Acne Causes and Treatments

Anatomy of sebaceous gland.
Anatomy of sebaceous gland. Illustration by Don Bliss.

Acne is caused by blocked and inflamed sebaceous glands. For most people acne starts in teenage years when hormone changes cause the sebaceous glands to expand. A whitehead becomes visible when the pore is blocked due to increased sebum production by the sebaceous gland. A blackhead or a little hole can also become visible when the pore is open. In the blocked pore, bacteria can then develop and cause inflammation. Acne is a very common condition (the eighth most common disease worldwide), and it mainly occurs on the face, back, shoulders and upper chest regions. The condition may result in long-term visible effects such as scarring, and it can also lead to lower self-esteem, anxiety and even depression. Fortunately there are many ways to treat acne, and many of them work well together.

Causes

About 80% of acne is considered to be a result of genetic factors, and hormones are the most common reason for the inflammation. Although oily skin and bacteria are responsible for the outbreak, regular cleaning of the skin actually produces minimal improvement if not done in conjunction with a more effective treatment plan. Smoking has also been found to exacerbate the condition.

Acne can also be triggered by anabolic steroids, cortisone treatment, and medication containing lithium – due to these substances’ effects on hormone production. Oily sunscreens and a hot, humid environment may also aggravate acne.

Treatment Methods

There are different treatments for acne – some more proven than others and some that require more self-discipline than others.

Some believe that a reduced intake of carbohydrates – in particular sugars – decreases the inflammation that causes acne, however there is no direct evidence for this. Nonetheless, some people find that dietary changes produce positive outcomes.

There are various medical treatments, both topical (such as salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and benzoyl peroxide) and oral (such as antibiotics and retinoids). Some topical medications carry risks and require correct use to avoid complications. There is also the possibility that the body can develop resistance to antibiotics, making it a short-term fix in some cases.

Quitting or cutting back on smoking can also help in reducing outbreaks.

What can you do yourself?

Since the cause of acne is mainly genetic and hormonal, it is rare that it can be completely eradicated, but it can certainly be drastically reduced. Also keep in mind that once you embark on a treatment plan, it takes time to see an effect – patience is the key to success.

Wash morning and evening

Although acne is not solely a result of unclean skin, regular cleansing can help. Washing the skin in the morning and evening is ideal. More frequent washing will only aggravate and dry out the skin. Use a mild water-based cleanser for oily skin and preferably without perfume (keep in mind that most skin cleansers are oil-based). Topical creams with salicylic acid (or benzoyl peroxide for more extreme cases) also help kill bacteria. It is also important to wash your pillowcase weekly, as this can also accumulate oil.

Avoid using oily creams

Avoid applying oil-based creams and oils to infected areas. They might block the pores and worsen the acne. If your skin is dry (this might be a side effect of topical creams), use an oil-free balm or moisturiser to rehydrate your skin instead.

Don’t squeeze!

Don’t squeeze pimples. This might harm the sebaceous gland and increase inflammation. Also don’t attempt to needle or cut a lump, since it increases the risk of scarring.

When outside, sunbathe with care

The sun decreases inflammation in the skin as long as you don’t get burnt, but it also prolongs the lifetime of scars. If certain areas of your skin have a tendency to scar, avoid sunning these areas or liberally apply sunscreen in these areas. And don’t forget to use an oil-free sunscreen!

Avoid certain foods

There is no scientific proof for food products being a trigger for acne, but some people find that certain dietary restrictions work for them. If you notice that some foods exacerbate your acne, listen to your body and avoid those foods. Sugars or other carbohydrates – most notably tomatoes and oranges – are common culprits.

Be cautious with make-up

A lot of people prefer to conceal acne. Make-up has not been proven to cause acne, but some products contain chemicals that can lead to increased skin irritation. Again, try to avoid fatty products and look for more organic ingredients. There are also concealers that are especially made to cover acne.

Use a targeted treatment plan

If the above moderate treatments do not reduce your acne as much as you would like, you should ask your doctor for a prescribed medication, and treat your acne with laser therapy or chemical peels (see below for more information). Also, there is the possibility that you don’t actually have acne, but another skin condition, such as Rosacea or Perioral Dermatitis, which may require a different treatment.

Have you had a problem with acne? Has any specific treatment helped you or someone you know? Share your experience and any know-how to help us improve this page.

How Can We Help You?

There are progressive skin care treatments that can control and minimise acne. Because we understand that there are varying degrees of acne, we can establish a skin care treatment program that is focussed on you as an individual. During your free initial consultation, we evaluate your skin and determine the proper professional approach to deliver maximum benefit. To find out more, read about our acne treatments or simply fill out the form below for your initial consultation.

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