The Basics

Official Name: Mafenide.
Popular Brand Names: Sulfamylon
Type of Treatment: Rx MedicationAntibiotic (Topical)Sulfa Family.

How it Works: Mafenide inhibits the growth of bacteria that contribute to acne vulgaris symptoms.

Mafenide Background

Mafenide (Sulfamylon) Molecule

Mafenide is a topical medication that is in the sulfa family of antibiotics. It works by inhibiting the ability of susceptible bacteria to synthesize folic acid, which is an essential B-vitamin. Mafenide is structurally similar to other sulfa family antibiotics, including sulfamethoxazole, sulfadiazine and sulfacetamide.

The primary use of mafenide is in the treatment of burn victims in order to prevent secondary infections and accelerate the healing process. Mafenide has been available since the 1950s, but it is not a widely used medication. Mafenide is not routinely used for the treatment of acne vulgaris.

Additional Names for Retapamulin: 4-Homosufanilamide, Bensulfamide, Benzamsulfonamide, Homosulphamide, Mafenid, Mafenida, Mafenide Acetate, Mafénide, Mafenidum, Maphenidum, Mesudin, p-Sulfamoylbenzylamine and Sulphabenzamine.

Mafenide in the Treatment of Acne

Mafenide is not generally used in the treatment of acne. Very few doctors and dermatologists are likely to be familiar with this medication and it is unlikely to be prescribed for anything other than the treatment of acute burn injuries.

There is very little research into the effectiveness of mafenide in the treatment of acne vulgaris. However, most Propionibacterium acnes bacteria are moderately sensitive to all of the Sulfa family antibiotics. Therefore, it is possible that this medication may be an effective treatment for some patients with acne vulgaris.

Cost and Availability of Mafenide

When possible, mafenide should be obtained through consultation of a physician.  Many doctors and dermatologists are not familiar with this medication.  The use of mafenide for the treatment of acne vulgaris would be considered “off-label”. Mafenide is available in generic and brand name formulations. Mafenide tends to be moderately expensive.

Side Effects of Mafenide

Topical mafenide has a side effects profile that is very similar to that of other topical Sulfa antibiotics (silver sulfadiazine and sulfacetamide).  Most adverse reactions are minor and are limited to minor skin irritation.  In some cases more severe reactions may occur.  Systemic reactions are rare, but are often accompanied by fever, joint pain, nausea and anaphylaxis.  Sulfa family medications have an increased incidence of side effects when compared to many other antibiotics.  People with known allergies to any Sulfa family antibiotic are at increased risk of adverse reaction to all other members of the family.  For more in-depth information about potential side effects of mafenide, refer to the physician’s insert for topical mafenide, or consult a medical professional.  For more information about contraindications in general, refer to Avoiding Negative Drug Interactions.

Related Articles from The Science of Acne

Avoiding Negative Drug Interactions
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Prescription Medications Used in Acne Treatment
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References and Sources


PDR Staff Writers. 2011. 2011 Physicians’ Desk Reference
Gallagher. 2011. Antibiotics Simplified, Second Edition
Habif. 2009. Clinical Dermatology
Goodheart. 2006. Acne For Dummies
Bartlett. 2012. Johns Hopkins Antibiotics Guide 2012 (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Online Resources

PubMed Health – The National Institute of Health (US)
Mafenide @ Wikipedia
Physician’s Inserts for Topical Mafenide

Scientific Research Articles

  1. Glasser, et al. 2010. Activity of topical antimicrobial agents against multidrug-resistant bacteria recovered from burn patients.
  2. Macmillan, et al. 1967. Use of Topical Silver Nitrate, Mafenide, and Gentamicin in the Burn Patient.
  3. Mendelson, et al. 1962. Sulfamylon (Mafenide) and Penicillin As Expedient Treatment of Experimental Massive Open Wounds With C. Perfringens Infection.
  4. Murphy, et al. 1983. The Effect of 5% Mafenide Acetate Solution on Bacterial Control in Infected Rat Burns.
  5. Neely, et al. 2009. Are Topical Antimicrobials Effective Against Bacteria That are Highly Resistant to Systemic Antibiotics?.