A few months ago we welcomed a newbie to the team at Byrdie Australia HQ, our amazing editorial assistant Katie. A gun at everything she turns her hand to, I didn't think I could love her more. But then she revealed herself to be an undercover beauty buff, an obsessive just like me. This makes me happy for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that she loves a beauty hack as much as I do. That brings to me to perhaps the most genius pimple-busting trick I've tried—using Voltaren Emulgel in place of spot treatment.
Katie told me she began using Emulgel on the odd pimple after her mum was advised to apply it to benign skin cancers to "freeze them off", and was adamant it worked. Obviously I couldn't try it fast enough. (I even skipped washing my face properly in order to encourage a pimple to appear. #Commitment.) Turns out the OTC muscle relaxant is great for zapping zits that pop up during the day. The gel is clear (unlike my beloved Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $24) which means the rest of the office is none the wiser when I have it on.
Intrigued, I reached out to dermatologist Dr. Ritu Gupta of Platinum Dermatology for the insider intel on how topical muscle relaxant zaps pimples, and whether or not you should considering ditching your go-to spot treatment for Emulgel.
Keep scrolling for more.
Why does it work?
According to Dr. Gupta, Emulgel can help to clear skin thanks to its capacity as an anti-inflammatory. "It helps to decrease redness, swelling and pain associated with larger pimples," she says. Emulgel can be used on any skin type as it plays a slightly different role in spot-zapping than commonly used ingredients salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide which help to unclog pores and kill acne-causing bacteria respectively. One benefit to using the gel is that it won’t cause irritation or bleaching of the skin, which can (very rarely) occur with stronger concentrations of benzoyl peroxide.
FYI, Dr. Gupta recommends sticking with lower doses of benzoyl peroxide: "Higher concentrations are no better than a concentration of 2.5 per cent—the extra strength increases irritation without increasing effectiveness."
But...would she recommend it?
In short, not really. Dr. Gupta says that while Emulgel works as a quick fix for the odd spot, it isn't a solution for those with acne-prone skin "looking for a quick" fix. As a specialist dermatologist I treat a lot of acne and believe there are more effective ways of achieving the same results as well as achieving the goal of preventing pimples in the first place," she explains. In this instance, prescription-only treatments may be needed. "A first line prescription treatment I use a lot is a combination of a vitamin A derivative to dissolve whiteheads, and a product containing benzoyl peroxide at 2.5 per cent to help destroy the P.
What about drugstore pimple treatments?
Dr. Gupta says the majority of over the counter spot treatments are made with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, glycolic and alpha hydroxy acids, and other fruit acids, however the first two ingredients are the most common. While both have been proven to make a difference in clearing up spots, Dr. Gupta says education around how to use them is key: "Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can be used on any skin type but need to be introduced gradually, otherwise irritation can occur—it’s not uncommon for people to think they are allergic to these preparations when actually they just need to be directed on how to use them properly".
So, you see, even drugstore products have the potential to be harmful when used inappropriately.
Like any good derm, Dr. Gupta says her goal is to prevent her patients wasting time and money on ineffective acne treatments. "I see a lot of time and money needlessly wasted—even worse, permanent scarring can be a potential outcome." Dr. Gupta recommends anyone struggling with acne consult their GP or a specialist dermatologist rather than search the internet for "miracle cures". (Because unlike Emulgel, some can be seriously harmful.) "Consulting non-trained people and friends can lead to a lot of heartache," she says.