Fam Physician 2006;52:978-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
Zaenglein AL, Thiboutot DM. Acne vulgaris. In: Bolognia J, Jorizzo J, Schaffer J, editors. Dermatology. 3rd ed. china: Elsevier Saunders. 2012. p. 545-69.  Back to cited text no. 12
Lee JW, Yoo KH, Park KY, Han TY, Li K, Seo SJ, et al. Effectiveness of conventional, low-dose and intermittent oral isotretinoin in the treatment of acne: A randomized, controlled comparative study. Br J Dermatol 2011;164:1369-75.  Back to cited text no. 13
Ghalamkarpour F, Nasiri S. Isotretinoin in treatment of acne: Its efficacy, side effects, and recurrence rate of disease. Arch Iran Med 2006;9:228-30.  Back to cited text no. 14
Gollnick H, Cunliffe W, Berson D, Dreno B, Finlay A, Leyden JJ, et a.; GlobalAlliancetoImproveOutcomesinAcne. Management of acne: A report from a global alliance to improve outcomes in acne. J Am Acad Dermatol 2003;49(Suppl1):S1-37.  Back to cited text no. 15
Strauss JS, Krowchuk DP, Leyden JJ, Lucky AW, Shalita AR, Siegfried EC, et al.; American Academy of Dermatology/American Academy of Dermatology Association. Guidelines of care for acne vulgaris management. J Am Acad Dermatol 2007;56:651-63.  Back to cited text no. 16
Amichai B, Shemer A, Grunwald MH. Low-dose isotretinoin in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;54:644-6.  Back to cited text no. 17
Sardana K, Garg VK, Sehgal VN, Mahajan S, Bhushan P. Efficacy of fixed low-dose isotretinoin (20 mg, alternate days) with topical clindamycin gel in moderately severe acne vulgaris. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2009;23:556-60.  Back to cited text no. 18
Cyrulnik AA, Viola KV, Gewirtzman AJ, Cohen SR. High-dose isotretinoin in acne vulgaris: Improved treatment outcomes and quality of life. Int J Dermatol 2012;51:1123-30.  Back to cited text no. 19
Tahir CM. Efficacy and adverse effects of systemic isotretinoin therapy. J Pak Assoc Derma 2011;21:38-42.  Back to cited text no. 20
Orfanos CE. Antiandrogenos endermatologia. Arch Argent Dermatol 1982;32:52-5.  Back to cited text no. 21
Pazos F, Escobar-Morreale HF, Balsa J, Sancho JM, Varela C. Prospective randomized study comparing the long-acting gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist triptorelin, flutamide, and cyproterone acetate, used in combination with an oral contraceptive, in the treatment of hirsutism. Fertil Steril 1999;71:122-8.  Back to cited text no. 22
Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA, Garner SE. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2009;3:CD004425.  Back to cited text no. 23
Frangos JE, Alavian CN, Kimball AB. Acne and oral contraceptives: Update on women's health screening guidelines. J Am Acad Dermatol 2008;58:781-6.  Back to cited text no. 24


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]

This article has been cited by
1 Alopecia areata and isotretinoin; coincidence or causal relation
Mrinal Gupta,Torello Lotti,Mohamad Goldust
Dermatologic Therapy. 2020;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


Previous article  Next article
Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Materials and me...
Article Figures
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded255    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 1    

Recommend this journal