ACNE

INTRODUCTION

Acne is a common and troublesome skin condition that affects a lot of people at some point during their life, especially during the teenage years. Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up your pores. Hormones play an important part in the progression of acne, which is why it is most commonly experienced during teenage years. It is also why it can be such a cumbersome condition to have, especially moderate to severe acne, since teen years are the time we tend to be most sensitive about the way we look. Health professionals readily acknowledge the need to treat acne immediately and aggressively (if needed) to avoid issues with self esteem. It is common for women to have sporadic bouts of acne close to the start of their menstrual cycle, which also indicates towards hormones playing an important role in the development and progression of acne.

Oil based products, especially cosmetics, can make acne worse by clogging your pores even further, especially if you are prone to having oily skin. There is also a strong genetic component to acne; it usually runs in the family.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Signs and symptoms of acne are self evident. They include whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. The commonest area for acne to appear is on the face, followed by back, shoulders, neck and chest. If acne pimples are so large that they appear like cysts, they have a risk of getting infected, and may be very painful. This particular severity of acne will also cause scarring.

TREATMENT

There are many, many forms of treatment available for acne. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, different agents ranging from topical (use on skin only) to oral medication may be advised by your doctor. The key step to keeping acne at bay is to keep your skin clean, and using cosmetic and cleansing products that closely match and are made for your particular skin type. As mentioned above, avoid oil based products as much as you can to stop any aggravations.

Scrubbing or picking on acne pimples will cause them to scar, so best to avoid it.

Mild acne is treated using gels or creams (topical treatments) such as:

  • benzoyl peroxide,
  • topical retinoids,
  • topical antibiotics, or
  • azelaic acid.

Moderate acne is usually treated using a combination of the medications that are mentioned above. In some cases, antibiotic tablets (oral antibiotics) may also be used.

If you have severe acne, you will usually be referred to a dermatologist (an expert in treating skin conditions). A combination of oral antibiotics and topical treatments (see below) are usually the first treatment option. If this proves to be ineffective, a medication called isotretinoin (Roaccutane) may be prescribed. Roaccutane is an analog of Vitamin A, and is a very effective treatment for acne. It does have severe, documented side effects, including spinal cord defects in fetuses, and should be used with caution and only after consultation with a medical expert.

ACNE MYTHS

Excessive cleansing will improve acne: Cleaning your skin too much will rid it of the essential oils required for healthy skin, and may actually be more harmful than beneficial. It is best to cleanse once or twice a day with a product suited to your skin type.

Bursting pimples gets rid of them faster: While a large pimple may momentarily decrease in size when you burst it, and it is definitely tempting to try, bursting pimples will leave you will scarring. Let the pimple dry out on its on. Toner is a good way to shrink them faster without leaving scars.

Acne is infectious: No, acne is not a ‘contagious disease’ and will not spread by coming into contact with a person with acne.

Poor diet causes acne: While there is no proof that nutrient-poor, fat-rich diet leads to acne, this kind of diet is very harmful on so many other levels that it is best avoided for a healthier lifestyle. Increased water content in your diet will help keep the skin hydrated and contribute towards healthier skin. It does not combat acne, however.

 

Dr. Annie

Physician, mom and wife

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