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Acne is an inflammatory condition that usually appears during adolescence when the body undergoes a series of changes, especially hormonal changes. However, this doesn’t mean adults can’t have breakouts. In fact, adult acne is quite common and is mostly the cause of clogged pores by an excess of sebum or a build-up of dead skin cells. It manifests as pimples, blemishes, or cysts. In order to effectively treat acne, you have to identify the causes and eliminate them. Following a treatment without considering the type of your acne not only can result without any effect but can even worsen your condition.
Causes of acne
One of the most common causes of acne is clogged hair follicles that become inflamed. Blackheads occur naturally and gradually depending on how skin cells are formed. A clogged hair follicle does not always result in acne. If the skin is healthy, the blackhead dissolves on its own. However, when the immune system reacts to bacteria, lipids, or androgens (male sex hormones), micro-inflammation can occur under the skin. At first, inflammation cannot be spotted by the eye. But if the skin produces a lot of sebums, the inflammation can worsen and cause acne.
Hormones and acne
There is a strong link between acne and hormonal changes. This is why women find it more difficult to get rid of breakouts after their 25s. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, menopause, or menstruation have a significant role in how acne develops. In addition to hormones, how the skin is cared for is the second most important factor that affects acne. In most cases, a proper skincare routine tailored to your acne condition is enough to control breakouts.
Different types of acne
Sebaceous glands produce oil naturally. If the glands are blocked, the oil can’t pass onto the skin surface, leading to blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples. Blackheads or open comedones are small black dots that appear when a sebaceous gland is blocked. On the other hand, whiteheads are raised lesions with a white dot at the top closed within the pore. Pimples are usually painful, raised rednesses filled with pus.
How to get rid of acne
The basic principle is to cleanse the skin well so that unwanted bacteria don’t have the chance to cause inflammation. Cleanse your face twice a day, in the morning and evening. Use good acne micellar water or an acne cleansing gel. Don’t forget to pick ones without alcohol as they irritate and dry out the skin. Dry skin tends to produce more sebum. Next, you should moisturize your skin after cleansing. Use an acne ointment or cream to help pimples heal faster and prevent new ones from forming. Last but not least, a topical acne treatment that speeds up the healing process should always be applied overnight to the pimple. Effective OTC treatments include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol. Once a week, you can use either a peel to remove dead skin cells or a deep-acting acne face mask to cleanse and dull the skin.
Medical acne treatment
If you suffer from long-term acne problems, you should consult a dermatologist. A dermatologist can recommend prescription-strength treatments that are more effective than the OTC ones. Women are often prescribed hormonal contraceptives to treat their acne. However, it may take several weeks before you see any difference, and sometimes the acne can even worsen for a while before the body gets used to the treatment.
Another prescribed treatment for acne is tretinoin. Tretinoin, known as retinoic acid or Retin-A, is the synthetic derived form of vitamin A. Since it increases cell turnover, meaning it eliminates dead skin cells, tretinoin is often used to treat acne, lessen and heal pimples. While it’s very effective at reducing breakouts, tretinoin is also known to have drying effects that cause irritations. That’s why it’s essential to use a good moisturizer after your tretinoin cream – to reduce the chances of dryness.
Daily practices to prevent and control acne
Acne can also be affected by personal hygiene, diet, and stress. So always stay to the basics:
- Avoid touching your face with your hands. Impurities from your hands will only intensify the inflammation.
- Avoid picking or squeezing the pimples as this will cause the acne to spread and also cause scars.
- Clean your phone screen often and wash your bedding, especially the pillowcase, to remove impurities that can cause acne.
- Try to stay calm and avoid stress. Stress negatively impacts the sebaceous glands.
- Eat a varied diet and don’t forget to exercise. Good eating habits can help prevent breakouts. Foods that cause pimples include dairy products and foods with a high glycemic index, specifically sweets and foods made from white flour. Eat such foods in moderation.
- Avoid sunlight and always protect your skin with sunscreen that has a high protection factor.
- Look out for non-comedogenic products, which don’t clog pores and therefore don’t cause new acne breakouts.
What to do if you have acne scars?
Treatments that target acne scars are usually those that penetrate further into the skin. Chemical peels containing alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic or glycolic acids are preferred since they dissolve the build-up of dead skin cells, allowing healthy cells to replace them. This exfoliating effect removes skin discolouration and improves skin texture, minimizing imperfections such as dark spots and acne scars. For natural alternatives, rose hip, evening primrose oil, as well as aloe vera helps regenerate the skin and are known to reduce acne scars.
It’s always better to prevent acne scars rather than fight them. So avoid pinching or poking at pimples. In most cases, following a proper skincare routine and having a good lifestyle is enough, except for those where genetics or hormones are involved.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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