Acne occurs when skin pores become clogged with sebum (oil produced by the skin) and dead skin cells. This blockage leads to the formation of whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and cysts. The sebum in the blocked pores may also attract bacteria, creating inflammation. Hormonal fluctuations can increase sebum production and lead to acne flares, which is why acne commonly begins during the teenage years. That being said, hormonal alterations may also lead to acne in adulthood.
Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by diet. Eating greasy foods or chocolate will not cause breakouts. Acne also will not go away by scrubbing or using harsh cleansers – in fact, this can be irritating and actually cause acne to worsen.
Other things that can lead to acne flares include:
- Touching your face frequently
- Squeezing, popping or picking blemishes
- Leaving acne untreated
- Wearing clothing such as hats and chin straps which can block pores
There are many effective acne treatments, and the product you choose should be based on the severity of your acne. Mild cases of acne may respond to twice daily washing with mild soap and water along with an over-the-counter product containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Moderate to moderately severe acne usually requires treatment by a dermatologist. Prescription medications including retinoids, antimicrobials, antibiotics and/or oral contraceptives may be beneficial.
The large cysts seen in severe acne may need to be surgically drained to speed healing and prevent scars from forming. This procedure should be performed in a sterile setting by a dermatologist. Some cysts can be treated with a mild corticosteroid injection or prescription oral medication. Do not attempt to drain or “pop” your own lesions, as this could lead to permanent scarring.
If not properly treated, severe acne can cause serious scarring and disfigurement. The condition can also be damaging to self-esteem and lead to shyness or embarrassment. Even mild acne may require a visit to the dermatology clinic, if non-prescription treatments are not effective.
For the best results, be sure to use all treatments exactly as prescribed, and don’t add additional products on your own. Other tips to getting the most out of your acne treatment:
- Wait 5 to 15 minutes after washing your face before applying acne medication to prevent irritation
- Stick with your treatment regime. Do not become discouraged if the treatment does not work right away – most acne treatments take 6-8 weeks to show improvement
- Continue to use medications once skin clears. Don’t reduce treatment until approved by your dermatologist
If you are experiencing persistent acne, try not to be discouraged. No one treatment is right for everyone, but all acne can be treated.