Is Your Over-the-Counter Treatment for Acne Really Safe?
In part I of a discussion on safety of acne treatments, we
discussed how when we find ourselves suddenly experiencing acne
breakouts, or when we suffer a long battle with acne and nothing seems
to help, we may be willing to take any prescription acne treatment our doctor prescribes.
We may also reach for the first over-the-counter
treatment we lay our eyes on or just look for what seems "the
strongest." Again, what we often forget about is to consider both
short-term and long-term health consequences. Whatever the choice is,
it will affect not only our skin but our entire system. So become an
Read on to learn more about your over-the-counter acne
treatment and whether or not it's safe for you to keep using. And if
you're using prescription acne treatments, don't forget to check out part 1 of this discussion.
Why We Use Them:
Phytoestrogens are nature-made chemicals that can mimic the action of a
woman's sex hormone, estrogen. It is important to note that there are 3
sex hormones produced in the human body by both women and men:
estrogen, testosterone (androgens) and progesterone. Obviously they are
produced in different amounts, with higher levels of androgens
circulating in men. Phytoestrogens can be friends to our skin and body
or, if inappropriately used, may be a foe.
Phytoestrogens can be found in food, herbs, and in pills or capsules. The following foods are rich in phytoestrogens:
- Whole grains (rye, oats, barley, millet, rice, wheat, corn),
edible seeds (buckwheat, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, amaranth, quinoa),
beans (yellow split peas, black turtle beans, baby limas, Anasazi
beans, red kidney beans, red lentils, soy beans), leafy greens and
seaweed (parsley, nettle, kelp, cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards,
- Fruits (olives, cherries, grapes, apples,
pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, salmon
berries, apricots, crab apples, quinces, rosehips, blueberries), olive
oil and seed oils, garlic, onions and their relatives leeks, chives,
scallions, ramps and shallots.
You may rightfully assume that you may safely eat more
phytoestrogens-containing foods and restrict your intake of
phytoestrogens to dietary intake; however, caution needs to be taken to
avoid consumption of phytoestrogens that are isolated and concentrated,
sold in pills or as part of other products. Use of
excessive amounts of phytoestrogens changes the equation from protection
to potential side effects such as promoting cancer or other health
For Women Only: Various analogs of estrogen are used in
oral contraceptives (OCs) to prevent pregnancy and during menopause.
OCs are also prescribed by doctors as an "off-label" acne treatment (not
approved by the FDA for this indication). The potential benefits of
estrogen needs to be balanced by the fact that higher exposure to
estrogens over a prolonged period of time is linked to increased breast
cancer risk and other potential health concerns.
- For Women Only: Isolated, concentrated phytoestrogens
and enriched forms of phytoestrogens in pills or capsules may carry the
same dangers as regular estrogens and are not helpful in treating acne.
is important to note that phytoestrogenic food-like herbs and
concentrated phytoestrogens may have different effects on women who do
not have ovaries.
- Concentrated phytoestrogens may affect men
similarly to estrogens and may carry, in addition to cancer, the danger
of erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and low libido.
more information to help you decide whether using
phytoestrogen-containing foods or other products containing concentrated
or extracted phytoestrogens is right for you, check out our article on phytoestrogens.
Why We Use Them: Prescription and over-the-counter topicals do not treat acne, but rather try to address the outward manifestation of acne (the pimples themselves). Most
topicals are relatively inexpensive and easy to find at the local drug
store. They are also heavily advertised, which makes them more widely used without actual consideration of their efficacy and safety.
Many people mistakenly believe that they can treat their acne using only a topical cream, gel, cleanser, etc. Unfortunately it is a myth. Acne is an internal problem and therefore can only be treated from inside.
- Almost all over-the-counter acne
products contain salicylic acid and several often carry a "natural
ingredients" claim. Salicylic acid is put in cleansers, tonics, pads and
gels and included in brands such as Aveeno, Neutrogena, or ProActiv.
Its major role is to kill or limit the bacteria that cause inflammation
in sebum-stuffed pores and it must be used several time daily.
peroxide, which is actually used as a first-aid product to disinfect
(kill bacteria) that may infect minor wounds and scrapes, is also
considered the most effective topical agent to kill acne bacteria and
is available over-the-counter in preparations of 2.5% to 10% strengths.
Common brand names include Clearasil Maximum Strength Cream, Clean and
Clear, and Oxy-10 Balance Maximum Medicated Face Wash. These are
available in lotion, gel, and cleanser forms, and must be used several
times daily in order to be effective.
- Salicylic acid may dry the skin, causing irritation and
redness. It may prematurely age the skin, and recently it was added to a
warning list as possibly unsafe for pregnant or soon-to-be-pregnant
women, as well as young teens. It also requires a strong sun protection
to avoid burns and possibly skin cancer.
peroxide can cause premature skin aging, slow healing, and is associated
with increased skin cancer risks. In 1995, the FDA issued warnings
regarding the use of benzoyl peroxide and changed its status from
"safe" to "uncertain."
- Topical agents do NOT affect sebaceous glands but only target existing acne and do nothing to prevent acne from forming.
Many people end up coming to us after they've tried everything and want a safe and natural treatment that breaks the acne cycle. We hope you're one of the many that do the same!
With a Promise of Clear Skin,