Thursday, May 13, 2010

Breastmilk as an acne treatment

cluster of acne pimples on a face


All right, I've been suffering for the last two weeks in silence … and all for science.

I've been trying to use breastmilk (my own, squirtable white gold) to combat my adult acne.

Want some background? Sure, let's delve in.

My skin is pretty much the thing I hate most about me. To be specific, the skin on my face. Yes, the face everyone sees. The one I can't, culturally speaking, get away with hiding. (Come on, why have veils gone out of fashion?) It's kind of (excruciatingly) annoying.

Some people think of acne as a teenage thing. Because, for most men and for some women, it is. Men tend to outgrow acne by their early twenties, but for adult women who suffer from acne, women's acne is so hormonally based that it continues on … sometimes till menopause. Joy!

I have gone through almost all the systemic and topical treatments for acne that are out there, and then for several years I settled on the Regimen outlined at Acne.org and explained in this old post of mine. Basically, it's using consistent and ample applications of a low-percentage benzoyl peroxide. I still support that treatment option because (1) it's cheap, (2) it's considered safe, even for pregnant or breastfeeding women (as far as the available research goes), (3) it's easily procured, and (4) it works.

That said, a year or so ago, I came across a different treatment plan that was supposed to be better for my skin, particularly as I aged. Seeing as I am, oh so hastily, aging, I decided to give it a go. It worked as well as the benzoyl peroxide — not better, but just as well, and I was hoping it was helping protect my skin a bit from aging. I can't decide whether or not to link to the plan or explain it, just because maybe it will muddy the waters (it's more expensive, harder to obtain, not natural, etc.). You can let me know, though, if you're interested. But in short, it involves an acid exfoliator (BHA) along with a product that encourages the dead skin cells to turn over faster (a retinol). Whereas benzoyl peroxide works by suffocating the bacteria that cause acne, this other treatment works by unclogging pores and keeping the skin cells regenerating. Adult acne sufferers, as I understand it, have sluggish skin in that respect.

So, OK, all was well and good until several months ago … I became Elephant Man. To be more precise, I started looking like a burn victim. I don't know if it was the winter dryness, my aging (there it is again!) skin, or just a delayed reaction, but suddenly my completely not sensitive skin started peeling, flaking, and turning raw and bright red. I backed off the medications slightly in response, which meant now I had raw, red, peeling skin — and fresh pimples. Hooray!

Clearly, I needed to try something else. I was torn. Did I go back to my old standby, benzoyl peroxide, which had been waiting so patiently for me shoved in the back of my toiletry stash? What I most hated about benzoyl peroxide was its ability to bleach every piece of fabric within a five-block radius. I put up with it (the splotchy bedclothes, the shirts with rings of white around the collar) when it was all I had, but now I'd been bleach-free for over a year and I really kinda liked it.

I thought I'd take this opportunity, instead, to get funky. Natural funky. I first tried the Oil Cleansing Method. I could write more about that another day, because I actually do like it for the cleansing, but it wasn't enough to keep me from breaking out. Now that I'd stopped all medicine, the pimples were popping up here and there, so every few days to a week I would try just a wee bit of my BHA/retinol treatment to see if I could tolerate it — but, no. Immediately, raw, red, flaking skin, even though it did help hold some of the worst zits at baby.

Then I saw this splashed all over the news:

Face cream 'made from breast milk
could cure teenage acne', study claims


Long ago, I'd heard about using plain old breastmilk on acne through other bloggers, but it was back in my satisfactory treatment days, and I didn't want to go off something that was working effectively to possibly mess up my skin by, you know, just dabbing breastmilk on it.

But, in many ways, it seemed to make sense. Breastmilk has lauric acid, which should help exfoliate. It also has antibacterial properties, which should help inoculate the pests causing the acne. Two birds with one squirt, no?

So, two weeks ago, I'd finally given up on using any of my former harsh medicines but was still torn about going back on the BP, so I thought: Oh, why the heck not? I'll give this breastmilk-as-acne-treatment thing the old college try!

Now, the study referenced in the papers uses a lauric acid-based cream. Lauric acid is also found in coconut oil. So I'm not clear how much breastmilk has found its way into to the bottled product, and human trials are only just beginning. I can't find much information about it other than the same recycled sound bites that are in every paper.

