My friends think I’m ugly
I’ve got a masculine face
— Tom Waits, Goin’ Out West
I have, in the past, suffered quite extensively from acne. It’s not an exciting or sexy subject, and I feel it gets further trivialised by Clearasil adverts which perpetuate the feeling (especially among teenagers) that spots are a result of inadequate personal hygiene.
My face and shoulders have considerable scarring from my acne, which will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m not going to win any beauty contests any time soon.
The appliance of science
The treatments available for acne are pretty straightforward — antibiotics or retinoids. The former are supposed to (combined with a rigorous personal hygiene regime) clear your face of bacteria. I understand that it’s fairly effective for mild acne.
The latter, more hard-core treatment, such as isotretinoin — most commonly known by the trade name Roaccutane — is a completely different ball game. It reduces the oil production of your skin as well as shrinking the sebaceous glands, amongst other things.
It can be devastatingly effective, but it’s also fiercely dangerous. The side-effects, such as hair loss, nose bleeds, skin peeling and photosensitivity are an exciting bunch. The drug requires that your blood be checked out regularly because it has adverse effects on your liver. I can also confirm (and I’m sure h2_the_foodie will testify) that severe mood swings come with the package.
Stepping out with the woo-woo crowd?
But it does work, very well. So it’s with some skepticism that I read (The Herald 10/07/06, Under the spotlight in Section 2) about an acne treatment costing fifty-five pounds a session to shine a blue light in your face.
A quick search of PubMed revealed that there was some science behind it. Rather disturbing, then, that the article was written to highlight anecdotal evidence over clinical trials. Apparently you can provide all the evidence you like, but if 17-year old Gillian from Busby doesn’t say “it works for me!” then it can’t be really effective.
This comment comes from one of the ‘beauty therapists’ offering the treatment:
[She] remains convinced it is the best treatment for acne currently available. “It’s non-invasive and it’s not drugs or pills. It is natural and effective.”
So there you have it. It’s got those magic words — ‘natural’, ‘not drugs’ — so it must be good. Despite not being a qualified dermatologist, this lady is convinced that blue lights are the “best treatment” we’ve got.
I don’t mean to sound overly skeptical, but it’s my natural reaction to articles like this. I’m not qualified to understand the papers which discuss this treatment, and I don’t think the journalist was either. So why should we listen to someone who doesn’t realise their own ignorance, rather than getting an actual expert to explain the details?
The light being used is actually blue, ie in the visible spectrum. So you could always just take a wander outside. I know that one of the few things that helped my acne — other than the drugs, man — was long walks in the sunshine with someone I love. But that may just have been the love.