Acne is well known as the blight that is affecting the faces of adolescent boys and girls across the nation. Unfortunately for many of these teenagers, they are realizing that acne doesn’t end when childhood does. Acne can plague anyone, regardless of their age (except models, who are born without it).
Acne is graded on a severity scale. Grades 1 and 2 are mild to moderate cases of acne, and they can usually be treated with over-the-counter options. Grades 3 and 4 are moderately severe to very severe (or cystic acne) cases, and they generally have to be treated by a dermatologist or prescribed products.
Acne forms inside your pores, which are openings on the skin where tiny hairs grow. Underneath these pores are sebaceous glands, which produce oil (or sebum). Your skin is building new cells and shedding the dead ones. If the sebaceous gland over produces oil, it can mix with the dead cells and cause blockage in your pores, which in turn becomes infected by bacteria. Acne is the byproduct of the bacteria in these blocked pores.
Like some of the world’s worst diseases, there is no cure for acne. However, there are multiple methods for treating it, whether it’s acne on your face, back, or any other part of your body. Here are fourteen of the best ways to treat your acne and clear up your skin.
- Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO). This antibacterial agent is one of the most popular methods for controlling mild to moderate acne. Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into the pore, which kills bacteria known as P. acne, and by cleaning the pore of excess dead skin cells. By removing the dead cells, BPO helps prevent acne breakouts before they even start.
There are numerous over-the-counter products that have benzoyl peroxide in them, including popular treatments like ProActive and Clearasil. Various prescribed treatments also include BPO as an active ingredient. This quick-acting agent will cause acne to disappear in no time. Just be careful because it can bleach clothing, and initially it may cause redness and irritation for some people.
- Tea Tree Oil. This oil contains anti-microbial and antibacterial compounds (called terpenoids) which kill the bacteria that invade plugged pores. As strange as it sounds, tea tree oil is literally taken from the leaves of an Australian shrub. Recently scientists and dermatologists have become fascinated with the healing properties of this oil, and it has begun to appear in many over-the-counter acne medications.
A product with 5% tea tree oil in it has been proven to have the same effect on acne as a product with 5% benzoyl peroxide. Though it does not act as quickly as BPO, tea tree oil is just as effective over time, and it has less side effects. Tea tree oil is quickly becoming the next big thing in acne treatment.
- Salicylic Acid. This beta hydroxy acid is a common ingredient used to treat non-inflamed acne. Salicylic acid works as an exfoliating agent to clear away dead skins cells and remove cellular debris from the pores. It is able to penetrate the follicles and prevent future breakouts and infections.
Salicylic acid can be found in numerous types of over-the-counter treatments, including cleansers, toners, creams, and other solutions. The presence of the acid in a product is usually somewhere between .5% and .2%. Those with dry skin will like salicylic acid because it tends to be less irritating than other treatments.
- Sulfur. Yes, we are talking about the stuff that smells like rotten eggs and is historically known as brimstone. Despite its unseemly nature, sulfur has been used in the treatment of acne since the middle ages. It works by drying up and peeling the skin, which sounds like a bad thing but it actually helps to reduce oil secretions and dry up pimples.
Sulfur is found in products like lotions, cleaners, soaps, and masks. Be sure to read the instructions because some treatments are required to be left on overnight, while others should be rinsed off after a few minutes. Sulfur may also cause side effects like redness, irritation, and burning when it is first used. For the best results start slowly and build up to the recommended dose. Also, most products containing sulfur should have other ingredients that mask the smell. If you feel like your product still smells funky, then switch it out for something else.
- Retinoids. These topical medications stop dense sebum from getting plugged up in pores and aid in new cell production. They have also been shown to stimulate collagen production in the skin, which is perfect for those who wish to treat winkles and acne at the same time.
Retinoids are provided over the counter as retinol, while prescription-strength grades include types like Retin-A. Doctors recommend using retinoids at night because they cause increased sensitivity to sunlight. You should also try to avoid direct sunlight, or at least put on sunscreen when you go outdoors. If the skin becomes dry or irritated then add a moisturizer to your daily routine.
- Oral Antibiotics. All of the above techniques are known as “topical acne treatments”. The following three are known as “systemic acne treatments,” which means they work internally and are taken orally or via injection. Oral antibiotics are used to treat a variety of infections, including acne. They work by targeting P. acne bacteria in the skin and follicle, and they help reduce skin inflammation.