And I don't, alas, have the gold nanoparticle delivery system (swanky!) mentioned in the study, but I do have two boobs and (for now) an ample supply of breastmilk. So I started expressing a little in my palm each morning and night and dab-dab-dabbing it onto my face. I've tried to use a lot, in the interests of science. And I've tried to make sure I use it twice a day, approximately twelve hours apart, just like a real topical medicine.

And I committed to trying this treatment out for a full six weeks, which in my experience was always cited as the minimum time for testing if any particular acne treatment worked.

I resolved to use my breastmilk regimen faithfully and no matter what happened report back to you, my readers, as to the results of the experiment.

Only, it's two weeks in, and I'm wondering if you could spring me early.

Here are my updates so far. Pretend you're reading my little acne-fighter's journal.

Beginning of Week 1:

Putting the breastmilk on is a little tricky because of how runny it is, but I think I'm putting on ample amounts. I know something's working, because my skin is a little tight and flaky from the acid in the milk. It's not bad enough to really irritate me, though.

I'm enjoying having such an easy face-care routine. I don't have to get out any special tubes or do any prep work. I'm not even washing my face except with water, to make sure I'm not tampering with the results in any way — this should be all about the effects of the breastmilk and only the breastmilk.


End of Week 1:

I am starting to break out. I have about four big pimples on my chin (the worst patch of skin on my face), and my forehead is getting tiny bumps. I can feel more large zits sprouting beneath the surface in various places. My shoulders and chest are breaking out again, too, so I've been patting breastmilk there as well.

I'm finding breastmilk slightly drying on my face. It continues to feel tight after I apply it, making me wonder about the recommendations to use breastmilk on cracked nipples. I know body skin is generally not as sensitive as facial skin, so maybe it's fine. But I should remember to tell women who are experiencing extremely cracked nipples to go with something more moisturizing or moisture-sealing, like lanolin.

I'm wondering if I can commit to this for a full six weeks if my face gets worse. So far, it's manageable with makeup and a healthy sense of I'm-doing-this-for-science-dang-it. But the thing is, no one in real life
knows I'm doing it for science, and my mother-in-law's visiting and taking lots of pictures. We'll see.

End of Week 2:

Holy zit face, Batman. It's terrible. I'm 34 going on 14, and not in a good way.

I've got five zits on my chin that are demanding their own zip codes and cell phone towers, plus smaller pimples sprawling in the outskirts of the metropolises; I'm sprouting nice red dots on my forehead that my bangs don't hide (stupid, pointless bangs! do your job!); and my forehead and cheeks are all over bumps, giving me a look like textured wallpaper when the light hits from certain angles.

Not only that, but I leaned in close to the mirror (never a good idea, my friends), and discovered that I have so! many! blackheads! I squeezed a few out, just to make myself feel better, but the rest are stubborn and staying put.

I'm thinking about a few things:
  1. I have not outgrown acne, as I keep hoping against hope.
  2. Zits really hurt. My chin is so tender, and matters are not improved any by Mikko's tendency to poke at all the fascinating pus-filled spots.
  3. Makeup can do only so much when 3-D deformities are involved.
  4. We're supposed to take some formal family portraits this week with Grandma. I will definitely be sitting that out.
  5. Breastmilk, as with the oil cleansing method, might work fine on its own for mild to moderate acne sufferers. Clearly my acne is still severe, despite my having kept it tamped down a bit the past several years (leading me, off and on, to the false hope that maybe I'd outgrown it).
  6. I don't know how much more my self-esteem can take.

So I put it to you, my lovely readers. Would you keep up the trial for the full six weeks, in case the acne I have right now is residual acne from my previous treatment cessation and not related to the breastmilk at all? (It's possible, but it's not looking good, you know? Literally.) Even if you wouldn't subject yourself to such an indignity, would you like me to continue, in the interests of scientific discovery? Do you think I should try to find a different test subject with milder acne, so we can give this a proper go? (Any volunteers?)

I don't think I can go on without a clamoring of support. But if you want to use your powers of support to tell me to stop already, I can live with that, too.

Please vote in my super-special poll as to whether I should continue, yes or no. I decided to keep the poll simple. You can add nuance in the comments if you like.





