December 10, 2015 8:44 pm
Updated: December 17, 2015 1:44 am

Health Canada warns of potential for serious allergic reactions from face care product ingredients

Health Canada is advising Canadians that the use of over-the-counter acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may cause rare but serious allergic reactions.

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Check the ingredient list – more than 400 over-the-counter topical acne products in Canada contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Health Canada is now telling Canadians that one, or both, of those ingredients could cause a life-threatening reaction in rare cases.

After cases of serious reactions were reported in the United States, Health Canada carried out its own safety review – releasing the results Thursday evening.

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Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are medicinal ingredients used in over-the-counter products that are applied to the skin to help treat acne. These products are available in various forms, including soaps, creams, gels and lotions.

“Health Canada’s safety review concluded that there is evidence supporting a link between the use of over-the-counter topical acne products containing either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid and serious hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylactic reactions,” the agency stated.

The reactions range from localized skin irritation and dryness to more serious and life-threatening hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylaxis, according to Health Canada.

Reported reactions:

Benzoyl Peroxide products:

  • 10 Canadian cases of serious hypersensitivity reactions linked to the use of over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products were reported to Health Canada.
  • Of these cases, five were anaphylactic reactions (which can be life threatening).

Salicylic acid products:

  • 16 Canadian cases of serious hypersensitivity reactions were received for over-the-counter salicylic acid products
  • Of these cases, four were anaphylactic reactions. (which can be life threatening).
  • In two of the anaphylactic cases, both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid products were used together.

Signs of a reaction:

If you develop severe itching and hives, with swelling of the face, eyes, lips, mouth or throat; difficulty breathing; throat tightness or hoarseness; and/or fainting, immediately stop use and seek emergency medical services.

If you develop skin reactions such as hives and itching that become severe or spread beyond the site of application, stop use and contact a health care professional.

Health Canada will be asking manufacturers to change the labels of their products to include the updated warnings, including:

  • Instructions for sensitivity testing to help determine whether a new user of an acne product may be sensitive or allergic to the product;
  • Updated warnings relating to possible skin reactions and allergic reactions, and what consumers should do; and
  • A warning that the product should not be used if someone is allergic to any of the ingredients of the product, including benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

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