Tech tools for acne – are we there yet?

They say there’s an app for everything and acne is no exception. However when it comes to tech tools for your health, there’s a lot at stake, especially when you’re dealing with a frustrating and emotionally charged medical condition such as acne!

As much as doctors would love everyone with a medical concern to use their smartphone for a doctor’s appointment, three in five of us will instead look up symptoms or health conditions before, or even instead of, seeing a doctor.

The recent launch of La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar SpotScan got us thinking about what makes a good acne tool, so we had a chat to Sydney dermatologist and All About Acne member Dr Phillip Artemi for his tips.

What makes a good acne app or tech tool?

“There’s no denying the popularity of tech tools including health apps. We want to help people choose one that may contribute to the solution and save them spending good money on bad treatment,” explains Dr Artemi.

“A good acne tool should provide you with a starting point to better manage your skin. No tools or apps can cure acne,” cautions Dr Artemi, “nor can the light from your smartphone!”

Concerningly, a review of 1,500 US cost-based health apps found that one in five claimed to treat or cure medical problems. About a dozen said the light of a mobile phone was the solution, including the well publicised AcneApp, only to be shut down by US regulators.

“A good tool is just one part of a complete acne management plan. It’s a source of information and direction but never the only step you take in seeking help for acne,” says Dr Artemi.

“Look for a tool providing credible information guiding you to the next step in managing your acne.”

“It may mean pointing you to several good quality websites for more detailed information or encouraging you to see a qualified health professional such as your GP or a dermatologist for a definitive diagnosis and personalised treatment plan,” says Dr Artemi.

Putting Effaclar SpotScan to the test

Effaclar SpotScan

Effaclar SpotScan is a free acne diagnostic tool accessed via a URL on your smartphone. It’s provided by La Roche-Posay, a French dermo-cosmetic skin care and cosmetics brand that has been operating since 1975.

Developed using artificial intelligence (AI), the tool scores points for involving dermatologists and clinical research organisations in the development of it, and for using the Global Acne Severity Scale to assess the individual’s acne. This is one of the acne assessment guidelines used by dermatologists.

Images of more than 6,000 males and females of various ethnicities, ages, skin types and acne severity were analysed to ensure the SpotScan diagnosis algorithm attained a high level of accuracy. The algorithm was then validated by dermatologists.

Designed for people with facial acne, SpotScan requires the user to take three close-ups of their face before providing an acne grade (0: no acne to 4+: very severe acne) and recommending an Effaclar skin care routine.

Dr Artemi recommends viewing tools such as SpotScan as a ‘first step’ in acne assessment.

“SpotScan gets a big tick for recommending anyone who receives an acne grade of 2+ to see a dermatologist, and as with all these cases, a definitive solution requires a face-to-face consultation with a doctor.”

Knowledge is power

Looking for life hacks doesn’t mean we can’t get smarter in the process.

“An acne app should teach you something about your acne. Being better educated about any medical condition you have is a big positive and it can also make life easier,” explains Dr Artemi.

“For example, if you think acne is caused by poor hygiene and you over cleanse and scrub your skin, you’re actually making acne worse. ”

Skin care is not an ‘optional extra’

Skin care is an important part of managing your acne and it needs to work in conjunction with your treatment.

“Tools that promote optimal acne skin care, such as SpotScan, can help control mild acne and provide general skin care advice that may supplement and assist prescription medication,” says Dr Artemi.

“The key principles of effective acne skin care include cleansers that are soap free and pH balanced at 5.5 as well as products that are ‘non-comedogenic’ which means it won’t clog pores and worsen acne.”

He adds not to forget sun protection as part of your skin care routine, especially as some medications make skin sun sensitive.

Other ingredients that have proven to assist in acne management include salicylic acid (exfoliates the skin pore), niacinamide (soothes inflamed skin and reduces oil production), squalenes and ceramides (build and maintain the skin barrier).

Acne is a complex medical condition so just as there isn’t one treatment that works for everyone with acne, there isn’t one skin care brand that generates good results for everyone with acne.

Tried and tested

Unfortunately acne affects a huge range of people. Whether you’re 14 or 40, male or female, have fair skin or dark skin, pimples affect millions of us.

“For this reason, acne tools need to undergo comprehensive testing,” explains Dr Artemi. “They need to be tested with the range of people they’re designed to try and help.”

He suggests doing your research on the tool. What testing has been done? Are the recommendations evidence-based? What are other users and trustworthy sources saying about the app or tool?

Who’s the expert?

An acne tool should bring together a range of experts.

For the tech side, it’s the developers. Have they designed other health apps or tools, consulted health professionals or health organisations on the development? Is it actually going to work?!

For the organisation providing the tool, is it reputable?

Even if the answer is yes to both these questions, the ultimate acne expert is the dermatologist. With more than 12 years of medical training and continuing education based on the latest medical evidence, it’s a no brainer that these professionals need to be involved in any acne tool.

The Bottom Line

Dermatologist - MB.BS, FACD, MMed, BPharm Dr Artemi is a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in private practice in Sydney. He is also an International Fellow of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery as well as the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. His subspecialty interests are the treatment of acne and acne scarring, and the use of cosmeceuticals in skin care, acne, pigmentary problems and anti-ageing. Dr Artemi has lectured both in Australia and internationally and comments regularly in print, radio and television.

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