Acne Products and Serious, Life-Threatening Side Effects

by L Matthews on May 7, 2015

acne product allergic reactions clean and clearPotentially fatal side-effects of acne medication made the news this week: According to a warning from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), anti-acne products sold by top-name brands can cause serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. Acne gels, lotions, cleansers, and similar products have been associated with hypersensitivity reactions that have landed some people in hospital with serious swelling and breathing difficulties.


Side-Effects of Acne Medication

The FDA warned of the potential for adverse effects from acne products including store brands and:

  • Proactiv (Guthy-Renker)
  • Neutrogena
  • MaxClarity (Stiefel Laboratories, Inc)
  • Oxy (The Mentholatum Company)
  • Ambi (Valeant Pharmaceuticals)
  • Aveeno (Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc)
  • Clean & Clear (Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc)

When using these products, or any new anti-acne product, it is best to apply a small amount to just one or two small areas and then monitor for any adverse effects. Doing this for two or three days should help you to spot any irritation or other undesirable side effects.

What Cause Anaphylactic Shock from Acne Products?

Some local skin irritation may be expected with many of these anti-acne products and are typically listed in the product’s packaging or informational insert. Serious hypersensitivity responses differ from these more common side effects, but it is unknown whether these reactions are caused by the active or inactive ingredients in the products, or a combination of the two.


Anti-acne products that contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or both are on the FDA’s watchlist due to possible anaphylactic and hypersensitivity reactions. Anyone experiencing such serious side-effects of acne medication is urged to report their experience to MedWatch, so as to help the FDA collect data that can help others make informed choices about acne treatments, and allow manufacturers to change their formulas for improved safety.

Signs of Hypersensitivity Reactions

Anyone who experiences skin changes, redness, and swelling should stop using the product and seek medical attention. Immediate medical assistance should be sought by anyone who experiences swelling in the eyes, face, lips or tongue or changes in their respiratory or cardiovascular function, including tightness in the throat, problems breathing, or feeling faint. Increased heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm, and changes in blood pressure suggest an anaphylactic response to the product and require urgent assessment by a health care professional.

Anyone experiencing an adverse reaction or any unwanted side-effect of acne medication can contact MedWatch in the US, by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or filing an online report.

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