Two thirds of us avoid going to the GP for conditions we find embarrassing to talk about, according to a recent survey, instead trying treatments we’ve bought online or over-the-counter in the privacy of our own homes.
But before you try DIY remedies this festive season, see what leading experts told CAROLINE JONES about the latest products (which we then rated).
CB12 Mint-Menthol Mouthwash
CB12 Mint-Menthol Mouthwash, 250ml, £5.50, boots.com
Claim: This treats bad breath by ‘neutralising sulphur gases in the mouth’ for up to 12 hours with a patented ingredient called CB12, which contains zinc acetate and chlorhexidine, says the maker. Rinse with 10ml for one minute, gargle and spit out.
Expert verdict: ‘The biggest cause of halitosis [bad breath] is strongly smelling foods such as raw onions, garlic or curry,’ says Bill Schaeffer, a dental surgeon at The Implant Centre in Hove. ‘Smoking is another big culprit, as is poor dental hygiene.
‘This mouthwash contains similar antibacterial agents to many mouthwashes — chlorhexidine diacetate and zinc acetate dihydrate (CB12). But it also contains alcohol, an antiseptic some research suggests could damage the cells of the mouth lining — and it can worsen dry mouth conditions that can cause bad breath.’
Lifeplan WindAway Activated Charcoal, 30 capsules, £4.99, hollandandbarrett.com
Claim: Charcoal tablets absorb and relieve unwanted gas, says the maker. Take three capsules at least half an hour before a meal and three capsules after eating. Don’t exceed 12 capsules a day.
Lifeplan WindAway Activated Charcoal
Expert verdict: ‘Everyone emits up to a litre of gas each day, a byproduct when waste food ferments in the colon,’ says Maxwell Asante, a consultant gastroenterologist at The Princess Royal University NHS Hospital and BMI Chelsfield Park in Kent.
‘Excessive flatulence occurs if the stool stays too long in the colon or there’s been a change in the gut bacteria. There’s no credible research to show ‘activated’ charcoal [heated to increase its absorptive power] can help with flatulence.
‘I recommend drinking plenty of water to prevent the stool staying in the colon for too long, taking probiotics or eating fermented foods for healthier gut bacteria — and avoiding trigger foods.’
Dermadry Total, £259, amazon.co.uk
Claim: This ‘iontophoresis’ machine delivers a mild electric current through the skin via a skin patch, said to interrupt the connection between nerves and the sweat glands. It promises to re-train the skin to sweat less when used twice a week for 15 minutes.
Expert verdict: ‘Hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excess sweating, affects up to 3 per cent of the population,’ says Dr Ross Perry, a GP and medical director of Cosmedics UK in London.
‘A few studies show using safe, painless electrical currents as with this machine can work well for some people with hand sweating — however, the results can wear off.
‘Overall this is safe and, although not cheap, costs less than treatment with botulinum toxin [‘Botox’] injections, which are effective in paralysing the nerves around the sweat ducts — but can cost around £500 each.’
Miaderma Fungal Nail Treatment
Miaderma Fungal Nail Treatment, 5ml, £10, hollandandbarrett.com
Claim: The treatment contains isk1320, a chemical the maker says ‘penetrates the surface of the nail and kills fungi within 20 seconds’.
This paint-on solution claims to be ‘100 per cent effective’ and stops other nails from becoming infected. Apply two or three times per day to the affected nail.
Expert verdict: ‘Fungi live harmlessly on all healthy toenails, but if nails become damaged, from for example, too-tight shoes or stubbing your toe, the nail plate becomes weakened allowing fungus to get into the nail bed and skin,’ says Martine Silverman, a podiatrist at The London Nail Laser Clinic.
‘I can’t find any scientific sources to show the effectiveness of isk1320. All anti-fungal nail paints have a pretty low effectiveness — between a 6 to 20 per cent success rate. This product may help stop the spread of infection, but it’s unlikely that 100 per cent of nails treated will become fungal free and certainly not within 20 seconds as claimed.
