At one time or another, we or someone we know have gone to an extreme measure to treat acne. There have been many novel successes and failures when it comes to acne treatments. Some of the solutions are quite mild such as toothpaste spot treatments, but unless you are a mature, you probably have not heard of using x-rays for acne!
X-rays are a type of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. Occurring naturally from high-energy sources such as the sun, modern x-rays are produced in a controlled environment. Though x-rays can be directed, they tend to scatter to the surrounds by bouncing off surfaces. In the modern setting, this scattering is minimal and any scattered energy quickly fades.
In Australia, the use of x-ray is regulated and monitored by ARPANSA.
They have been used in the medical field for over 100 years and during this time, x-ray application and safety has changed dramatically. As recently as the 1960s, x-rays were still being used to treat medical conditions, including acne:
“The modern trend is one of increasing conservatism in the use of x-rays for benign skin conditions, not only because of the potential risks, but also because of mounting scepticism regarding benefits. Our objectives in this study were twofold: to measure the effects of superficial x-rays on the sebaceous glands and to evaluate the therapeutic usefulness of x-rays in acne vulgaris.” (Strauss & Kligman, 1959).
Late 19th and early 20th century reports in Nature show that there was much enthusiasm for the use of x-ray treatment, in particular skin disorders. Though this was not without criticism; as early as 1915, people were raising serious concerns over the safety and effectiveness of radiation type treatments.
But why did x-ray therapy continue for acne for so long? The use of x-ray therapy for acne vulgaris was shown to be effective at managing many contributing factors of acne:
- Overactive sebaceous (oil) glands
- Hyperkeratosis (cell accumulation)
- Bacteria (p. acnes)
Upon biopsy of acne affected tissue, oil production was reduced as was cell accumulation, reducing the environment for p. Acnes bacteria from proliferating. Though it was an effective treatment for acne, the benefits did not outweigh the risks. Concern grew as incidence of thyroid cancer and epithelioma grew amongst the treatment groups.
Though x-ray use had significantly dropped in popularity at this point in time, some health professionals were still using the treatment for acne. In the late 1960’s, those who felt strongly about the benefits of x-ray therapy to treat acne voiced their opinion to the Journal of the American Medical Association:
“The “scare propaganda” regarding x-ray therapy has interfered with the proper therapeutic application of that modality in cutaneous derangements. One of the avered “dangers” is the possibility that an epithelioma of the skin may develop despite the fact that the x-ray therapy which the patient received was insufficient to cause a radiodermatitis. However, these statements are based on case reports and not on statistical evidence. Statistics previously reported indicate that cancer develops only after excessive administration of ionizing radiation. More recently, publications have appeared claiming that x-ray therapy for acne has caused an increase in thyroid cancer in the young.” (Epstein, 1969)
The impact of x-ray therapies on the long term health of patients, developments in research and the development of newer drug therapies eventually put a stop to the use of x-rays for acne.
Today, the treatment for acne remains conservative with the use of topical products, antibiotics and prescription medicines. For more information about skincare or for specialist advice on the management of acne, Contact us today.