- What is acne?
- What causes acne?
- What triggers acne?
- How can I get rid of acne?
- Are you sure you have acne?
- Several acne treatments can help reduce breakouts
If acne is bothering you, you’re not alone. Acne affects almost everyone.
Acne is also stubborn, and often recurs. If you have it, you’ll need regular maintenance to keep its symptoms at bay.
In this article we’ll explain what causes acne and ways to treat acne.
What is acne?
Acne is a common term used to describe pimples and complexion problems that occur in teenagers as well as adults, stemming from the skin bacteria called “Propionibacterium acnes” (often shortened as, “P. acnes”). The medical term for Acne is “Acne Vulgaris.”
P. acnes expresses itself in multiple forms, and has multiple causes. Unfortunately, there is no cure for acne, and no one in our modern society, regardless of race, is immune from it either (though, it’s not contagious).
Acne Vulgaris, in the form that most people recognize it, usually starts in puberty. Though, even babies can have acne (theirs is a bit different though, and often goes away in early childhood).
Acne symptoms include:
- Blackheads (open comedos)
- Whiteheads (closed comedos)
- Papules (small, red bumps)
- Pustules (these are papules with pus at the top, the traditional thing we call a pimple)
- Cystic lesions (these contain pus and are large and painful, residing beneath the skin)
- Nodules (these don’t necessarily contain pus, but are similar to cystic acne, though they are more solid)
- Milia (white bumps on the top layer of the dermis that are more like excess skin build up, rather than a tender, red pimple).
These are collectively, and colloquially, referred to as “pimples,” “blemishes,” “breakouts” and “acne.”
Larger cystic lesions and nodules can cause scars, which can take several months to heal. Some can even form permanent damage, or cause excessive scar tissue build up, known as keloids. In these cases, cosmetic solutions (such as those offered at our clinic) are usually the only answer. You can read more about acne scar removal solutions here.
The stages of acne
There are four ‘grades’ to the skin condition known as Acne Vulgaris. They get classified in terms of severeness. They are:
Stage 1 – mild acne (such as a few red spots, or the occasional pimple, but nothing intolerable, and no inflammation is present).
Stage 2 – moderate acne (this is when inflammation starts to appear, as well as white heads, pustules, papules, black heads and so on. They occur on the face, neck, back or other areas).
Stage 3 – moderately severe acne (this involves some inflamed cysts or nodules, as well as plenty of papules and pustules).
Stage 4 – severe acne (this is the formation of many cysts and nodules, which are highly inflamed, and even painful).
Starting from Stage 2 acne and onwards, it is unlikely that regular washing and topical, over-the-counter products will solve your issue. Though, make no mistake, these are important routines you should still do! They are simply not the whole solution.
What causes acne?
Our skin has many tiny openings in it, including for hair to grow out of. These can collect bacteria (the P. acnes noted above), along with oil and dead skin cells. Acne is basically a clogged up hair follicle (i.e. a pore).
In puberty, the body starts producing a hormone called androgen. This then activates sebaceous glands in hair follicles, which produce more sebum (i.e. oil).
The function of sebaceous glands in producing sebum is to hydrate the skin. But, too much of it can clog pores. This traps bacteria and dead skin cells in the process, and then creates an infection.
This is why many beauty professionals talk about ‘cleansing pores.’
What triggers acne?
Acne can be caused by many factors. These possibilities include:
- Genes and hereditary factors, which are likely if your parents also had acne.
- Hormone activity from androgens, such as when going through puberty, menstrual cycles, or menopause. Also related to hormone activity, acne can be caused by:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Contraceptives, since they cause androgen level changes
- Medications that cause acne (if you are taking any of these, the side effects should have been explained to you).
- Uncleansed dirt and external oil coming in contact with the skin.
- Comedogenic makeup and skin creams (often because they are oil-based).
- Stress and diet. Though, these factors as causes of acne are debated, and hard to prove.
- Environmental factors, such as humidity and oil contact in the workplace.
How can I get rid of acne?
Typical acne advice is to:
- Wash your face and affected areas twice per day, preferably using a cleanser containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide or other acne-fighting ingredients.
- Use topical products such as salicylic acid toner or spot treatments, at-home face masks, retinoid creams, etc.
- Use oil-free, non-comedogenic makeup or moisturizers (these are usually marketed as such).
- Avoid touching your face.
- Regularly wash items that come in contact with your face, like headphones, instruments, scarfs, pillow cases, razors, hair, etc.
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There are also believed to be links between skim milk, carbohydrate-rich foods and acne. You may want to avoid these foods to see if they reduce your acne. Note that these are not the greasy foods commonly mythicized to be the cause of acne!
Stress is thought to trigger habits that make acne worse, such as tampering with pimples or eating improperly. So, stress management should also play a role in your acne prevention routine.
However, if you have acne that feels uncontrollable, even when you’re diligent at washing twice a day, and use over-the-counter products regularly, then your case may require more advanced treatment options.
These options can include:
- Laser acne therapy
- Medical-grade facials, such as HydraFacial™, microdermabrasion or chemical Peels
- LED blue light therapy (available as HydraFacial™ add-ons)
- Prescriptions or doctor-recommended cosmeceuticals with higher concentrations of active ingredients
The reason medical intervention may be needed to treat your acne, is because of how it starts; it can have many root causes. Treating the source of acne can be just as important as treating its outcome.
The problem, of course, is that the sources of acne can involve environmental, biological and hereditary factors that are hard to control. They can also be a result of medications, or other underlying health issues that simply can’t be put aside to avoid acne.
That’s why treating acne symptoms (i.e. the blemishes themselves), is usually going to be the answer to any stage of acne. And the more severe it is, the more intervention may be required.
Are you sure you have acne?
Another reason over-the-counter regimens may not work for you, is because you may not have acne; you may have a skin condition that resembles acne. This is also why it’s important to see a doctor, if your acne persists. Common conditions mistaken for being Acne Vulgaris include:
- Folliculitis (pimples on parts of the body not typically associated with acne, including those caused by taking antibiotics)
- Pseudofolliculitis (i.e. razor bumps)
Some of the treatment options for the above conditions can overlap with acne solutions. Though, since they are not the same, they should be handled separately.
Several acne treatments can help reduce breakouts
The good news is that options for acne treatments abound. Whether it is a home remedy, an over-the-counter product, a doctor’s prescription, or a spa-like cosmetic treatment, each person will have their own way of healing breakouts, and preventing them in the first place. There is probably something out there that can help with your acne, even if it is different from what another person had success (or failure) with.