All about acne

Nobody likes acne. A poorly timed pimple can ruin a photo op and severe acne can cause serious damage to self-esteem. There are a million myths about acne, from what causes breakouts to what will treat them. Knowing the basics of acne can help fight and ultimately prevent breakouts for clearer skin.

What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition in which your hair follicles, or pores, get clogged with oil and/or dead skin cells. Everyone from babies to adults can get acne anywhere on the body. However, acne is most common in teenagers. Acne can range from the occasional pimple to a severe case of cystic acne. Some acne is mild, and some is painful. There are many different types of acne, but one thing holds true for all them: everyone wants it gone fast.

Types of acne

There are 2 main groups of acne: noninflammatory and inflammatory. Noninflammatory acne is less severe, while inflammatory acne can be painful and is more likely to scar. Each group of acne has subtypes:

Noninflammatory acne

  • Whiteheads: clogged, uninfected pores that contains dead skin and oil
  • Blackheads: same as whiteheads, but the pores are open and the oil trapped in the pores has oxidized and turned black

Inflammatory acne

  • Papules: small red or pink bumps that sometimes cluster together
  • Pustules: the classic pimple, a bump filled with yellowish pus that forms a white or yellow center
  • Nodules: more severe than a pustule, they start deep in the skin and are often swollen and painful
  • Cysts: severe acne that is deep in the skin like nodules, but they are filled with pus

What causes acne?

In essence, trapped oil, dead skin, or bacteria in the pores of your skin causes acne. But there are many factors that can cause this debris to get trapped. Too much oil production, accumulation of dead skin cells, or bacteria build-up are the main causes for acne. These can be impacted by:

  • Hormonal changes, like puberty or pregnancy
  • Certain medications, like birth control pills or corticosteroids, testosterone, or lithium
  • Genetics, like if your parents had acne
  • Stress
  • Friction or pressure from things like cellphones, helmets, or even shirt collars
  • Greasy or oily things on the skin, like lotions or grease from a kitchen
  • A diet high in refined sugars or carbohydrates can impact acne

The biggest trigger for acne is puberty. The hormonal changes during this time can cause higher oil production, which can then lead to more clogged pores and more acne. Thankfully, hormonal pubescent acne usually goes away or at least improves in adulthood.

Acne treatments

There are a million tips on how to treat or prevent acne. Some are unproven myths, like avoiding greasy food, and some are grounded in solid advice, like changing your pillowcase regularly. Overall, acne treatment can be broken into 2 categories: ways to prevent acne and ways to treat existing acne.

Habits to prevent acne

Normal cleanliness habits are the best defense against acne. Regularly clean your skin with a mild soap to remove any surface-level oil and dirt but avoid excessive scrubbing or over-washing. This can dry out the skin and leave it irritated. Regularly wash your clothes, towels, and sheets, particularly items that are often close to your face like your pillowcase. If you wear makeup, make sure you choose non pore-clogging products labeled “noncomedogenic.” Try not to wear tight things around your face, like hats or headbands. Avoid touching your face, and if you do get a pimple, do not pick or pop the pimple. Pimple popping might be satisfying, but it can spread the bacteria and can even cause scarring.

Acne medications

There are a variety of acne medications out there, from over-the-counter washes to prescription medications designed to treat severe cystic acne. Acne medications and treatments fall into 2 major groups: topical and oral medications.

Topical acne treatments

Topical acne treatments are often gels or creams that are applied once or twice a day to clear up breakouts, help with acne scarring, and prevent future breakouts.

  • Cleansers
    • These are often over-the-counter washes that include ingredients known for treating Most cleansers contain benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or sulfur.
  • Salicylic acid
    • Salicylic acid helps for milder acne by unclogging It does not reduce oil production or kill bacteria, and it must be used continuously to see success.
  • Azelaic acid (Finacea, Azelex)
    • Azelaic acid works for mild to moderate acne and works by killing the bacteria that causes Azelaic acid also reduces inflammation and can help skin heal quickly.
  • Retinoids (Tretinoin)
    • Retinoids are ideal for moderate Retinoids promote quick cell turnover and reduces oil production, which helps keep pores unclogged.
  • Antibiotics (Erythromycin, Clindamycin)
    • Topical antibiotics are best for inflammatory acne and work by killing the bacteria that causes

Oral acne treatments

  • Antibiotics (Tetracycline, Minocycline, Doxycycline)
    • Oral antibiotics are often prescribed for moderate to severe acne to help fight bacterial infection and also fight inflammation. Oral antibiotics should be used for the shortest amount of time possible and are most often paired with topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide for the best
  • Birth control (Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep, Yaz)
    • Birth control is a common acne medication for women and works by regulating androgens, a group of hormones, to control oil
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane)
    • Isotretinoin, most commonly known as Accutane, is used to treat severe nodular and cystic It is a retinoid and works by decreasing oil production.

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