Acne is a common skin disease that causes pimples. Pimples form when the tiny hair follicles in your skin are blocked by dead skin and oil. This causes bacteria to grow and irritate the skin. Most pimples form on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. It is not serious and with better acne treatments it clears away. However severe acne can cause scars.
Acne is so common that it has become a normal part of puberty. But knowing that doesn’t always make it easier when you’re looking at a big pimple on your face in the mirror. So what is it, and what acne treatments are available?
No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during puberty and pregnancy, probably play a role. There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on acne in most people.
Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne. However, blackheads and pimples are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn’t cause acne, but stress can make it worse.
What acne treatments available?
Today, there are many effective acne treatments. This does not mean that every acne treatment works for everyone who has acne. But it does mean that virtually every case of acne can be controlled. Treatments for acne depends on how severe it is. It can take several months of treatment before acne symptoms improve. You can use over-the-counter and prescription medicines. Your doctor will determine which is best for you. These includes:
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
This is the most common treatment. It comes in the form of a lotion, gel, soap, or cleansing pad. It kills the bacteria and dries up the oil. Treatment may take up to 8 weeks to see any improvement. Use it 2-3 times a week and working up to every night. Wash and dry your face completely before applying it. You should use a very small amount-about the size of a pencil eraser.
It should be used sparingly, as too much can irritate your skin. It also makes your face more sensitive to sunlight. Therefore, avoid too much sun and ultraviolet (UV) light, or wear sun cream. Benzoyl peroxide can have a bleaching effect, so avoid getting it on your hair or clothes. Side effects include additional skin irritation, burning, and redness.
Topical antibiotics help kill the bacteria on the skin that can infect plugged hair follicles. They’re available as a lotion or gel. It is applied once or twice a day. You can apply it directly to your face. In some products, topical antibiotic contains other acne treatments. Side effects are uncommon, but can include: minor irritation of the skin, redness and burning of the skin. Sometimes, there’s also peeling of the skin.
Antibiotic tablets (oral antibiotics) are usually used in combination with a topical treatment to treat more severe acne. In most cases, a class of antibiotics called tetracyclines is prescribed. But you cannot use it when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women are usually take erythromycin. It is safer to use. It usually takes about 6 weeks before you notice an improvement in your acne. Depending on how well you react to the treatment, a course of oral antibiotics can last 4 to 6 months.
Tetracyclines can make your skin sensitive to sunlight and UV light. It can also make the oral contraceptive pill less effective during the first few weeks of treatment. You’ll need to use an alternative method of contraception, such as condoms, during this time.
Topical retinoids work by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This helps to prevent them building up within hair follicles. They’re available in a gel or cream. Apply once daily before you go to bed. Apply to all the parts of your face affected by acne 20 minutes after washing your face. It’s important to apply topical retinoids sparingly. Also avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and UV.
They are not suitable for use during pregnancy. Because there’s a risk they might cause birth defects. The most common side effects of topical retinoids are mild irritation and stinging of the skin. A 6 week course is usually required, but you may be advised to continue using the medication less frequently after this.
Birth control pills
For women who break out mainly around their menstrual cycle, some birth control pills can help. Research shows that these pills can clear acne by slowing down over-active oil glands in the skin. Sometimes, birth control pills are used along with a drug called spironolactone. This medication lowers levels of the hormone androgen in the body. Androgen stimulates the skin’s oil glands. Side effects of this drug include irregular menstruation, breast tenderness, headache and fatigue.
Isotretinoin has a number of beneficial effects. It:
- helps to normalise sebum and reduce how much is produced
- helps to prevent follicles becoming clogged
- decreases the amount of bacteria on the skin
- reduces redness and swelling in and around spots
However, the drug can also cause a wide range of side effects. It’s only recommended for severe cases of acne that haven’t responded to other treatments. Because of the risk of side effects, isotretinoin can only be prescribed by a specially trained doctor or a dermatologist.
Isotretinoin is an oral tablet. Most people take a 4 to 6 month course. Your acne may get worse during the first 7 to 10 days of treatment. However, this is normal and soon settles. Common side effects of isotretinoin include: inflammation, dryness and cracking of the skin, lips and nostrils. Also there’s changes in your blood sugar levels.
Tips and guidelines when using acne treatments
Acne products are just one step in your skin care routine. When using acne products:
- Wash problem areas twice daily. Use a gentle nonsoap cleanser and don’t overdo it. Excessive washing and scrubbing can worsen acne. Scrubs that dissolve during washing are the least abrasive. Scrubs with ground fruit pits and aluminum oxide tend to be more abrasive.
- Try cleansing cloths or towelettes. These are gentle alternatives to cleansers and washes. Cloths with an open weave are good for dry, sensitive skin. Cloths with a tighter weave are better at removing dead skin cells.
- Consider pore-clearing adhesive pads. These products (Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, others) are intended to remove dirt, oil and plugs from pores. You apply the strip to wet skin, let it dry and then peel it off. Further study is needed to prove their use in treating and preventing acne. Don’t use them more than once every three days.
- Don’t use too much. Apply just enough acne product to cover the problem areas. Apply it just after cleansing the skin. Some cloths and towelettes come with benzoyl peroxide and other active ingredients in them. Therefore you don’t need to apply more product with these active ingredients after cleansing.
- Use an oil-free, water-based moisturizer. This helps alleviate dry, peeling skin.
- Avoid oily cosmetics, sunscreens and hair products. Use products labeled water-based.
- Don’t pick or squeeze blemishes. Infection or scarring may result.
- Watch what touches your face. Keep your hair clean and off your face. Also avoid resting your hand or phone against the side of your face.
Additional acne treatments
Your dermatologist may treat your acne with a procedure. This can be performed during an office visit. These treatments include:
- Lasers and other light therapies: These devices reduce the bacteria on your skin. Your dermatologist can determine whether this type of treatment can be helpful.
- Chemical peels: You cannot buy the chemical peels that dermatologists use. Dermatologists use chemical peels to treat 2 types of acne — blackheads and papules.
- Acne removal: Your dermatologist may perform a procedure called “drainage and extraction”. This is to remove a large acne cyst. This procedure helps when the cyst does not respond to medicine. It also helps ease the pain and the chance that the cyst will leave a scar. If you absolutely have to get rid of a cyst quickly, your dermatologist may inject the cyst with medicine.
Waiting for acne to clear on its own can be frustrating. Without treatment, acne can cause permanent scars, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. To avoid these problems treat acne. When the skin clears acne, treatments should continue. Treatment prevents new breakouts. Your dermatologist can tell you when you no longer need to treat acne to prevent breakouts.