Dovonex (Calcipotriene) - Topical

What Is Dovonex?

Dovonex (calcipotriene) is a topical prescription medication that is applied to the skin to treat plaque and scalp psoriasis. Dovonex is approved for adults 18 and older. As a topical product, it should not be used in the eyes, nose, mouth, or groin area.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system, meant to protect you from foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria, attacks your own cells instead and causes conditions like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dovonex is classified as a vitamin D analog, which means it is a synthetic form of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). When applied to your skin, it slows cell growth and shrinks patches on the skin caused by psoriasis.

The strength of Dovonex is 0.005% and comes in 60-gram and 120-gram tubes. However, certain formulations may be a better fit for a particular type of psoriasis or a specific body area. For example, foams and solutions have a thinner consistency and are easier to apply to the scalp to treat scalp psoriasis.

Generic Dovonex, sold as calcipotriene (the active ingredient in Dovonex), is available as a cream, foam, solution, or ointment.

Similar brand-name products are available too, such as Sorilux, which contains calcipotriene and is available as a foam for people 4 and older.

Dovonex is a topical prescription drug specifically available as an ointment and a cream.

Drug Facts

Generic Name: Calcipotriene

Brand Name: Dovonex, Sorilux

Drug Availability: Prescription

Administration Route: Topical

Therapeutic Classification: Vitamin D analog

Available Generically: Yes

Controlled Substance: N/A

Active Ingredient: Calcipotriene

Dosage Forms: Cream, ointment, foam, solution

What Is Dovonex Used For?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Dovonex to treat two different types of psoriasis: Plaque and scalp psoriasis.

Plaque psoriasis is characterized by scaly patches, or plaques, on the skin caused by an overactive immune system attacking healthy skin cells. It is the predominant form of psoriasis, making up about 85% to 90% of cases.

Around half of psoriasis cases involve the scalp, which Dovonex is also used to treat. People may experience more than one type of psoriasis at a time and may be using calcipotriene to treat multiple types.

How to Take Dovonex

Dovonex is for topical use only, meaning it should not be used in the eyes, nose, mouth, or groin areas. Apply Dovonex only where you are directed to do so and for only as long as you are directed.

The average length of time that you’ll use Dovonex varies individually, but the average length is about eight weeks.

Instructions for using this medication are consistent between dosage forms, but there are some slight variations:

  • If you are using a cream or ointment, apply a thin layer to the affected area twice daily and rub it in gently and completely.
  • If using the foam, shake it before use and apply it to your scalp when your hair is dry.
  • For the solution, comb your hair to remove any scaly debris and then part it to uncover the plaque lesions. Apply and rub in gently and completely to affected areas only, and avoid letting the solution drip onto your forehead or face.
  • Wash your hands after applying Dovonex, regardless of which dosage form you use.

Storage

Store Dovonex at room temperature (59 to 77 degrees F) with the lid on and out of reach of children and pets. Do not freeze or store in a bathroom.

Calcipotriene foam cans are kept under pressure, and the contents are flammable. Do not puncture or incinerate. Do not expose to heat or store at temperatures above 120 degrees F.

If you’re traveling by plane, keep Dovonex in your carry-on luggage with the lid on tightly so that pressure changes don’t cause leaks.

Prescription medications are generally exceptions to TSA liquid rules. Still, it’s a good idea to carry your prescription with you and let the TSA officer know about it at the beginning of the screening process.

Off-Label Uses

In addition to different types of psoriasis, Dovonex may be used for a variety of skin conditions such as vitiligo, a condition where melanocytes (cells found in the skin and eyes that create the pigment melanin) stop working.

These cells normally give skin its color, so vitiligo results in smooth, white patches found on the skin.

Other examples of possible skin conditions that calcipotriene may be used for include:

  • Acanthosis nigricans: Skin pigmentation disorder identified by the darkening and thickening of the skin
  • Congenital ichthyosis: Monogenetic (originating from the same source) skin conditions that are associated with systemic (entire body) symptoms
  • Localized scleroderma: Autoimmune disease where the immune system causes inflammation across the skin. It primarily impacts children and is identified by red patches of skin that become thickened and white over time

The safety and effectiveness of Dovonex in treating these conditions has not been established as it has for FDA-approved indications, but healthcare providers may use expert knowledge and clinical experience to prescribe calcipotriene for off-label uses.

How Long Does Dovonex Take to Work?

You may begin to see some improvement from Dovonex within about two weeks of when you start using it, but it may take up to eight weeks to see full improvement.

Let your healthcare provider know if your symptoms worsen or don’t improve after several weeks of using Dovonex consistently as directed.