Thank you! My beleaguered face and I await your consensus.

Photo courtesy Caitlinator on flickr (cc).
No, my face does not look that good, and no,
I'm not interested in posting a photo to prove it.

31 comments:

Mallory said...

Oh, you are a brave woman! I voted to end your experiment...but I think you should try washing your face with honey now. From the research that I have done, honey produces a mild form of peroxide when it evaporates. Plus, if you let it crystallize a little, it will exfoliate really well. AND, it smells and tastes good, and doesn't stain like regular peroxide.

I would try the breastmilk myself, but I don't have any right now. Maybe I will try it in September, when I have so much I don't know what to do with it all!

Elita said...

I TOTALLY feel your pain on this. I still get hormonal break outs and it is the WORST. I say stop the breast milk (I've tried it myself to dry up pimples and it never worked for me either.) For me, what works the best is some combination of glycolic acid and Retin-A. Harsh and requires a doctor's visit, but I don't think anything works better.

the grumbles said...

i'll admit, i'm very very curious. but please, don't torture yourself! something about having super-breakoutface just makes me feel like absolute CRAP.

i used to express some and rub it on jude's baby acne in the first few weeks and it did seem to make a positive difference.

Kristi {at} Live and Love...Out Loud said...

While I think it's great that you've toughed it out for this long all in the name of science for pimply-faced women everywhere, I think it's time to quit. Your heroic efforts will not go unnoticed, but your neither will your pimples.
Okay seriously, there's no reason you should walk around feeling so self-conscious. Do what makes you feel better. I really hope you find a solution. Good luck!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting on the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba. Not. lol Have a great day.

Kristi, Live and Love...Out Loud
@TweetingMama

Rachel Clear said...

I voted that you stop the treatment as well. I mean, come on. If it gets worse and worse and the end result is horrific, you will really have you work cut out for you. :(

Might I ask if you've seen a naturopath and discussed if any of your break-outs or skin condition could be food-related, scent-related, or allergin-related? I had a friend who was suprised to find that her break-outs were allergic reactions to something in her diet and when she cut the right thing out (I cannot remember what it was) she noticed a huge change in her skin AND in headaches she was having. Just an idea. I'm sure you've already done that.

I'm sorry. I feel for you, because this would really suck.

You are brave to be so authentic and honest with your struggles.

Betsy B. Honest said...

dude

been there tried that

not for six weeks mind you...

my adult acne finally went away (knocking on wood)

the things I found that work best are moisturize lots! I used to always think drying out my skin would work to calm acne but it doesn't - dry skin is just way vulnerable to everything

and changing my pillowcases lots!

An aha moment for me though that it was all just hormones was when I was tandem nursing my first two babies and I got acne on my chin, the newborn got acne on his chin, and my preschooler got acne on her chin -- all cause of hormones in me and my milk

TopHat said...

You could try honey like Mallory suggested. It wouldn't hurt at least. It did smell and feel nice.

The only long-term solution I've found is getting pregnant. After the first trimester, my skin has smooth sailing until my cycles start up again. Sorry- it's not the most feasible solution, I know.

If I come up with something else, I'll let you know.

Amber said...

I have adult acne, and I wash my face with honey. It hasn't eliminated all breakouts, but it definitely has improved things. I also have sensitive skin, and I think the honey manages to clean without drying and irritating, which leads to worse break-outs. Just in case, you know, you're looking for yet ANOTHER science experiment. ;)

As for this one, I think 2 weeks is ample. You should be on the upswing by now, so if it's getting worse I'd spring you.

Missy said...

adult acne came up in our la leche league meeting yesterday! wish the breast milk had worked, was definitely worth a try.. but i agree - you shouldn't torture yourself anymore!

LambAround said...

I think it's time to throw in the (breastmilk soaked) towel! Have you tried tea tree oil for your face? I've had a lot of luck with it. Just be sure to dilute it (I have a scar to prove the importance of this little warning!)

http://lambaround.blogspot.com

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

I don't have anything profound to say, but I was laughing aloud reading this post.

