Talking to customers on a daily basis, it is clear that dealing with conditions in an effective, safe and practical way can be a challenge. For some people, the use of an emollient and steroid combination does indeed work well enough to help manage these conditions. However, there is a growing band of sufferers now looking for an alternative treatment, following countless visits to their GP with limited success using conventional pharmaceutical preparations. These people are tired of using treatments which are sometimes ineffective for their condition or are difficult to use. In addition to this, there is a growing preference (especially amongst parents looking for treatments which are suitable for children and babies) for ‘natural’ products which are free from steroids, mineral oils and other artificial chemicals such as parabens.

Key research
Recent research findings published in the British Journal of Dermatology reveal that aqueous cream makes certain conditions worse2, further strengthening this trend for natural products. It is important to recognise at this point that ‘natural’ doesn’t just mean a ‘herbal concoction’ cooked up on someone’s stove the night before. Natural or ‘alternative’ can simply mean that all the ingredients are derived from natural sources and often come with a vast amount of bio-scientific data to support their effectiveness in dealing with symptoms such as itching, inflammation and infection.

Many people are understandably cautious about trying these ‘alternative’ products that are not recommended by an NHS healthcare professional. However, the majority of ‘alternative’ problem skin products available for stocking on pharmacy shelves fall under strict regulation by the MHRA and cannot make claims unless they are backed up with sufficient clinical evidence.

Keeping with the times
In recent years, the internet has given everyday people the opportunity to access alternative products that are unavailable through their GP or practice nurse. More importantly, it has allowed sufferers to share their experiences in terms of what works and what doesn’t work for their skin. Statistics reveal that there were over 2 million generic web searches in the last 12 months3 for problem skin treatments, and countless online forums are littered with threads from people looking for something different. Many alternative products have now found their way onto pharmacy shelves; such is the demand for them. In a growing number of cases we are seeing pharmacies selling more alternative products over the counter that their counterparts using artificial chemical based ingredients.

The particular conditions we are dealing with here are some of the most emotive a pharmacy deals with. Finding an OTC product that really works can easily compel customers to move off prescriptions (free or paid for); moving them onto the successful OTC products that deliver stronger profit margins compared with a simple dispensing fee. This is particularly the case when young children are the ones suffering.

Wanting to move away from the emollient concept, alternative product brands have been forced to innovate in order to stand out from the crowd. Innovation in products, provided product efficacy is high enough, can demand higher prices and better cash margins for pharmacies operating in tough trading conditions. In some pharmacies, over 20 per cent of all prescriptions dispensed are for problem skin conditions. Managing to convert even 10 per cent of these can be rewarded both in terms of cash profit for the pharmacy, but also of course greater satisfaction for the customer.

Dr Martin Schiele,
bio-medical research scientist,
Salcura Natural Skin Therapy

1. National Eczema Society (2004) International Study of Life with Atopic Eczema (ISOLATE) Data on file.
2. British Journal of Dermatology, June 2011. Aqueous cream damages the skin barrier.
3. Google Adwords.