Most of at one time in our lives have suffered through (or probably will suffer through) this common skin condition known as Acne. Most often, acne develops on the face, back, neck, chest, and shoulders, but it can appear just about anywhere on the body. If you have acne, you’ll typically notice pimples that are white or black in appearance. Both blackheads and whiteheads are known as Comedones. Blackheads open at the surface of your skin, giving them a black appearance due to the effect of oxygen in the air.
Whiteheads are closed just under the surface of your skin, giving them a white appearance. While whiteheads and blackheads are the most common lesions seen in acne, other types can also occur. Inflamed lesions are more likely to cause scarring of the skin:
- Papules are small red, raised bumps caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles;
- Pustules are small red pimples that have pus at their tips;
- Nodules are solid, often painful lumps beneath the surface of your skin;
- Cysts are large lumps found beneath your skin that contain pus and are usually painful.
Getting into the “Root”
Each pore on your skin is the opening to a follicle. Follicles are made up of hair and a Sebaceous (oil) gland. The oil gland releases substance called Sebum (oil), which travels up the hairs, out of the pore, and onto the skin. The sebum keeps your skin lubricated and soft.
Causes of Acne
Acne can be caused by one or more problems in this lubrication process. It can occur when too much oil is produced by the follicles, where dead skin cells and bacteria accumulate and build up inside the pores. This can contribute to the development of pimples. The clogged pore means the trapped oil is unable to escape, which leads to the breakout. While some factors are hotly debated, the main causes of acne are:
- Hormonal changes in the body caused by puberty or pregnancy;
- Certain medications like birth control pills or corticosteroids;
- Poor diet – heavily refined sugars or carbohydrates, heavily fried foods, or junk food, can contribute to the problem;
- Heredity – having parents who had acne can also contribute.
Young people are most at risk for developing acne during puberty. During this time, your body undergoes drastic hormonal changes. These changes can trigger oil production, leading to an increased risk of acne. Hormonal acne related to puberty usually subsides or at least improves when a person reaches adulthood.
If you have symptoms of acne, your doctor or dermatologist can confirm your diagnosis by examining your skin. Your doctor will identify the types of lesions and their severity to determine the best treatment.
Treatment: Home Care
There are a number of self-care steps you can take at home to prevent acne and breakouts. Home remedies include:
- Regularly cleaning your skin daily with a mild soap to remove excess oil and dirt;
- Regularly shampooing your hair and keeping it off your face;
- Using water-based makeup, or makeup labeled as “non-comedogenic” (meaning not pore-clogging);
- Not wearing tight hats or headbands;
- Not touching your face;
- Cleaning up your diet. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains. Refrain from bad foods and junk food;
NOTE: Picking zits is a bit of a no-no. Popping pimples can spread bacteria if done improperly, so be sure to ask your doctor for assistance.
If self-care activities aren’t helping with your acne condition, a number of over-the-counter acne medications are available that might help. Most of these medications contain ingredients that can help kill bacteria, open pores, and reduce oily skin:
- Benzoyl peroxide is present in many acne creams and gels. It’s used for drying out existing pimples and preventing new ones. Benzoyl peroxide also kills acne-causing bacteria.
- Sulfur is a natural ingredient with a distinctive smell that is found in some lotions, cleansers, and masks.
- Resorcinol is a less common ingredient that’s used to remove dead skin cells.
- Salicylic acid is often contained in soaps and acne washes. It helps prevent pores from getting plugged up.
If these things don’t help improve your condition, Be sure to check with your doctor or dermatologist. He/she can prescribe other medications that help improve or reduce symptoms and prevent scarring.
- Oral or topical antibiotics kill pimple-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. Typically, antibiotics are usually used for a short amount of time, so the body doesn’t build up a resistance and leave you prone to infections;
- Prescription topical creams such as Retinoic Acid or prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide are often stronger formulas of over-the-counter treatments. These work to reduce oil production and open pores;
- Women with hormonal acne may be treated with birth control pills or spironolactone. These medications regulate hormones that can cause acne through a decrease in oil production;
- Isotretinoin (Accutane) is a vitamin-A-based medication that’s used to treat certain cases of severe nodular acne. It can cause serious side effects, and it’s only used when other treatments have failed.
Additionally, your doctor may recommend other procedures to treat severe acne and prevent scarring. These work by removing damaged skin, reducing oil production, or opening pores:
- Photodynamic therapy uses a medication and a special light or laser to reduce oil production and reduce bacteria. Other lasers may be used alone to help improve acne or scarring.
- Dermabrasion removes the top layers of your skin with a rotating brush and would be best used to treat acne scarring as opposed to a treatment for acne. Microdermabrasion is a milder treatment that helps open pores and remove dead skin cells.
- A chemical peel essentially removes the top layers of your skin. That skin peels off to reveal less damaged skin underneath. Chemical peels also help open pores and can improve mild acne scarring.
Your doctor may suggest using cortisone injections if your acne consists of large cysts. Cortisone is a steroid naturally produced by your body. It can reduce inflammation and speed healing. Cortisone is usually used along with other acne treatments.
Treatment Success Rates
Generally, treatment for acne is fairly successful. Most people can expect their acne to start to clear up within six to eight weeks. However, flare-ups of the condition are common and may require additional or long-term treatment. Isotretinoin is the treatment most likely to provide permanent or long-term results. Scarring that occurs as a result of acne might cause certain individuals emotional distress, however, today there are many more treatments than ever before. Your dermatologist has treatment options specifically designed to treat scarring.
It’s difficult to completely prevent acne, especially in younger people, but you can take steps at home to help help. That means:
- Washing your face twice a day with an oil-free cleanser;
- Using an over-the-counter acne cream to remove excess oil;
- Avoiding makeup that contains oil;
- Removing makeup and cleaning your skin thoroughly before bed;
- Showering after exercising;
- Avoiding tight-fitting clothing;
- Eating a healthy diet with minimal refined sugars;
- Reducing stress, a huge contributing factor!
Be sure to speak with your doctor, dermatologist or health care professional about a personal acne management regime that is right for you.