Having suffered from what I would describe as moderately severe cystic acne for over ten years now, I thought I had got used to the shock and pain this horrible condition has cursed me with. But no, it's not done with me yet.
Three years ago I found the perfect, cheap routine which finally returned my skin to something approaching an acceptable state. I cleansed and moisturised with the excellent Cetaphil products then dabbed on Panoxyl Aquagel 2.5 to the problem areas every few nights. I also introduced the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment* every other night, a silky, light gel BHA which takes off the nasty top layer of skin, and leaving smooth freshness by morning. It was a gentle, highly effective routine just right for my ultra-sensitive skin. Applying the low-strength, light Panoxyl gel only a few times a week meant I avoided the dry, red, itchy mess you can get with frequent application of the higher strength Benzoyl Peroxide products.
*Apparently this product, the only thing keeping me vaguely clear now, has also been discontinued in America, so I imagine it will be here soon as well. I'll just have to hoard it. These cosmetic industry guys love to __ck with our minds.
It was a routine I was perfectly happy with and for the first time since becoming an adult I could do what I wanted, go places, looking people in the eye with my head up, because I didn't have "acne anxiety" to worry me. People stopped doing the "My God, is that a carbuncle on her face?" 10 second stare, which was nice. This was a skincare routine I knew I would be faithful to for years.
But sadly the pharmaceutical industry does not hold us in the same esteem. When I went to order a new tube of the Panoxyl the other day, it was with horror that I discovered it has been - I shudder to type this word - discontinued. Last year. My God, I wanted to cry, and I think I did - a little, later, when I imagined all those awful, painful lumps popping back up within days. The thought of having to return to the dark old days of red, purple and yes, sometimes even black cystic volcanos had me shook. Especially now I am a fully fledged young woman. It was slightly more acceptable in my late teens. But now? I ain't feeling it.
Anyway, a lengthy perusal of Acne.org message boards [WTH is "the regimen" and WhoTH is Dan?] left me in no doubt that Panoxyl is well and truly discontinued, at least for the foreseeable future. Something about the rotten Irish economy, a factory being saved at the last minute and, at the centre of it all, that gosh darned GlaxoSmithKlein who reviewed the situation - nothing better to do like cutting products that don't work, ya pricks? - and decided that for "commercial" reasons it is no longer viable to produce the necessary chemical. Well throw me over a barrell and bugger me backwards. Commercially viable? I highly do believe that these are the same people who have allowed Panoxyl to retail, p+p usually inc, at a mere £3 thereabouts. £3. Why on earth didn't they bump it up to the £10-15 region? Win-win for them, the fat cats, and us, the acne-cursed proles, because did I not mention yet that here in the UK [United Krapdom] Panoxyl Aquagel was the only product of its kind? Yep, 'tis so. In fact, Benzoyl Peroxide products seem to have all but disappeared here in recent times. Even Oxy, who hawked BP for as long as I can possibly remember, as though it were the purest moutain dew, have gone all "organic seaweed" on us. Organic seaweed? My cystic carbuncles would heartily laugh at that.
I imagine Benzoyl Peroxide has sort of been unofficially banned, or at least made extremely taboo in the pharma world; something to do with the cancer rumours and the realisation that perhaps it isn't such a good idea to rub bleach into your face after all. Why else is it so difficult to get hold of any more? The only Benzoyl Peroxide product I have managed to get, very unwillingly, is Quinoderm 5. A quick scan of its ingredients tell me it is E45 with BP added. Har har. Good one, guys. You trolling me? Why anyone would think liquid paraffin is a good ingredient for an acne cream is beyond me. The whole thing looks straight out of the 80s. I have yet to use it, because I've heard it's so crappy, and with the whole cancer thing I've decided to go cold turkey on BP for a while. If things get really bad I have the Quinoderm for emergencies. I can already see the difference in my skin after a week of not using, it's sort of bumpy and angry looking, like it's really brewing up something awful for me. But I guess I'll have to learn to live with it. Live with the pus and the stares. Yay! I feel so free.
There is one other OTC treatment widely available here called Freederm. I believe it is a deriviative of Vitamin B under the commercial name Nicotinamide, also known in America as niacinamide. Many moons ago I used this product for yonks with what I would call "shit" results. I don't think I had one morning of waking up and thinking "Ooh I look so much better today!" like the girl in the advert. Freederm? More like serfdom, thanks.
Back to the main tale. One of the Acne.org users told everyone to email GSK and really pressure them into reinstating our Aquagel. Yeah, like a mega corporation is scared of a bunch of spotty teenagers, but anyway. I did email and put on the whole "I'm shocked and disgusted and I've been crying all night" kind of tone, and a few days and several more incumbent acne legions later, I received a nice, if officious, reply from the lovely Sandy:
Thank you for your email regarding the availability of PanOxyl Aquagel.
We are sorry that you have been unable to find your usual PanOxyl® products. We are currently experiencing a disruption in the production of the PanOxyl® range of products. The disruption is due to GSK Consumer Healthcare’s review of its manufacturing support and product portfolio which resulted in a limited number of brands requiring some short term manufacturing and licencing updates, including PanOxyl.
So all's well that ends well. Panoxyl will maybe, possibly, be back in its stronger forms. Breathe easy. To conclude I want to say that the information we get about acne here in the UK is extremely poor, and now the right products aren't even available to us. The options for treatment we get are pathetic. Brothers and sisters of America, with your plentiful supplies of drugs and chemicals, free to put anything you like on your face, think of us.