Clearing up the confusion over acne products

Consumer Reports News: November 07, 2011 05:31 PM

A couple of years ago when I took my teenage son to the dermatologist, we asked the doctor to set the record straight on a number of acne myths: Did too much chocolate make it worse? (Possibly…) Could popping pimples cause scarring? (Possibly…) And was Proactiv worth the cost? (Absolutely not!) He said a topical treatment with any over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide product was an equally good and far less expensive choice, and that it would be great if someone would set the record straight for gullible parents and teens.

I’m glad to report that someone finally has. In recent Consumer Reports testing, Proactiv, which costs about $20 a month, was compared with two other less costly acne products. The bottom line: At the end of the testing period, between half and two-thirds of testing participants saw 40 percent fewer pimples, on average, but there was no statistical difference in acne reduction between products.

With 80 percent of all adolescents affected, acne means big business. Americans spend almost $400 million dollars a year on over-the counter acne treatments. Although the ads seem to be everywhere, I was nevertheless surprised to see an entire vending machine devoted to the product when I traveled through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport last month. I wondered how many teenagers begged their parents to buy it after having had to discard their oversized three bottles of liquids when going through security. And kiosks like that one are available all across the U.S., including many local malls, where kids can’t miss them.

With teen idols like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne peddling the product and urging viewers to “Get Proactiv,” no wonder kids like mine are asking for it. My advice to parents: If you decide to treat acne on your own, start with a benzoyl peroxide-based treatment, and choose by price. I’m sure your teens will have suggestions for what you can do with the money you save.

Orly Avitzur, MD

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