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Doctor ‘prescribes’ milk of magnesia for acne

Aug. 2, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 2, 2022 at 8:07 p.m.

By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.

By Joe Graedon, M.S., and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.

Q. Years ago, when I was a young teen, my acne was so bad that my pediatrician recommended seeing a dermatologist to prevent scarring. Thankfully, my parents agreed. In addition to not ever eating chocolate or drinking a Coke for a few years (I was committed!), I used a pink lotion that the dermatologist supplied. I applied it religiously each night. After a while, my acne cleared up.

The pink lotion? We discovered the key ingredient was milk of magnesia. My daughters applied regular milk of magnesia as teens, and it also worked for them.

A. There was a time when doctors told teens to avoid chocolate, sugary beverages and other high-carb foods. Then dermatologists declared that: “Dietary restriction (either specific foods or food classes) has not been demonstrated to be of benefit in the treatment of acne” (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, April 2007).

The pendulum has swung back, though. A review in the International Journal of Dermatology (June 2021) concludes: “Acne-promoting factors include high GI/GL (glycemic index/load) food, dairy products, fat food and chocolate, whereas acne-protective factors include fatty acids, fruit, and vegetable intake.” Foods high on the glycemic index raise blood sugar quickly and include fast food, white bread, pasta, pizza, salty snacks and candy.

We have heard from readers who found that applying the liquid laxative milk of magnesia to their faces helped clear up their acne. However, the only reference we could find to this approach was published in the Archives of Dermatology, January 1975. It was a letter to the editor rather than a research report.

You can learn more about preventing and treating blemishes in our eGuide to Acne Solutions. This online resource may be found under the Health eGuides tab at

Q. One of the drugs I need is very expensive. The pharmacist told me about a website that offered a coupon. When I did, my cost for a 90-day supply went from $500 to $30! Now I know to look for coupons with expensive drugs.

A. Several organizations now offer coupons to save money on prescription medicines. The best known may be GoodRx. The biggest discounts are on generic drugs.

Keep in mind that if you use a coupon, your insurance (and Medicare) will not contribute. You will be paying out of pocket. Moreover, anything you spend through a coupon won’t count toward your deductible.

Q. My daughter was prescribed Ritalin starting in preschool. She took it throughout her school years, college and graduate school. It was a fantastic medicine for her. Not only did it help with her schooling, but she became a ranked tennis player.

Now her doctor says that adults don’t have ADHD. He doesn’t want to prescribe Ritalin. Is he right?

A. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is a stimulant medication that has been widely prescribed since 1955. People do not necessarily outgrow ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). A systematic review in the Journal of Attention Disorders (July 13, 2022) concludes that drug treatments for ADHD can improve emotional behavior in adults. Treatment may also improve work performance and reduce the risk of unemployment (JAMA Network Open, April 1, 2022).

That said, prescriptions for stimulants like methylphenidate have risen sharply in recent years (BMJ Open, Aug. 13, 2021). The authors caution that anxiety, insomnia and dependence are potential adverse effects of overprescribing such drugs.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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