Hemoclin Gel, 45ml, £16.99, boots.com
Claim: This gel to treat piles contains what the maker calls 2QR complex, an ingredient derived from the aloe vera plant, and claims it encourages the natural healing process. It promises to soothe sore, inflamed skin for fast relief.
Expert verdict: ‘Piles occur when blood vessels in the anus become enlarged and swollen as a result of straining or other factors that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as lifting heavy objects, says consultant gastroenterologist Dr Maxwell Asante.
‘These blood-filled bulges of tissue can protrude and, when the skin gets rubbed against the bottom cheeks and clothing, can become irritated and itchy.
‘This product contains mainly soothing ingredients — aloe vera extract and polyglucomic acid cross polymer (a moisturiser) have both been found anec- dotally to help heal irritated anal skin — but there’s no robust medical data. This cream may help soothe the skin but it won’t cure the piles.’
Microlax Rectum Enema, pack of 12, £17, amazon.co.uk
Claim: Squeeze a little gel using a soft single-use pipette into the rectum to get the bowels moving within ten minutes, says the maker.
Expert verdict: Dr Asante says: ‘Constipation is caused by sluggish colon movements — this product contains sodium citrate and sodium alkylsulphoacetate, which draw water into the lower bowel to soften the stool and make it easier to push out.
‘This can be beneficial for a stagnated stool stuck in the last part of the colon, but it won’t help if it’s stuck further upstream.
‘The best way to alleviate constipation is by addressing the causes, for instance, drinking more water. If symptoms persist for longer than a fortnight, see your doctor.’
Microlax Rectum Enema
The Leg Master, £89.95, legmaster.co.uk
Claim: This piece of equipment — which looks like a pogo stick — claims to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to reduce bladder leakages. You stand upright on the metal frame and pull the sliding foot panels in towards the body, repeating for just a minute each day.
Expert verdict: Maria Vella, a consultant gynaecologist at BMI St Edmunds Hospital in Suffolk says: ‘This is aimed at treating stress incontinence (due to a weakened pelvic floor), but I can’t find any robust research to support its use for this condition.
‘The website says the device is clinically proven but this appears to be from a small-scale study and I’m not sure the claim has been verified independently. It’s also difficult to be sure if it will definitely target the correct pelvic floor muscles.’
The Leg Master
Stays-Hard penile support, £39.99, stays-hard.com
Claim: Developed in conjunction with urologists, this double wire loop goes around the base and tip of penis and has a piece of wire in the middle to increase blood flow and help maintain erections, says the maker.
Expert verdict: ‘This device is not something I have come across before,’ says Guy Webster, a consultant urologist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and BMI Kings Oak Hospital.
‘Some men report it’s useful but I’m not sure how pulling the penis upright will increase blood flow any more than arousal itself. I recommend patients try a penis vacuum pump, which can increase erections by encouraging blood to flow into it.’
Stays-Hard penile support
A remedy for uncomfortable dryness
In2mate, 75ml, £4.50, skinshop.co.uk
Claim: This contains levan, a plant sugar that forms a thin layer over a plant’s surface to stop it drying out. The maker says it does the same to vaginal skin, helping lock in moisture. It also contains prebiotics to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and prevent infection. Apply one pump, twice daily.
Expert verdict: Debjani Mukhopadhyay, a consultant gynaecologist at Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and BMI The London Independent Hospital in Stepney, says: ‘Vaginal dryness is caused by a drop in oestrogen — this can lead to the acidic pH level of the vagina becoming more alkaline, which is ideal for bad bacteria to flourish and infections to develop. Levan may contribute to lubrication and has been shown in plant studies to form a biofilm to protect leaves.
‘But I’m most impressed by the addition of the biolin, a ‘prebiotic’ compound that encourages the growth of good bacteria.
A 2016 study by the respected Dermoklinika Medical Centre in Poland found this ingredient can help chafed, higher pH and infected skin, so I’m confident it would do the same for vaginal tissue.’