The Science Behind Common Over-the-Counter Remedies Used in Dermatology

August 2014 | Volume 13 | Issue 8 | Original Article | 960 | Copyright © 2014

Ross Brothers MD, Rawn E. Bosley MD, and Steven Daveluy MD

Wayne State University Department of Dermatology, Detroit, MI

Abstract

There are many over-the-counter products used to treat dermatological conditions. Patients are inundated with information about these products. Dermatologists often encounter questions about the usefulness of over-the-counter products as anecdotal data about such products is often adapted as common practice in the medical field. Modern dermatology training does not include pharmacological education on many of the over-the-counter products commonly used by patients. In this current age when patients have increasing interest in using “natural” remedies, it is important that dermatologists can provide guidance to patients regarding some of the most common products that they may encounter. This article is designed to provide introductory information on the common uses for several over-the-counter products as well as to display any evidence in support of these products for dermatological diseases.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2014;13(8):960-966.

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INTRODUCTION

Our patients are inundated with information and misinformation about many over-the-counter products used for various dermatological conditions. Family remedies and folktales regarding the use of products to treat skin conditions are often passed down generation to generation and among friends. Anecdotal data about such products is often adapted as common practice in the medical field. Modern dermatology training does not include pharmacological education on many of the over-the-counter products commonly used by patients. This article is designed to provide introductory information on the common uses for several over-the-counter products as well as to display any evidence in support of these products for dermatological diseases.

Black Soap

Black soap is purported to provide deep cleaning of the skin and are thought to be helpful in conditions such as acne vulgaris and rhytides. Black soaps are also used for excessive oily skin and as shampoo.

Black soaps are made from oils and ashes of agro-wastes. Agro-wastes are derived from cocoa, palm fruits (cash crops), groundnut and sorghum (food crops). Other raw materials needed for traditional black soap production are natural fats and vegetable oils such as shea butter, palm kernel oil, and palm oil.

Black soaps are made from the debris of argo-wastes. The sorted wastes are dried in the sun for 7 days then ashed in an ashing kiln at 250°C for 1-2 hours. The product is then ground into a fine grey powder. The powder is then leached, filtered and concentrated before being saponified and cooled. The final product is then shaped and packaged for distribution.

In an analysis, the contents of black soap ashes were found to have an alkaline pH. The main ingredients were potassium carbonate followed by potassium hydroxide, sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide. The analysis revealed Black soap has excellent solubility, consistency, cleansing/lathering ability.1

The popularity of black soap may be related to its completely natural contents, which can be favorable to patients seeking natural remedies. The lathering ability of black soap is complimentary to patients looking for natural soaps and shampoos. Despite its vast popularity, there are no scientific studies to support or refute claims of the effectiveness of black soap in dermatologic conditions.

Shea Butter

Shea butter is a natural fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. The Shea tree, Vitellaria paradoxa, is found in sub-Saharan and east Africa. Shea butter is known for its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties and is advertised to be useful in many inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and other inflammatory rashes. Other common uses of Shea butter include healing and scar prevention in minor burns and cuts. Shea butter is also used in an attempt to help restore elasticity to the skin and minimize stretch marks.

Shea butter contains fatty acids, predominately stearic and oleic acids, phytosterols and triterphenes. The anti-inflammatory properties of Shea butter may be related to the shea kernal, which is rich in phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds have antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties.

Verma et al exposed murine macrophages to a shea butter ex-

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