We have been there. Staring at the mirror, eyes fixed on those small, red and painful bumps that won’t go away. A quick search online for home remedies seems to have little effect.
Often called pimples, this term is simply just one type of acne. Many others remain depending on the severity of the condition. Sometimes, it is confusing because these lumps can be mistaken for other skin conditions as well.
For both men and women alike, the appearance of acne is never welcomed.
What is there to know about this skin condition that affects so many worldwide of all ages and genders? As they say, knowing your enemy well is half the battle won. By gaining a deeper understanding of what acne is, you can better know how to prevent it and when to seek proper treatment.
What is Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs in people of all ages. It can be found primarily on the face, forehead, scalp, back, shoulders and chest.
These areas contain the most oil glands and therefore have the greatest possibility of acne showing up.
Acne can be stubbornly persistent on the skin, with more emerging after treatment. Therefore, much patience and diligence are required in the healing process.
Causes of Acne
When oil glands joined to hair follicles are triggered during puberty or hormonal changes, acne can occur. The hair follicle becomes plugged by oil and dead skin cells when oil production increases.
This follicle grows and may burst, becoming an opening for irritants and bacteria to enter. Inflammation results, and a deep inflammation ends up as a pimple.
Some think that acne is caused by bacteria, but that is not the case. Yes, it plays a role in the buildup leading to acne, but it does not stem from it. Neither is it due to dirt or sweat, which is formed by another completely different gland.
In fact, acne is a result of a few different factors. They include increased oil production, irritants and bacteria seeping into the skin’s deep layers, inflammation and hormonal changes.
Acne Risk and Exacerbating Factors
Certain factors can lead to a greater risk of acne developing. One such factor is genetics, where parents with serious acne can cause their offspring to face more challenges in controlling it.
Age is also a major factor. Teenagers are more likely to get acne due to the hormonal changes they go through, especially during puberty. The hormone androgen heightens during puberty, causing oil glands to enlarge and produce more sebum.
Oral contraceptives and hormonal transitions related to pregnancy can also alter oil production.
The workplace is also a risk area. Industrial products that touch your skin or oil and grease from a workplace, like a kitchen that practices deep-frying, can let acne develop. On the contrary, eating oily food does not.
Some cosmetics and skincare products containing oil can also contribute to acne due to their pore-clogging effects. Water-based products are usually less harmful.
People may also attribute acne to stress, but it is not a direct cause of it, even though it can worsen the condition.
Medications like drugs that contain testosterone, androgens, corticosteroids and anabolic steroids can also aggravate acne.
Types of Acne
Acne can take a few different forms. There are a few types identified by their characteristics and severity:
How do you identify acne and distinguish it from other similar skin conditions like rosacea? There are certain telltale signs and symptoms as disclosed below for the different types.
Whiteheads are the whitish, closed plugged pores. Blackheads are the opposite: dark, open plugged pores. Both kinds are also known as occluded pores, or comedones.
Papules come next, with the look of small, red and sore bumps.
Pustules are commonly known as pimples, which are essentially papules with pus located at their tops. This happens when blocked hair follicles are infected by bacteria or become inflamed.
The bigger, harder and tender bulges below the skin’s surface are known as nodules.
Lastly, cysts are a result of extreme inflammation, characterized by unpleasant, painful bumps filled with pus below the skin’s surface. Prolonged, untreated cysts can eventually leave scars and depressions on the skin.
Acne can affect anyone at any age. It is not a condition exclusive to teens. Unfortunately, acne tends to be a long term skin condition that often takes a long time to clear up. It requires much patience and diligence – you have to hold back the urge to scratch your pimples, apply medications or even seek medical treatments as needed.
It is important to seek help early to prevent permanent damage and scars that develop from acne.
Topical and Oral Antibiotic Treatments
There is an array of effective topical creams and gels you can get to treat acne. They usually have active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide that eliminates bacteria, azelaic acid that prevents oil eruptions, and tretinoin or retinoids that unclog blocked pores.
A dermatologist will typically prescribe gels or creams to be used on a daily basis in order to help you fight acne on a regular basis. On the other hand, oral antibiotics are prescribed to fight skin infections in more severe acne conditions.
Both oral antibiotics and topical medications can complement each other to reduce the likelihood of antibiotic resistance in long term acne conditions.
For some with stubborn and severe acne, a potent oral medication such as isotretinoin is required to get rid of acne if other treatments do not work.
Patients can also opt for skin therapies either on a standalone basis or together with these medications. Examples of therapies are chemical peels, lasers, steroid injections and extractions.
Chemical peels use chemical solutions like salicylic and glycolic acids to treat acne as well as acne scars. A thin layer of such solutions will be applied to the skin in order to reduce clogged pores, acne scars, or even improve skin complexion and texture in acne-prone patients.
Chemical peels also help lower oil gland secretions momentarily and are also anti-inflammatory. They have been found to be more effective when used in conjunction with other treatments.
Laser and light therapies have also been helpful in treating active acne and acne scars. There are various devices of different abilities and strengths to target acne that is located in different layers of the skin. Lasers in general are able to treat all stages of acne: whiteheads, blackheads, severe cystic acne and even the marks that are left behind by acne, commonly known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Hence, a proper assessment by the doctor is essential before any laser therapies is being performed.
This form of injection involves directly delivering a steroid containing medicine called cortisone into nodules and cysts to reduce inflammation caused by acne. Such treatment significantly diminishes inflammation and boosts the healing process. It is extremely useful for scar prevention.
An extraction can better help a sudden acne breakout. Specialised personnel or devices will be used to remove whiteheads and blackheads by expelling the unwanted content choked in the pores or acne.
Take note that trending nonprescription acne products can magnify existing acne problems instead of helping. Proper assessment and consultation with the doctor is advisable as acne and acne scars treatment is often customized according to the severity of each patient. There is no such thing as “one treatment fits all”, as our skin condition and healing ability varies among individuals.