What Are the Side Effects of Dovonex?

This is not a complete list of side effects, and others may occur. A healthcare provider can advise you on side effects. If you experience other effects, contact your pharmacist or a healthcare provider. You may report side effects to the FDA at fda.gov/medwatch or 1-800-FDA-1088.

Common Side Effects

The most common side effects associated with Dovonex use include:

  • Erythema, or redness at the site where Dovonex is applied
  • Pain or a burning sensation at the site where Dovonex is applied
  • Dry skin
  • Pruritus (itchy skin)

If you notice any of these side effects and they appear to be rapidly worsening, let your healthcare provider know immediately.

Severe Side Effects

Dovonex is generally a safe medication, as there is little risk of severe side effects developing.

Nonetheless, if any of the effects listed above appear and begin to worsen or fail to resolve themselves, or if your psoriasis seems to get worse, notify your healthcare provider immediately.

Call 911 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.

Report Side Effects

Dovonex may cause other side effects. Call your healthcare provider if you have any unusual problems while taking this medication.

If you experience a serious side effect, you or your healthcare provider may send a report to the FDA's MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting Program online or by phone (800-332-1088).

Dosage: How Much Dovonex Should I Take?

Drug Content Provided and Reviewed by IBM Micromedex®

The dose of this medicine will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of this medicine. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

  • For plaque psoriasis:
    • For topical dosage forms (cream, ointment, and scalp solution):
      • Adults—Apply to the affected area of the skin or scalp once per day or two times per day as directed by your doctor.
      • Children—Use and dose must be determined by your doctor.
    • For topical dosage form (foam):
      • Adults and children 4 years of age and older—Apply to the affected area of the skin or scalp 2 times a day.
      • Children younger than 4 years of age—Use and dose must be determined by your doctor.

Modifications

Potential users should note the following before use:

  • Dovonex has not been established as safe and effective in children. As a result, your healthcare provider may prescribe Sorilux, as it is approved for use in people 4 and older.
  • In the case of older individuals, the use of Dovonex in people over 65 has not been studied enough to know if they might respond differently. Thus, consult with your healthcare provider if you believe your age or general well-being may impact your ability to tolerate Dovonex.
  • A study performed in pregnant rabbits using oral doses of Dovonex (that would expose the rabbits to higher amounts of the drug than topical use would expose humans) did reveal some skeletal abnormalities, most likely due to the relationship between calcium and vitamin D. However, this is not enough information to make a clear recommendation about the use of Dovonex in pregnant people.
  • It is also unknown whether calcipotriene shows up in the milk of those who are nursing. Nonetheless, many drugs do, and a decision should be made whether to discontinue nursing or to discontinue Dovonex, considering the importance of the drug to the parent.

Missed Dose

If you forget to apply a dose of Dovonex, you can apply it as soon as you remember. If it is close to your next dose than the one you forgot, just skip the forgotten dose and continue on your normal application schedule.

Overdose: What Happens If I Take Too Much Dovonex?

If you use only a thin layer of Dovonex as directed, you shouldn’t be too concerned about using too much to the point that it results in negative side effects or a subsequent overdose.

However, it is possible to apply enough calcipotriene that it can get into your system and produce effects such as hypercalcemia, or high calcium levels.

As a result, side effects of hypercalcemia may include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or muscle cramping. If you notice these symptoms, notify your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Dovonex should be stopped until calcium levels are back to normal.

What Happens If I Overdose on Dovonex?

If you think you or someone else may have used too much or accidentally swallowed Dovonex, call a healthcare provider or the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222).

If someone collapses, has a seizure, has trouble breathing, or can’t wake up after using too much or accidentally swallowing Dovonex, call 911 immediately.

Precautions

Drug Content Provided and Reviewed by IBM Micromedex®

It is very important that your doctor check your or your child's progress at regular visits to make sure this medicine is working properly. Blood tests may be needed to check for any unwanted effects.

Check with your doctor right away if you have a skin rash, burning, stinging, redness, swelling, or irritation on the skin.

If your psoriasis does not improve within a few weeks or becomes worse, check with your doctor.

This medicine may temporarily increase the calcium levels in your blood (hypercalcemia). Check with your doctor right away if you have stomach pain, confusion, depression, dry mouth, headache, incoherent speech, increased urination, loss of appetite, metallic taste, muscle weakness, unusual tiredness, nausea, vomiting, or weight loss.

Calcipotriene may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Use sunscreen and wear protective clothing, including a hat, when you are outdoors. Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds.

Do not use cosmetics or other skin care products on the treated areas unless directed to do so by your doctor.

What Are Reasons I Shouldn’t Take Dovonex?

Dovonex may not be the best choice for you if any of the following conditions apply:

  • Hypercalcemia: This condition is rare but could be worsened by using Dovonex. Let your healthcare provider know if you have any history of high calcium levels.
  • Acute psoriatic eruptions: Do not apply Dovonex in areas where you are experiencing acute flare-ups of psoriasis accompanied by intense itching or burning.
  • Allergic reactions: Known hypersensitivity to any of the components of the calcipotriene product should disqualify potential users from Dovonex treatment.
  • Evidence of vitamin D toxicity: Since Dovonex is an analog of vitamin D3, it should not be used in individuals who have vitamin D toxicity, which is usually a result of taking too many supplements. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, kidney stones, weakness, and frequent urination.

What Other Medications Interact With Dovonex?

Dovonex has minimal drug interactions. However, several known medications may pose a negative risk if taken alongside Dovonex. Some of these include:

Porfimer: Avoid the simultaneous use of Photofrin (porfimer) with calcipotriene. Calcipotriene may enhance the ability of ultraviolet radiation to create skin tumors

Calcium, Vitamin D: Use calcipotriene cautiously with other medications that can produce elevated levels of calcium in the blood (e.g., calcium salts, such as calcium carbonate).

Let your healthcare provider know if you take any of these vitamins or any others.

What Medications Are Similar to Dovonex?

Two similar vitamin D analogs used to treat skin conditions that work similarly to Dovonex include:

  • Vectical (calcitriol) is another vitamin D analog ointment that is used for plaque psoriasis. It’s also available as an injectable or oral medicine used to treat hypocalcemia (low calcium levels).
  • Tazorac (tazarotene) is a topical retinoid available as a cream or gel. It is used for psoriasis as well as acne and for fine wrinkles on the face. Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and help increase cell turnover, the replacement of older skin cells with younger ones, resulting in smoother skin.

These drugs are also applied to the skin to treat conditions such as psoriasis but should not necessarily be used with Dovonex.

Ask your healthcare provider before using these products concomitantly with calcipotriene.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Dovonex used for?

    Dovonex, or calcipotriene, is used to treat plaque psoriasis and scalp psoriasis.

    This topical medication is available in several dose forms, including foam, cream, solution, and ointment. Calcipotriene is an analog, or manmade version, of vitamin D3. It slows down cell growth and shrinks patches on the skin caused by psoriasis.

  • What are the side effects of Dovonex?

    Dovonex has minimal and mild side effects.

    You may experience some redness or mild pain when you apply for the medicine. Dry or itchy skin is possible as well. In rare cases, it’s possible for Dovonex to increase your calcium levels and cause hypercalcemia. Symptoms may include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or muscle cramping.

    If you notice these, notify your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

  • How long does it take for Dovonex to work?

    You may begin to see some improvement from Dovonex within about two weeks of when you start using it, but it may take closer to four to eight weeks to see full improvement.

    Let your healthcare provider know if your symptoms worsen or don’t improve after several weeks of using Dovonex consistently as directed.

How Can I Stay Healthy While Taking Dovonex?

Conditions caused by an overactive immune system–autoimmune diseases–can be difficult to understand because our immune systems are so complicated. Skin conditions like psoriasis can be very frustrating to deal with when it seems like no amount of moisturizers or topical steroids is improving your skin.

Psoriasis can’t be cured, but it can be managed and symptoms minimized in order to obtain the highest quality of life.

One important challenge is to avoid triggers that can set off a flare, such as stress, skin injury, infection, and weather.

Treat skin injuries as quickly as possible, and avoid extra hot baths or showers that can dry out and irritate your skin. Use bug spray and sunscreen when you spend time outside, especially since calcipotriene may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Learning to avoid what triggers your psoriasis flare-ups and being patient while sticking to the medications you have been prescribed will help you fight psoriasis and give you the best shot at clear skin.

Medical Disclaimer

Verywell Health's drug information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended as a replacement for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a healthcare provider. Consult your healthcare provider before taking any new medication(s). IBM Watson Micromedex provides some of the drug content, as indicated on the page.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. DailyMed. Label: Dovonex- calcipotriene cream.

  4. MedlinePlus. Calcipotriene topical.

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  7. Dopytalska K, Sobolewski P, Błaszczak A, Szymańska E, Walecka I. Psoriasis in special localizations. Reumatologia/Rheumatology. 2018;56(6):392-398. doi:10.5114/reum.2018.80718

  8. DailyMed. Label: Vectical- calcitriol ointment.

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By Sara Hoffman, PharmD
Sara is a clinical pharmacist that believes everyone should understand their medications, and aims to achieve this through her writing.