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Are Topical Acne Treatment Products Safe or Dangerous?

Updated on November 9, 2015

The answer to the above question is it depends. They can both be dangerous and safe at the same time. Depending on the individual involved and the type of acne treatment used, it is possible for some acne products to cause severe allergic reactions in the human body.

In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially warned the public as of June 2014 against potential side effects from the use of selected acne products that can cause allergic reactions and in doing so endanger the lives of certain people.

The FDA issued an official Drug Safety Communication (DSC) after it received enough evidence from both the public and acne product manufacturers of instances where people suffered side effects that were previously not officially acknowledged. The reactions observed are different from the less serious effects that are currently mentioned on product labels of acne products, such as dry or itchy skin.

While claims about the potential danger of using certain acne products are not completely new, the release from the FDA changes these previously unofficial or unsubstantiated claims into official warnings and therefore must now be taken seriously by everyone involved when it comes to acne.

 Model of benzoyl peroxide molecule.
Model of benzoyl peroxide molecule. | Source

Which acne treatment products should you be wary of?

The acne products mentioned in the FDA warning contain the active ingredients benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, both of which give the products their effectiveness against acne. To determine whether a product contains these ingredients that you need to be careful of, a person can check whether any of the previous ingredients are listed on the product label under the Active Ingredient(s) section.

The FDA statement covers products that are available over-the-counter (OTC), which means that they can be bought directly without a prescription, and topical, which means that they are applied to the skin. Examples of popular products that are known to contain these ingredients are Proactiv, Neutrogena and Oxy. The products can come in various forms, such as creams, gels and lotions.

When and what kind of harm can acne products cause and to whom?

Allergic reactions caused by acne products can occur within minutes to 24 hours of use or even longer. Signs can include swelling of the eyes and face, low blood pressure, fainting or total collapse. Over 40 percent of cases were serious enough that the patient needed to be spent some time in the hospital.

Cases have been reported of people ranging in age from 11 to 78 years. The people that suffered adverse effects covered the entire spectrum of the population, whether it's gender, religion or ethnicity. However, no deaths have so far been confirmed at this point in time.


What should you do before using topical acne products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid?

Both the consumer and medical professionals are urged to become informed in order to avoid negative consequences as a result of treating acne. Adding to this urgency is the fact that the allergic reactions seen are not currently mentioned on the acne product labels, which may lead unsuspecting people to use a acne product that is harmful to them without them knowing.

While not every person may suffer negative side effects, it's important that everyone becomes aware of the chance that certain acne products can cause unforeseen problems. If someone suspects something is wrong, stop using the product immediately and consult with a medical professional for further advice.

Another precaution is to test the product if you're trying out a acne product that you've never used before. People should apply a tiny amount of the acne product to a small portion of the area affected by acne. Wait until three days has passed and if there is no discomfort or any other troubling sign, then you can continue using the directions provided on the product label for normal use.

Benzoyl peroxide is strong enough to stain clothing.
Benzoyl peroxide is strong enough to stain clothing. | Source

Don't ignore the warnings and it's better to be safe than sorry

Since acne is a common medical condition, there's a high probability that someone may suffer from this condition at some point in their lifetime. Due to the negative impact that acne can have on a person's social and emotional life, it's natural for people to want their acne condition to go away as quickly as possible.

In their haste to get rid of acne, people may therefore be tempted to ignore the warnings and use a acne product regardless of the possible consequences. However, it is very important that people be patient and refrain from such actions.

You could inadvertently turn something that is relatively harmless into a much more serious medical problem. Those suffering from acne and seeking relief may want to try another solution, which relies on some other method to treat acne. Consult with a medical professional.


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