Oral antibiotics are great for moderate to severe acne because they attack from the inside, getting rid of painful infection beneath the surface of the skin. Doctors usually prescribe a stronger dosage at first, and then lower the strength as the skin improves. Once the condition is down to mild acne you will probably switch back to topical treatments. Make sure you read the labels on the bottles so you know all of the conditions that apply to your prescription.
- Hormonal treatments. One of the reasons for acne appearance in adult women is because of shifting hormones. Birth control pills and the medication Spironolactone are products that contain ingredients which alter your body’s androgen hormones. These hormones increase oil production and can cause unwanted blemishes. While people use Spironolactone even though it is not yet FDA approved as acne treatment, three FDA approved brands of oral contraceptives are Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep/Fe, and Yaz.
- Isotretinoin. This powerful oral medication works by destroying abnormal sebaceous glands and shrinking the normal ones. This serves to normalize oil production and control breakouts. Unlike other treatments have to be taken constantly, Isotretinoin is usually only prescribed for a four to seven month period of time. The medication was once sold under the name Accutane, but now it goes by Claravis, Sotret, or Amnesteem.
This technique should only be used in cases of severe and cystic acne, and if all other treatments have failed. There is a long list of side effects, but the most dangerous happen to women who take the drug while pregnant (which can cause severe birth defects and miscarriages). Women who want to take Isotretinoin have to enroll in a program called iPledge, which only allows you a prescription if you take two forms of birth control and one doctor-administered pregnancy test each month.
- Microdermabrasion. After topical and systemic acne treatments, there is a final level known as “procedural acne treatments”. These techniques are normally performed by health care practitioners or dermatologists, and they are used to treat mild to severe acne (often in conjunction with topical and/or systemic products).
A microdermabrasion treatment is where a machine runs over the affected areas of skin, discharging super fine crystals to scrape off dead skin cells. The crystals are then vacuumed away, revealing clean and clear skin. This might sound super painful, but it actually doesn’t hurt. The deep-penetrating exfoliation of the skin helps dislodge debris and clean out the pores. The procedure works best on areas that aren’t inflamed but have multiple blackheads and whiteheads.
- Light Chemical Peels. Despite the disturbing name, chemical peels don’t actually peel off your skin. Instead they use alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA) to rapidly exfoliate the skin, removing oil and dead skin cells from blocked up pores. Our old friend salicylic acid is the most common BHA used in chemical peel treatments.
The quickness of the procedure and the relaxing feeling that comes with it make chemical peels very popular at salons and day spas. The exfoliating agent is gently applied by a brush or cotton swab, you wait for about ten minutes (sometimes with a fan to keep you more comfortable), and then the peel is removed with water and neutralizing agent. Your skin will be red for a few days after the peel, and it’s ok to use makeup to cover this.
- Corticosteroid Injections. The most severe form of acne is known as a cyst. This inflamed lesion occurs when there has been a rupture in the follicle wall. Oil, dead cells, and bacteria all spill into the dermis and become trapped there, painfully damaging the skin tissue. The best technique for dealing with cysts is to have a dermatologist inject the area with corticosteroid. This reduces inflammation and the presence of scarring, and the lesion should be healed in just a few short days.
- Phototherapy. These light treatments work by exposing the skin to an ultraviolet (UV) light or laser. Depending which type of therapy is used, the UV rays will kill P. acne bacteria, shrink the sebaceous glands to control oil output, and reduce inflammation of the skin. Blue light, red light, and photodynamic therapy are all viable methods of phototherapy, so talk to your dermatologist to see which treatment is right for you. Blue-light therapy kits (the kind of light that kills bacteria) can be purchased from the store and are cheaper than treatments at the doctor’s office.
- Esthetician. Some people may feel comfortable combating acne on their own, while others might prefer to seek professional advice. Estheticians are skin care therapists who assist in the treatment of skin problems. They are not doctors and they work out of skin and day spas, but they can provide useful treatment for mild cases of acne. Estheticians help most by recommending treatment products and providing deep cleansing treatments.
- Dermatologist. Unlike an esthetician, a dermatologist is a medically-trained doctor who specializes in skin diseases and treatments. Your dermatologist will do a physical examination of the affected areas, and then write out a plan of action. The dermatologist can help you with any questions you have, as well as write up prescriptions for medication you couldn’t get over-the-counter. Finally, if you feel your treatment is not working you should go to the dermatologist to learn about suggested alternatives.
These fourteen acne-fighting techniques cover every type of acne situation you might have. It is important to remember that some treatments work better on some people than others, so rotate through a few if you’re not having any luck (or consult a dermatologist).
Also, the key to acne treatment is consistency. Because you cannot get rid of acne forever, you have to constantly be on the fight to control it.