Treating acne is big business, to the tune of more than $3 billion a year. If you have it, you are among about 17 million people in the U.S. who account for its cost.
About 85 percent of people between ages 12 and 24 have at least minor acne at some point, as it’s most common in teenagers and young adults. Young men are more likely to have acne for longer periods of time because testosterone tends to make it worse.
A prudent daily management regimen includes gently washing the affected area with a mild cleanser morning, evening, and after workouts. Don’t scrub; it just makes the acne worse. You should also shampoo your hair often, daily if it’s oily.
Use “noncomedogenic” and “nonacnegenic” (does not clog pores) and oil-free cosmetics, toiletries, and sunscreens. Better yet, try wearing no makeup. Avoid astringents, which could dry the skin. Never pop, squeeze, or pick at acne, which could cause scarring.
It’s also prudent to be aware of changes in the weather, because sweat clogs pores and can make acne worse. At the other end of the spectrum, severe cold can dry your skin out.
This may sound strange, but frequently washing or changing your bed linens might help because the oil in your skin will transfer onto your pillows and sheets. It can then recontaminate your skin by transferring back the bacteria it contains. Another good reason is that basic hygiene beckons.
Drink a lot of water. You’re supposed to anyway for general health. Dehydration applies to acne because it makes it harder for the skin to exfoliate, which is another source of pore blockage.
Dermatologists also counsel their patients to reduce stress or have depression treated because research has found both can worsen acne breakouts. Yoga and exercise are two good ways to lessen both.
Most importantly, you should seek professional treatment early for severe acne that doesn’t react to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. You will greatly increase the chances of reducing your acne and lessen the risk of scarring.
You need to accept that acne is tough and persistent. It doesn’t go away overnight, and treatment (either at home or by a doctor) takes time and effort. “Despite the claims, acne treatment does not work overnight,” says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). “At-home treatment requires four to eight weeks to see improvement. Once acne clears, you must continue to treat the skin to prevent breakouts.”
While the exact causes of acne are unknown, research points to several factors, primarily an increase in hormones called androgens. A rise in this hormone causes your oil glands to enlarge and produce more oil, which can change into a thick white substance called sebum.
Other causes, either alone or in combination, are believed to be genetics, prescribed medications, oil-based cosmetics, stress, depression, physical irritation, humidity, and environmental pollution.
The oil (and sebum) clogs your skin pores, breaking down the pore walls, which encourages bacteria to grow and pimples to develop. Types of pimples include whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. Generally, in order, those go from relatively mild to deep, painful, and more difficult to treat.
Typical OTC medications contain benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, sulfur, azelaic acid, or Retin-A. Each works differently and is available in many forms, including creams and pads.
All these products are available at different strengths. Starting with the lowest concentration is prudent because many people have side effects, including skin irritation, burning, or redness.
Some alternative treatments have been shown to work. One is tee tree oil, which works like benzoyl peroxide. You might even find that acupuncture works; many people have reported it does help.
If your acne is of the more severe kind, professionals say that oral antibiotics are a standard of care. That also includes less severe cases that are resistant to topical therapy or that cover a large area of the face. At that point you need to see a dermatologist.
Combination therapies using oral antibiotics and topical retinoids have been found to be effective, says the AAD. Laser and light-based technologies “continue to be researched” for their effects on mild to moderate acne, the AAD adds.
Some dermatologists are using them already in cases of adult acne. Although acne is more common in teens and young adults, some adults continue to get acne well into their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, the AAD says. You can even get acne for the first time well into your 50s, especially women in menopause.
In light therapy, the doctor uses a cream that makes the skin more sensitive to light, which causes inflammation that shrinks oil glands and destroys acne bacteria.
Chemical peels are used to treat two types of acne –blackheads and papules. A dermatologist also may recommend a procedure called “drainage and extraction” to remove a large acne cyst. This helps when the acne does not respond to any form of medication.
You might be asking, “Why me?” There is a genetic component. If your parents had acne, you’re at increased risk. Beyond that, research has found that acne bacteria (which lives on everyone’s skin) have “bad” strains and “good” strains. Some unlucky people have more bad than good. Respectively, they are responsible for acne or may protect the skin.
While this finding doesn’t help you today, it may in the near future with new therapies to prevent and treat this disfiguring skin disorder by tilting the skin in favor of the good bacteria.
June 04, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN