Acne app developers in a spot of bother

Two developers look set to be ordered to stop making bogus claims about smartphone apps that could supposedly treat acne.

AcneApp and Acne Pwner both “worked” by emitting red or blue lights from the screen. The user was supposed to hold the screen next to the spotty skin for several minutes a day, with suggestions it could “kill” or “eliminate” the condition.

AcneApp even claimed to be based on a study published by the British Journal of Dermatology showing such treatments could reduce skin blemishes by 76 percent because the light killed off Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that secretes chemicals that damage the walls of blocked pores.

The Federal Trade Commission found that the developers had misrepresented the study. While the bacteria can indeed be killed by ultraviolet light, the light produced by a smartphone screen is neither the right frequency nor anywhere near the intensity required for such treatment.

Earlier this year, the British Association of Dermatologists said ” “The study mentioned from the British Journal of Dermatology doesn’t refer to the kind of light that would be emitted by a cell phone. This application won’t take care of acne and isn’t a substitute for clinically proven treatment options readily available from a physician.”

The FTC has now unanimously proposed a compulsory settlement in place of taking legal action. Under the settlement, the AcneApp creators would pay a fine of $14,294 while the person behind Acne Pwner would pay $1,700. Both would be formally barred from repeating the claims in the future. They’d also be legally barred from making any future scientific claim without evidence, or misrepresenting any scientific study; doing so would immediately make them liable to legal action.

The two cases are the first time the FTC has taken action over health claims in mobile apps.

Surprisingly the fines don’t appear to be the entire amount the developers made from the apps. AcneApp alone sold around 11,600 copies in the iTunes store at $1.99 a time, meaning the developers’ take was more than $16,000.

The settlement is out for public consultation before a second formal vote to approve next month, at which point it would take legal effect.