Acne is a common skin condition characterized by white heads, black heads, pimples or cystic nodules that can involve the face, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. Approximately 80% of adolescents and 10% of adults may be affected by some form of acne. While acne is not a dangerous or life threatening condition, it can lead to physical disfigurement, scarring, and emotional distress. Fortunately, there are several effective treatment options to help control acne and prevent future breakouts.
Causes of Acne
Acne develops when hair follicles or pores become clogged, often due to overproduction of oil, shedding of dead skin cells, and overgrowth of bacteria which can irritate the skin. When a pore becomes completely blocked by oil and dead skin cells, a whitehead is formed. When pores are open, a blackhead is formed. When there is overgrowth of bacteria with inflammation, a red papule or pimple is formed. If there is excessive buildup of oil and dead skin cells with severe inflammation, a red nodule or cystic lesion may develop.
The cause of acne and excess oil production may vary, and can be the result of hormones, bacteria, hereditary or due to environmental factors. During or after puberty, increase in certain hormones in the body stimulates the production of oil that can contribute to acne. Acne can flare as a result of hormonal fluctuation as seen during puberty, menstrual periods or pregnancy. Environmental factors such as humidity, excessive use of cosmetic products, or certain medications can also influence acne. Contrary to popular belief, acne does not result from the consumption of chocolate or other foods! Acne is a medical condition, and patients should seek dermatologic treatment if their symptoms do not improve or do not respond to over-the-counter regimens.
Treatment of Acne
Treatment of acne is aimed at regulating the turnover of skin cells, decreasing the production of oil, and reducing inflammation to help prevent the formation of new blemishes. This can be done through a combination of topical treatments (creams or gels applied directly to the skin), oral antibiotics, isotretinoin, or hormonal medications. With the proper regimen, it may take four to six weeks to notice visible improvement of your skin.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: Cleans and dries the skin, and helps reduce the blockage of pores.
- Salicylic Acid: Helps exfoliate and resurface the skin.
- Tretinoin (Retinoids): Regulate the turnover of skin cells, prevent the formation clogged pores, and help with whiteheads and blackheads.
- Topical Antibiotics: Reduce the bacteria load on the skin and help reduce red bumps.
- Oral Antibiotics: Often used to help reduce the bacteria load on the skin and because of their anti-inflammatory property which helps reduce red bumps, pustules, and cystic lesions.
- Hormonal Treatments: May be used for female patients with hormonal fluctuations or hormonally induced acne.
- Isotretinoin (Accutane): May be prescribed for severe acne or acne that does not respond to other treatment methods. Isotretinoin works by reducing oil secretion and stabilizing the turnover of the skin. Treatment usually consists of a 5-month course with visual improvement starting after 1-2 months of therapy. Patients often experience a subtle flare of their acne during the first few weeks, but gradually have significant improvement over the course of their treatment.
Depending on your symptoms and skin type, our dermatologist can help determine what treatment options are best for you.