Women warned over popular acne treatment

Dr Laura Gerhardy, Nepean Hospital Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist.
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A new study undertaken between researchers from Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District and University of Sydney has revealed that despite the potential risk to unborn babies, rates of prescription oral retinoid use have doubled among reproductive aged women over the past decade.

Lead author of the study, and Nepean Hospital Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist, Dr Laura Gerhardy, said the study came about based on what she was seeing firsthand at the hospital.

“We are seeing women who are taking oral retinoids, which can be harmful in pregnancy, and are conceiving,” she said.

“Once they have conceived, they’re left to deal with the consequences of the harms that they might face to their unborn babies.”

Results found that between 2013 to 2021 there were 1,545,800 retinoid dispensings to women aged 15 to 44 years old. Of this figure, 57 per cent were oral retinoids, with one oral retinoid prescription dispensed for every 36 women in 2021.

“I think they’re popular because they’re effective. They’re a really effective treatment of acne,” she said.

“In our study, we looked over nine years, and we saw that the rate of oral retinoid use has doubled over that time, and that’s because they are so helpful.”

Gerhardy said that whilst prescription oral retinoids may be increasing in popularity, what’s most concerning is the lack of highly effective contraception.

“Not all contraception is the same, and the recommendation is that women who are taking medications that are not safe for pregnancy should use highly effective contraception, which is contraception with a failure rate of less than one per cent of couples per year,” she said.

“That would be things like an intrauterine device or a contraceptive implant in the arm, or it might be a combination of methods like the pill and condoms.”

Gerhardy noted that with some of the most popular contraceptive methods not defined as highly effective, it’s clear that this information isn’t well enough known.

“I don’t think people realise the failure rate of some of our contraceptives, and I think most women would assume that taking the oral contraceptive pill is highly effective, but it’s not,” she said.

However, for those wishing to conceive whilst combatting acne, Gerhardy recommends speaking to a professional.

“If someone’s wanting to conceive, then oral retinoids are just not safe to take during pregnancy or in the lead up to pregnancy, so having a talk to their GP or to their dermatologist about other treatment options would be the way to go,” she said.

Cassidy Pearce

Cassidy Pearce is a news and entertainment journalist with The Western Weekender. A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, she has previously worked with Good Morning Macarthur and joined the Weekender in 2022.

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