Some over-the-counter acne products may cause rare but potentially severe allergic reactions, Health Canada says.

A safety review indicates a link between the use of acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, and serious allergic reactions, the regulator warns.

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People with skin issues may apply non-prescription products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to help treat acne.

 Health Canada said it is updating the drug's prescribing information to include:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Health Canada also advises manufacturers to revise the labelling of acne products, to include that anyone who experiences the following issues should stop using the product and seek emergency medical help immediately:

  • Severe itching and hives, with swelling of the face, eyes, lips, mouth or throat, difficulty breathing.
  • Throat tightness or hoarseness.
  • Fainting 
  • Skin reactions such as hives and itching that become severe or spread beyond the site of application.

Localized skin irritation and dryness are common side-effects of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid that are included on the labels or package.