Acne is not just for teenagers. Men and women of any age can be affected by the nuisance of break outs. There are numerous triggers and break outs can be intermittent and minor or, for some, more severe without periods of clearing. Although the face is the most common area people seek treatment for any body area can be affected.
Acne is the result of the sebaceous glands which are attached to the hair follicle either producing too much sebum or the sebum becoming trapped. There are 3 general types of acne:
- Comedonal Acne (white heads, black heads)
- Inflammatory Acne
- Cystic Acne
The goal with acne treatments is to decrease sebum production, increase cellular turnover, fight bacteria and decrease inflammation. Addressing the underlying triggers is also very helpful.
Triggers can include:
- diet (food sensitivities or allergies, dairy being a big culprit)
- chronic exposure from touching ones face or from phones
Treating acne can include managing any of the above triggers and treating with OTC or prescribed treatments to minimize the outbreaks. Treatment is really based on the severity of ones acne. Minor acne can usually be managed with OTC products.
What to try first? Look for products with:
- Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO) which is an antimicrobial (can ruin/bleach fabric)
- Glycolic Acid which is an AHA (alpha hydroxyl acid) derived from sugar cane
- Salicylic Acid which is a BHA (beta hydroxyl acid) derived from willow tree bark
There are numerous products available with the ingredients listed above. A well known line for acne, ProActiv, utilizes most of the above ingredients. However, there are numerous products available at the drug store or pharmacy section of the grocery store with the same ingredients. Ideally, when treating with over the counter products the skin also remains hydrated with an oil free moisturizer as drying out the skin can make matters worse by trapping more sebum under the dry skin. It is always best to give a skin care treatment at least a month (if not several months) to determine its efficacy.
If the above does not help alleviate the breakouts it is advised to see a dermatologist who can prescribe medications or treatments to help. Common treatments at a dermatologist office can include:
- The use of BCP for women to address hormonal triggers.
- Oral and/or topical antibiotics to target (most commonly) P. Acnes Bacteria, including Doxycycline, Tetracycline, Minocycline or Erythromycin.
- Tretinoin (Retin-A, Differin, Renova, Tazorac) to decrease sebum production and increase cellular turnover.
- Lasers (such as CoolTouch, IPL or Pulsed light) to decrease sebum production and target bacteria.
- Blue light therapy which targets the P. Acnes bacteria.
- Photodynamic therapy which combines topical photosensitizing agents with light therapy to target the bacteria.
- Photopneumatic therapy which uses a vacuum like device to exfoliate and extract excess or trapped sebum with the addition of light therapy.
- Steroid injections into cysts.
- Chemical peels to increase cellular turnover and decrease sebum.
- Microdermabrasion to exfoliate.
- LHR (laser hair removal) to treat pseudofolliculitis which is acne triggered by the hair growth. (commonly seen on the lower face and neck)
As a “last resort” for acne which does not respond to other treatment options a dermatologist can prescribe Isotrentinoin (Accutane). This is an oral version of tretinoin (a Vit A derivative) and decreases the production of sebum considerably. This is a medication that requires close monitoring (including pregnancy tests) while on therapy.
Another “last resort” for some patients is the use of Spironolactone (Aldactone). This is a diuretic with anti-androgen (think testosterone) side effects which help to clear chronic breakouts.
Common mistakes when trying to treat break outs is being too harsh and causing more inflammation and drying the skin out which leads to more sebum production and trapped sebum. Additionally, not giving a treatment enough time to be effective is a problem. There are no overnight “cures”.
Although it is very tempting, self extraction should be minimized. Not only do we introduce bacteria when we pick we also can cause a lesion to implode to surrounding tissues. (making it worse) A regular facial with a skin care specialist who can extract and drain acne under the proper conditions with the proper tools is preferable.
Most treatments can make you more sensitive to the sun so sunscreen is imperative. Sun exposure can also lead to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. (PIH)
Acne can be stubborn. It can be a life long struggle or an intermittent issue. Hope the above information helps to address those annoying zits!