I still get zits, too. I'm sure my mom-in-law the lactation consultant would tell me to treat with breastmilk, but she thinks I should treat everything with breastmilk. :-)

lauren. said...

i just can't accept that there isn't a natural way to deal with acne. i believe that there is a natural way to deal with all of our ailments, whether it's preventative or reactive. i haven't researched any alternative acne treatments, because it's not something that i deal with personally, but there has to be something that will REALLY work for you & not just be satisfactory!

i think you should keep it up for another week or so, not necessarily the whole six weeks. otherwise, i think you'll always wonder whether or not it may have worked.

in the meantime, i'll do some research for you & keep you in my prayers!

GOOD LUCK!

Kat said...

Hmmm tough choice! Could it be that you are breaking out a bit more than normal because of hormones? You know that good ol' time of month? Just thinking here...

I sometimes get a few pimples here and there and I've used breastmilk on them and for me it does work! After two or three days they are dried up and gone. I wonder what that third variable is!?

I would vote to stop if the breakout is bad...it can't be good to be in discomfort! But you do what you feel is right for you!

Oh and I also agree on the tea tree oil...it works for me (when I don't have breastmilk!).

Good luck!!!

Maman A Droit said...

Interesting idea! I've heard of using milk in facials, so I'm sure it's good for your skin, but sounds like it alone may not be enough. I wonder if you need an exfoliant too-that's the problem I always have-my body kind of sucks at getting rid of dead and dry skin on my own. I get weird splotchy dry skin spot-maybe I should do my own science experiment! And maybe you could find one of those make-your-own facial recipes and substitute breastmilk where it calls for cow milk!

Maman A Droit said...

Here's a kind of complicated routine (but it'd be worth it if it clears up your acne naturally, right?) & you could sub in breastmilk: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44033-2004Nov11.html

And here are links to a whole bunch of "masks" you can make at home from things like honey and oatmeal. The "milk mask" says it's for dry skin. Perhaps there's a clue to why it's not working for you-maybe you need drying instead of hydrating? I don't know enough about the science of either breastmilk or acne to know!
http://beauty.about.com/od/skinflaws/a/facemasks.htm

Pickle said...

I use the same product as you acne.org. I love it and it works. I'm disappointed that you found your face red :( I only use it once a day... and no red face so far...

I had a pimple last week. And I put some breastmilk on it. I don't really think it worked but maybe.

Did you see MyworldEdenwild's post about acne? She thinks hers is caused by lack of fiber in her diet. I was really intrigued by this. the link is here.
http://edenwild.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/a-healthy-acne-cure/

good luck!! I hope it gets better. I don't have a vote either way... just use what actually works.

Lisa C said...

Sweetie, I think it's time to leave your face ALONE. Okay, use the benzyl peroxide if that will help. I know how horrible acne is. It IS painful, and it does make us feel much less beautiful than we really are. But you've read my post on acne...eat as healthy as you can, make sure you are eliminating efficiently! If that doesn't work, you may have a food allergy or something else going on. Remember, acne is a SYMPTOM. I hope you can find your answer. When I found mine it made all the difference in the world. Also remember that unhappy skin will react badly to all kinds of things...some types of makeup, cleansers, moisturizers...maybe even breastmilk! Good luck. I really feel for you.

hushmama said...

first, i'm going to buy some honey today after reading all your comments.
and second, i say stop the breastmilk treatment if it isn't working. i know how bad pimples can hurt and they make me want to hide under a blanket about once a month. i've heard good things about coconut oil but it didn't do good things for me. so maybe the tea tree oil then?
my husband has always had acne. he went on a steroid for a rash last summer and bam...cleared right up. we know it must be an allergy but we still don't know what is causing it.

mamamilkers said...

So there with you! I voted to stop. You would know if it was working by now.

I did the BP thing and of everything I have tried that has worked the best. when i was getting married I also used it on my back/chest but now only my face bc of the staining.

My mom had acne until she got a hysterectomy in her 40s. Thinking that isn't such a bad idea now that I'm done having kids . . . .

mamamilkers said...

Also, as you know, I just did an elimination diet. While the ED helped my body in many ways, it didn't affect my acne at all.

I know you're still BFing but my only other thought was using hormonal birth control to see if that helps.

Melodie said...

