iPhone App Claims to Treat Acne. Does it?

I love my iPhone. (No, that’s not me in the photo.)

My iPhone is teeming with apps that help me get through my day (like Doodle Jump for instance). An emerging iPhone trend is the development of apps that diagnose and treat diseases. For example, there is the stethoscope app to help diagnose heart murmurs. In dermatology, there is an app designed to treat acne.

We know that specific wavelengths of light can have medicinal effects such as killing bacteria (red light) and reducing inflammation (blue light). This app produces light at those wavelengths to treat acne. The claim is that by holding the iPhone to your face, the light produced from the app will treat your acne.

Although it scores a 10 on 10 in the coolness factor, it scores a 0 on 10 for proof of efficacy. The studies that looked at treating acne with light used much more intense light than an iPhone uses. The studies with more powerful light exposed faces for 60 minutes every week, which is about 8 minutes on each side every day. Even then, light treatments for acne have not been shown to be consistently better than standard acne treatments such as antibiotics and tretinoin.

So does the acne app work? Well, there are no studies to tell us. Given that the light intensity is low and that most people would not do the treatment — try holding your phone for 2-5 minutes on each side of your face every day for months — I doubt it works.

Acne is common and naturally gets better and worse at times no matter what you do. It is unfortunate that products like this are sold that do not have any proof that they work. There will be people who buy this app and believe that it helped them, (“My acne was clear in just THREE DAYS!”) but the two bucks is better spent on Doodle Jump.

See also:

Can an iPhone App Clear Up Your Acne?

In Light and Heat, Gadgets Claim to Fight Acne

Better Skin to the Touch?

Can You Treat Acne With an iPhone App?

A study to determine the effect of combination blue (415 nm) and near-infrared (830 nm) light-emitting diode (LED) therapy for moderate acne vulgaris.

Photo: Aye Shamus (flickr)

Caffeine Plus Exercise Protects Against Skin Cancer

Do you love your morning coffee? Do you love to exercise? Well, so do I. Here’s another reason why we should keep it up: caffeine and exercise might reduce the risk of skin cancer.

A laboratory study of mice found that caffeine and exercise boosted the elimination of ultraviolet light (UV) damaged cells. Disposal of these damaged cells before they can grow reduces the risk of a skin cancer developing.

The study compared the effects of caffeine, exercise, and the combination of both in three groups of hairless mice. Hairless or nude mice are particularly vulnerable to ultraviolet light radiation and are prone to skin cancer.

One group of mice drank caffeinated water, the equivalent of one to two cups of coffee a day. Another group ran on an exercise wheel, the equivalent of a 2.5 mile jog for us.  A third group drank caffeinated water and ran the wheel. All of the mice were exposed to UV radiation. The rate of elimination of damaged cells was highest in the third group that both drank caffeine and exercised.

A different study found that topical application of caffeine can also help prevent skin cancer. Caffeine applied 30 minutes before UVB exposure inhibited cell DNA damage by 80 percent. In other studies, caffeine has been shown to decrease the risk of breast and liver cancer.

Of course, caffeine and exercise are not a substitute for wearing sunscreen; however, they might justify splurging on a latte today. But please don’t place your Starbucks Venti coffee on the gym treadmill next to me in the morning — that drives me nuts.

Photo: Adria Richards (flickr)

Extract from White Birch Tree Relieves Itch

The forest is full of things that make you itchy: poison ivy, poison oak, mosquitoes, chiggers. But for the wise adventurer, the forest also provides a way to heal your itch. The remedy might be found in the beautiful white birch tree.

White birch trees are ubiquitous in cold climates. A photo of the white tree against white snow is iconic of New England winters. A bark extract called Betulin (a terpene like tea tree oil) has been shown in animal studies to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and to aid in wound healing. Research presented at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology showed that a cream containing betulin significantly reduced itching in red, irritated skin in psoriasis and eczema patients.

The study is only preliminary, and betulin will need to be tested in rigorous trials to see if the extract makes a cream much better than placebo cream; however, betulin is already available in creams in Europe.

So how do you get the extract out of the bark if you’re  itchy while hiking in a forest? I’ll wait for Bear Grylls to show us on a future episode of Man Vs. Wild. No doubt a fire and half a plastic bottle will be needed.

Photo: Nicolas T

Depressed? Maybe Your Psychiatrist Will Prescribe Botox.

Botox makes you happy. So does a new Lexus, but I can’t prescribe that.

Botox® temporarily freezes dynamic lines such as crow’s feet and forehead wrinkles. When Botox is done well, it can raise your eyebrows and make your face appear well rested, younger, happier. Botox also makes it difficult to furrow your brow or frown.

Too much Botox freezes your face, making it expressionless (which could be seen in both winners and losers at the recent Golden Globes: Were they happy? Sad? Shocked? Who could tell?).

Because Botox can make people look better, it’s no surprise that people who get Botox are happier afterwards. A review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology actually looked at the cost of treating depressed patients with Botox. Here’s the reasoning: If you cannot frown because of Botox, then your mind will interpert this as you feel less angry or sad. Preliminary studies showed that people treated with Botox had more positive emotions and felt less depressed after their treatment.

While the logic is easily followed (and is emphatically supported by people who ordinarily pay cash for their Botox), the science is absent. There are no studies that show Botox improves depression as compared to placebo, therapy, or antidepressants. Much more research would have to be done to show that there is a real benefit (it would be  interesting to compare Botox to simply giving people $500 in cash and teaching them to frown less).

Depression is a disease and is never fixed quickly. Treating depression always requires effort, often requires therapy, and sometimes requires medication. I doubt that medication will be Botox. Or a new Lexus.

Photo: Geekadman Flickr.com