Acne may be treated with a combination of remedies including over-the-counter skin care, acne medications, and chemical or laser procedures. Learn safe ways to banish blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne, and get the clear skin you want.
Acne – Topic Overview
Acne, or acne vulgaris, is a skin problem that starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up your pores. Some people call it blackheads, blemishes, whiteheads, pimples, or zits. When you have just a few red spots, or pimples, you have a mild form of acne. Severe acne can mean hundreds of pimples that can cover the face, neck, chest, and back. Or it can be bigger, solid, red lumps that are painful (cysts).
Acne is very common among teens. It usually gets better after the teen years. Some women who never had acne growing up will have it as an adult, often right before their menstrual periods.
How you feel about your acne may not be related to how bad it is. Some people who have severe acne are not bothered by it. Others are embarrassed or upset even though they have only a few pimples.
The good news is that there are many good treatments that can help you get acne under control.
Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin’s pores . If germs get into the pores, the result can be swelling, redness, and pus.
For most people, acne starts during the teen years. This is because hormone changes make the skin oilier after puberty starts.
Using oil-based skin products or cosmetics can make acne worse. Use skin products that don’t clog your pores. They will say “noncomedogenic” on the label.
Acne can run in families. If one of your parents had severe acne, you are more likely to have it.
Symptoms of acne include whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. These can occur on the face, neck, shoulders, back, or chest. Pimples that are large and deep are called cystic lesions. These can be painful if they get infected. They also can scar the skin.
To help control acne, keep your skin clean. Avoid skin products that clog your pores. Look for products that say “noncomedogenic” on the label. Wash your skin once or twice a day with a gentle soap or acne wash. Try not to scrub or pick at your pimples. This can make them worse and can cause scars.
If you have just a few pimples to treat, you can get an acne cream without a prescription. Look for one that has benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These work best when used just the way the label says.
It can take time to get acne under control. But if you haven’t had good results with nonprescription products after trying them for 3 months, see your doctor. A prescription gel or skin cream may be all you need. If you are a woman, taking certain birth control pills may help.
If you have acne cysts, your doctor may suggest a stronger medicine, such as isotretinoin. This medicine works very well for some kinds of acne.
There are many skin treatments, such as laser resurfacing or dermabrasion, that can help acne scars look better and feel smoother. Ask your doctor about them. The best treatment for you depends on how severe the scarring is. Your doctor may refer you to a plastic surgeon.
Acne – Cause
There are different types of acne. The most common acne is the type that develops during the teen years. Puberty causes hormone levels to rise, especially testosterone. These changing hormones cause skinglands to start making more oil (sebum). Oil releases from the pores to protect the skin and keep it moist. Acne begins when oil mixes with dead cells and clogs the skin’s pores. Bacteria can grow in this mixture. And if this mixture leaks into nearby tissues, it causes swelling, redness, and pus. A common name for these raised bumps is pimples.
Certain medicines, such as corticosteroids or lithium, can cause acne to develop. Talk to your doctor about any medicines you are taking.
It isn’t just teens who are affected by acne. Sometimes newborns have acne because their mothers pass hormones to them just before delivery. Acne can also appear when the stress of birth causes the baby’s body to release hormones on its own. Young children and older adults also may get acne.
Acne – What Happens
Acne develops most often in the teen and young adult years. During this time, both males and females usually produce more testosteronethan at any other time in life. This hormone causes oil glands to produce more oil (sebum). The extra oil can clog pores and cause acne. Bacteria can grow in this mixture. And if the mixture leaks into nearby tissues, it causes swelling, redness, and pus (pimples).
Acne usually gets better in the adult years when your body produces less testosterone. Still, some women have premenstrual acne flare-ups well into adulthood.
Acne – Treatment Overview
Acne treatment depends on whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe type of acne. Sometimes your doctor will combine treatments to get the best results and to avoid developing drug-resistant bacteria. Treatment could include lotions or gels you put on blemishes or sometimes entire areas of skin, such as the chest or back (topical medicines). You might also take medicines by mouth (oral medicines).
Treatment for mild acne (whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples) may include:
- Gentle cleansing with warm water and a mild soap, such as Dove orCetaphil.
- Applying benzoyl peroxide (such as Brevoxyl or Triaz).
- Applying salicylic acid (such as Propa pH or Stridex).
If these treatments do not work, you may want to see your doctor. Your doctor can give you a prescription for stronger lotions or creams. You may try an antibiotic lotion. Or you may try a lotion with medicine that helps to unplug your pores.
Moderate to severe acne
Sometimes acne needs treatment with stronger medicines or a combination of therapies. Deeper blemishes, such as nodules and cysts, are more likely to leave scars. As a result, your doctor may give you oralantibiotics sooner to start the healing process. This kind of acne may need a combination of several therapies. Treatment for moderate to severe acne may include:
- Applying benzoyl peroxide.
- Draining of large pimples and cysts by a doctor.
- Applying prescription antibiotic gels, creams, or lotions.
- Applying prescription retinoids.
- Applying azelaic acid.
- Taking prescription oral antibiotics.
- Taking prescription oral retinoids (such as isotretinoin).
Treatment for acne scars
There are many procedures to remove acne scars, such as laser resurfacing and dermabrasion. Some scars shrink and fade with time. But if your scars bother you, talk to your doctor. He or she may refer you to a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon.
What to think about
Most treatments for acne take time. It often takes 6 to 8 weeks for acne to improve after you start treatment. Some treatments may cause acne to get worse before it gets better.
If your acne still hasn’t improved after several tries with other treatment, your doctor may recommend that you take an oral retinoid, such as isotretinoin. Doctors prescribe this medicine as a last resort, because it has some rare but serious side effects and it is expensive.