I have adult acne too. It started when I was 24 and I had to go on major medications for it. It got a bit better but I hated taking such harsh medication so I stopped. I'm happy to hear about the peroxide - I'll have to try that. I don't really do anything to fix my skin now. It totally revolves around my period. I don't chart anymore since my husband got the old snip snip, but I can tell where I'm at by my face! Ugh! When it's really bad I use some Proactiv that I have leftover from a few years back and that always helps a bit. Especially when they are painful. If you are really unhappy, find another test subject. Don't torture yourself. I bet you could find someone in no time if you tweet or FB this asking someone to do it for you. :)

Anonymous said...

ok, I would say from what I used on my face, I did suffer from it, wash with mild soup like pure-use a cleansing before going to bed (never ignore cleansing)-like clean and clear or other brand- do not use soups that make your skin extra dry, as you age this will creat a black heads, also after shower rub gentely the none affected area -in order to keep skin clean-with clean towl, and whenever you see and feel one acne poping out, before it comes apply on antibiotic cream like fucidin (the magic cream!!) but apply only on the acne it self, NOT your whole face as it is a heavy cream.
once your face clears, try keeping your skin clean, by peeling and scruping every once in a while.
hope this helps.

Oh, and I tried before all kinds of ance treatments, but it did not work.

Anonymous said...

Do you think it may be rosacea? My brother thought it was just adult acne, but dr. said it was rosacea. He got some meds, watched his diet and it cleared up. -kika

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

I'm planning a follow-up post after sticking it out for a compromise of 3 weeks, but here are some comment responses for now. (And I took pictures! Horrible, horrible pictures.)

Mallory: I love raw honey as a healing agent, so I will give it a try!

Elita: Yeah, the second treatment I was using was salicylic acid and Retin-A (but generic and super cheap from India, so I could avoid a doctor and prescription — my health insurance is the worst), but that's what was making me peel, unfortunately. I might try a lower strength and see how that goes, but I tried that before and it did nothing. Maybe my skin's changing?

The Grumbles: I've heard good things about breastmilk and baby acne. I'm thinking maybe just mild acne in general would respond better, so that makes sense. It's not like the babies are producing their own hormonal baggage.

Kristi: Thank you for the support! It has been pretty hideously uncomfortable.

Rachel Clear: You're right. I'm trying to clear up my mess now before trying something else. Sigh. I should look into seeing if they're triggered from something specific. Unfortunately, I'd have to pay for it all out of pocket, but it would be worth it if there were one miracle reason.

Betsy: I'm jealous. I will try to do laundry more. I'm so lazy, seriously.

TopHat: All right, that's it. Getting pregnant it is. :)

Amber: Another vote for honey. That will be next after my skin clears up with more conventional methods.

LambAround: I've heard of/been scared of tea tree oil for just the reason you mention. I'll have to look into it further. Thanks! That can be after the honey.

Kate: Your mom-in-law's awesome.

Lauren: Maybe there isn't a natural way because it's natural to have zits?? :) No, I don't know. I'm wondering, though, maybe acne is just supposed to be, for some reason. Or not. Maybe it's my crappy diet.

Kat: When I was charting, I tried noting whenever I broke out and never found a pattern. I wrote this post in the middle between ovulation and my period, so I don't think it's only hormonal. I mean, I know it is partially, but not just. For some women, they only break out once or twice a month at ovulation and/or their period, but I'm one of those lucky all-the-timers. Sigh. Another vote for tea tree oil, so that's on my list.

Maman A Droit: The acids I was using before are supposed to exfoliate, but I guess they were super exfoliating and causing me the rawness. I actually didn't try manually exfoliating when on the breastmilk, but I'd have thought the acid would function as a type of chemical exfoliant. Maybe I should have combined it with a physical (as in, toweling off the dry skin). Thanks for the link and masks. I will have to give those a try for the next experiments.

Pickle: The acne.org regimen doesn't make my face red at all — I loved it. I just didn't love the bleaching! No, it was a different regimen (salicylic acid + retinoic acid) that was making me red and peeling.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

(Part 2 because I'm wordy.)

Lisa C: Leaving my face alone makes me look horrible, but I know what you're saying. I really love that you found the one thing (fiber) that works to clear your skin, and I wish (oh, how I wish) that I had the discipline to stick to a magic diet that will cure my acne. But I'm facing two problems: (1) I don't know what that magic diet is. I did a lot of research on this awhile back and it was all contradictory, with one expert saying eat these things and the other expert saying don't eat those same things, etc. I was all prepared to commit, too, but I couldn't figure out what to commit to! It would take forever to test it all out, especially considering how long it would take to see a dietary change take effect on the skin. (2) I have no willpower where diets are concerned. None. I wish this were different, but it is what it is. I'm trying to improve, a little bit at a time, but there's currently no way I'd trust myself to, say, go raw vegan and see if that clears me up and then gradually add things back in one at a time. I'd last maybe a day.

hushmama: I like oils like coconut and jojoba for cleansing and moisturizing, but yeah, I can't get them to cure my acne. Interesting about your husband!

mamamilkers: You saw my skin in person. You can testify how hideous I am. :) I used to use the BP on my chest/back too and stopped for the same reason. Ugh on the bleaching! And, see, that's interesting about the elimination diet, because you've been really good on it. I've tried multiple forms of hormonal birth control, and my only conclusion is that the wrong kind does serious damage to my face while the right kind does nothing at all. Which, again, leads me to believe that in my case it's not only hormonal.

Melodie: You know, you're right — I could find another test subject.

Anonymous 1: Interesting about the antibiotic cream. I'll have to look into that.

Anonymous 2: That's a good point, but I'm confident mine is acne. It's got all the classic looks, and several doctors have said it's severe acne, including the same doctor who diagnosed my mom with rosacea. But you're totally right that some people mistake the two, and treating one won't treat the other.

P.S. I thought it was interesting that most people who commented told me to stop, but 1/3 of the poll responders voted to keep going.

Anonymous said...

A bit late on this discussion, but I have a couple of ideas why your breast milk didn't help your acne but made it worse instead. First, your milk contains hormones, and whether your skin overreacts to normal hormones or you actually have a hormonal imbalance, applying topical hormones probably isn't a good thing. Secondly, you probably don't have good antibodies against the acne causing bacteria, or else you wouldn't have acne. Maybe you can't fight off the bacteria, or my theory behind adult acne is that there is an atypical inflammatory response to normal bacteria. Anyway, I hope you're on a good regimen now. I use the same products you mentioned for my acne but wish I could find a cure.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

@Anonymous: All your points are pretty brilliant, actually. I've been watching my newborn (3 months now) go through multiple acne flares as well, which are caused by my own hormones (from when he was in utero and now from breastmilk, I assume), which means — my hormones pretty much suck for acne. :P I, too, wish there were a cure. Besides, you know, just waiting, waiting, waiting…

Mamas said...

Just rad your post i find that bio oil has been really helpful, its recommended for stretch marks and other scars, bottle reads acne too , i, a picker and its bee helping to heal my skin

Gitana said...

LEMON JUICE. It is miraculous. Either straight or diluted, put it on at night, not before going into the sun. It is incredible. I use breastmilk too, and my sleep deprived dry skin looks luminous. Aloe vera is an amazing soother too. Make sure not to let the lemon juice dry your skin out. Put it undiluted on the biggest problems and mix it with water for the rest. Use real lemons, not pre packaged juice...

Rebecca said...

I had TERRIBLE acne after I gave birth. Almost every time. What seems to be most consistently helpful is Avon Skincare Pro line. The cleanser, toner and moisturizer kit. It was awesome. It made me feel like a human again. The salicylic acid worked WAY better on my skin than the benzoyl peroxide stuff. Tried Proactiv and that stuff burned so bad that I had tears pouring uncontrollably down my face. Plus it smelled bad. Avon stuff worked within a day for some noticeable difference. Within a week, it was almost all gone. Also, when I wasn't so bad, raw honey makes a good mask.

Kristy Haworth said...

Hi there. I feel your pain! It is a horrible experience. I was just wondering if you have attributed your skin issues to anything other than hormones? While I was pregnant I had THE WORST acne ever and it was so depressing but after the baby was born it continued so I stated eliminating. First cab off the rank was MILK. WAAAALAAAAA! My skin started clearing. This meant no icecream, no cheese, no skinny lates BUT ALSO no ACNE.
Occasionally I slip up and have some ice cream or cheese and the next few days - like clockwork- there is the break out.
Just my experience and it might help someone else who is reading this too which would be great.
All the best :)

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