Alternative Treatment Warnings

It is not uncommon for people with skin conditions to seek out ‘alternative treatments’ for skin conditions. If this is something that you are considering doing, then it is important that you discuss this with a doctor beforehand.

We would particularly urge against using products with unlabelled ingredients, products bought from unknown sellers (particularly from big online marketplaces), and products which are unlicensed or containing banned ingredients. Licensed means that it has been approved for use in the UK by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). If you are in doubt, then your GP may be able to provide some advice.

There are any number of treatments which could potentially be dangerous, with new brand names appearing and disappearing. This means that we can only highlight general categories of products which could potentially be dangerous.

‘Herbal’ Treatments

What are ‘herbal’ treatments?

Many creams and ointments bought online with little, or no, labelling, are marketed as herbal treatments, or miracle creams. These types of so-called herbal remedies are commonly used for the treatment of skin conditions.

Why are some herbal treatments dangerous?

“Herbal treatment” is usually an inaccurate description for these products, which often contain ingredients such as potent steroids. There is a reason why these steroids are only meant to be used on prescription, as they can have serious side-effects.

Herbal treatments should not be used as an ‘alternative treatment’ for skin cancer.

Problems with some herbal treatments are:

(a) inaccurate labelling, as they may contain active ingredients that require medical supervision

(b) if they don’t contain anything active they are unlikely to be any more effective than simple emollient (moisturiser)

(c) using such a herbal treatment may delay access to effective treatment, which can be a health concern, especially for diseases like skin cancer

Black Salve

What is black salve?

Black salve is a topical product which is sometimes falsely marketed as a cure for cancer, including skin cancers. Black salve is a type of escharotic, meaning that it corrodes the skin causing skin craters and scarring.

Why is black salve dangerous?

Black salve is dangerous for several reasons. It is often marketed as a cure for cancer, which it is not. Conventional treatments for skin cancer are very effective, if started early. By delaying treatment in favour of this product people are putting their lives in danger.

The salve may superficially damage skin cancers, but it makes no distinction between healthy and cancerous cells, and only affects the upper layers of the skin, potentially leaving the cancer growing under the surface, and having no effect on cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. In contrast, surgery is very effective at removing skin cancer.

In addition to the risk of leaving cancers unchecked, black salve is enormously damaging to the skin, with extended use causing wounds and scarring which often need plastic surgery to fix. With open wounds infection is also always a risk.

Illegal Skin Lightening Creams

What are illegal skin lightening creams?

It’s important to point out that there is a range of skin lightening products that stick to the legal requirements that allow them to be sold in the UK. However, there are also illegal skin lightening products which can contain ingredients such as mercury, steroids, and hydroquinone which are banned for use in cosmetics.

Why are illegal skin lightening creams dangerous?

Mercury is dangerous, not available on prescription and should never be used. The use of mercury in cosmetic products has been banned for over three decades in the EU. Possible side effects of using skin lightening products that contain mercury include increased pigmentation, foetal abnormalities if used during pregnancy and itchy rashes. In high doses, mercury can also cause psychiatric effects.

Steroids are available on prescription, and are safe if used correctly, but are never prescribed for skin lightening. Skin lightening products that contain high dose steroids can lead to permanent skin bleaching, thinning of skin and development of visible blood vessels, known as telangiectasia. What’s more, the colour loss of the skin may not be even.

Hydroquinone is available on prescription and is prescribed for skin lightening, but is potentially toxic and should only be used under medical supervision. Hydroquinone can cause intense irritation, uneven bleaching of the skin and a distressing condition called cutaneous ochronosis which is a bluish black discolouration of the skin.

Tanning Injections (Melanotan)

What are tanning injections?

Tanning injections, the most well-known brand names being Melanotan I and Melanotan II, are injections which can increase the amount of melanin in your skin. Melanin is the pigment which gives your skin colour, and more melanin means that you appear more tanned.

Why are tanning injections dangerous?

Melanotan is not licensed for use in the UK. This means that it has not been tested for safety, effectiveness, or potential side effects. We strongly urge against its use and recommend that individuals use fake tan / self tan (from a bottle) instead. Side effects of Melanotan reported to date include nausea, tiredness, flushes, and spontaneous erections.

Unlicensed Steroid Creams

What are unlicensed steroid creams?

Mild and moderate potency (strength) steroid creams can be bought from a pharmacist, and are clearly labelled with instructions for use. Potent topical steroids areavailable on prescription. These uses are licensed. Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers sometimes add potent steroids to a bland cream and sell it as a “miracle cream” online or in shops. This is unlicensed and illegal.

Why are unlicensed steroid creams dangerous?

Steroids are potent treatments which can have severe side effects, for this reason steroids area treatment which should be supervised by a doctor. These products may seem to work, but the problem is the longer term, serious side effects they carry if you continue to use them. A serious concern with many of these products is that they do not label their ingredients, so you do not know if they contain steroids and if so, at what level. Never use a product that does not label its ingredients.