Acne treatment without the mood swings, headaches or nosebleeds? Yes please

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Anyone who suffers from acne will probably understand me when I say I have tried every medication possible to treat it. I feel like I have sat in more dermatology centres than anyone else, taken countless oral antibiotics and experimented with numerous topical retinoids and solutions. 

At the age of seventeen, I had exhausted all my options. I had been prescribed with antibiotics, the combined pill, numerous creams and finally isotretinoin (also known as Roaccutane). 

However, it is becoming evident that antibiotics and oral contraceptives may not be the best option to treat acne. 

That’s why an ongoing trial run by Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU), looking into the use of steroid spironolactone, is such a promising possible alternative for women across the globe. 

Antibiotics can cause side effects such as nausea, stomach pain, headaches and diarrhoea

Many people go on a course of antibiotics to treat their acne. Like all medicines, antibiotics can cause side effects such as nausea, stomach pain, headaches, and diarrhoea. An especial worry associated with taking antibiotics for acne is antimicrobial resistance. Studies have shown that a multitude of topical antibiotics lose effectiveness after just months.

Furthermore, it can also be argued that they only mask the physical symptoms rather than solving the problem; many people experience a surge in acne after stopping antibiotics, and often have worsened effects. Caution therefore must be taken when prescribing these medicines.

I started my course of the antibiotic Lymecycline in 2015, and the side effects were very extreme. I felt faint, had dizzy spells, and suffered from heart palpitations so severe that I had to go to A&E. 

I was a healthy young girl who enjoyed playing a lot of sports. It didn’t make sense that I was so unwell. At fourteen, I had been prescribed this medicine without really understanding the side effects. Once I was off the medication, I felt myself again – but my acne came back even worse. 

For teenagers, acne is a source of deep insecurity. For me personally, it meant I also endured the physical effects of antibiotics for several weeks.

It didn’t make sense that I was so unwell

Many women who suffer from acne are prescribed an oral contraceptive to help with hormonal imbalance. However, although some oral contraceptives are effective for some people, many oral contraceptives are not licensed for this use and are not necessarily tolerated well by patients. 

When I was contacted by Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU) about an ongoing trial for the use of the steroid spironolactone to treat acne, I was intrigued. 

Spironolactone is a drug already used to treat high blood pressure and hypokalemia, amongst other conditions, but the SCTU were investigating its effectiveness as an acne treatment for females. The study, Spironolactone for Adult Female Acne (SAFA), aims to give women an alternative treatment to antibiotics and oral contraceptives – and so reduce the side-effects many women suffer. 

Having been one of these women myself, I felt an urge, for the sake of my younger self, to get involved in any way I could. I’ve been using my platform as a skincare influencer on Instagram to raise awareness of the research, and to let as many people as possible know that there are alternatives out there. 

I wish I had considered other options… other ways of reducing acne which aren’t as intense as Roaccutane

I don’t have any active acne now, so I can’t take part in this study myself. What I can do is fight the stigma associated with acne. I know from experience that acne alone makes people self conscious and under-confident – and that’s without the physical side-effects of antibiotics and oral contraceptives. 

Although my acne has improved since taking Roaccutane, I wish I had considered other options. That’s why I made my Instagram page @skinwithsoph –to explore other ways of reducing acne which aren’t as intense as Roaccutane. SAFA may be one of them.

Although I cannot take part in SAFA’s clinical trials, you might be able to. If you are a woman who is eighteen years or older and have suffered from acne for six months or longer, you may be eligible to take part. Please consult the SAFA website below if you are interested. Half of participants will be put on a placebo pill, that will contain no active ingredients, but they may still be able to access the medicine after the trial.

This is a huge step towards a new acne treatment, and it’s so important for the mental and physical health of young women across the world. Let’s work together to help give women a new and safer alternative to treating their acne.

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/safa/index.page?

Image: Spironolactone for Adult Female Acne (SAFA)

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