Researchers illuminate racial disparity in U.S. acne treatment

A variety of medications exist to treat acne, from very potent oral drugs to topical medications. But according to a new study from Penn Medicine, patients who are Black are far less likely to receive prescriptions for acne medication—especially systemic treatments like antibiotics—than white patients, even though Black people may often face long-lasting marks from acne.

A Black person examines their skin for acne in a hand mirror.

After looking at the medical records of almost 30,000 people in the United States with acne, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine found that Black individuals were 20 percent less likely to be prescribed oral antibiotics for acne than white people. They were also 32 percent less likely to receive the oral medication spironolactone than white people and 61 percent less likely to get the potent treatment isotretinoin (known by brand names like Absorica and Amnesteem). And overall, Black people were less likely to be prescribed any acne medication at all. A similar pattern of treatment disparity was also seen among Asian individuals who, compared to white people, were also more likely to receive topical treatments and less likely to receive oral antibiotics in particular.

In addition, prescription patterns differed between men and women, especially for isotretinoin. Researchers say the results call for a look into why these variations exist and whether clinician bias is at play. The study was published in the latest edition of JAMA Dermatology.

“Finding that patients across the U.S. are receiving different care for the exact same condition is jarring, especially since there is no evidence that a person’s race or gender has any impact on how effective these treatments are,” says senior author Junko Takeshita, an assistant professor of dermatology at Penn. “Our study suggests that disparities involving race/ethnicity, sex, and insurance exist. Now we need additional research to help tell us why.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.