Acne is the most common of all skin diseases. It is a condition that produces blocked pores (whiteheads and blackheads), "pimples", cysts and/or boils. Acne affects most teenagers and many adults. It is most common on the face, but also occurs on the back, neck, shoulders and chest. Acne is a disorder of the sebaceous glands ("oil glands"). It typically starts when rising hormone levels (especially in teenagers) over-stimulate these glands and cause them to produce extra oils and excess skin cells. This excess material causes a blockage in the gland and forms the basis of the sticky material commonly found in whiteheads and blackheads. This blockage also can lead to infection and inflammation. This is the basis for the red, inflamed lesions common in severe cases of acne.
Almost everyone has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the psychological effects of acne. Studies have concluded that some of the common feelings among people with acne are:
- Social withdrawal
- Reduced self-confidence
- Feelings of depression
- A higher rate of unemployment
Moreover, because acne can cause permanent scarring, these consequences can last a lifetime. It is important to remember, however, that no one needs to suffer from acne. It is a highly treatable condition that dermatologists are trained to help manage and control.
How can it be treated
The good news for acne sufferers is that there are many treatments available and acne can almost always be controlled.
Here are some tips to for people with "mild" acne:
- Wash your face twice a day with a mild non-soap, nondrying cleanser. Although surface dirt and grease can contribute to breakouts, acne is not primarily caused by dirt. It is important to wash, but not too vigorously, because the skin can become irritated and acne will be exacerbated.
- Don't squeeze or pick pimples or use sharp object to open them. This can cause infection, further inflammation and scarring.
- Make sure all cosmetics are non-comedogenic, meaning they do not cause acne.
- Over the counter medications can be very effective for mild acne when used consistently. Many of these products also help keep new acne from forming. The most commonly used medications contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. These products can produce irritation and allergic reactions. It is important to read the label and use as instructed.
- Wear sunscreen daily. Resist the urge to sunbathe or tan. Although sun exposure or indoor tanning can improve acne in the short term, in the long run it causes the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum, which can cause more acne.
- Consider having clinical facials or physician strength salicylic acid peels. These therapeutic treatments can help to keep the skin exfoliated, pores extracted and reduce bacteria levels of the skin.
If acne does not respond to these simple measures, it is probably time to see a dermatologist. Dermatologists can fight acne with many different medications and can develop a treatment plan according to its severity. Treatments range from mild topical medications to very potent oral medications. A brief list of treatment options includes:
- Oral contraceptives. These inhibit endogenous hormone production.
- Antibiotics. These fight the infection in the follicle. There are many topical antibiotics (benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, cleocin) and oral antibiotics (tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, erythromycin) that are very effective.
- Inhibitors of excess keratinization and excess sebum production. Think of these medications as unblocking the pores. These medications include mild acids as well as oral and topical retinoids. The retinoids are a potent class of medications that includes Retin-A and Accutane.