Categorized | Life & Style

Keeping Acne at an arm’s length

Posted on 27 February 2014 by admin

Dr. Amitha Jocie Mundenchira


 “Oh no! I have a pimple on my face.”

Acne is considered a disease of the hair follicles of the face, chest and back, that affects almost all teenagers during puberty.  About 50% of adult men and 25% of adult women now experience adult acne at some point.  Acne can cause major stress because the individual with acne worries that it takes away from looking beautiful or handsome.  In bad cases of acne, the individual can suffer from pain.

It is not caused by bacteria, although bacteria play a role in its development.  Our skin has many microscopic hair follicles often called pores.  These pores sometimes become blocked; sebum (oil) which normally drains to the surface gets trapped and bacteria begin to grow.  Acne appears on the skin as:

  • blackheads or whiteheads,
  • pimples or zits,
  • pus-filled pimples,
  • boils

            The exact cause for acne is still not well understood.  However, it is speculated that acne may result from a complex mix of factors:

(1)               Hereditary

If your parents had severe acne, you may be at increased risk.

(2) Inflammation

Processes that promote the body’s inflammatory response may encourage acne formation.  Based on this possibility, anti-inflammatory low glycemic diets may reduce acne formation; this may be related to the weight loss effect of such diets.  As body weight levels out or increases, acne symptoms tend to return.

(3) Stress

Stress causes an inflammatory response in the body and can break the walls of these pores; the body responds with redness around the broken pore, and an influx of pus (a pimple or zit).  Stress also releases male sex hormones from the adrenal glands (especially in women) and this may lead to more acne.

(4)               Inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, can affect acne.  Omega-3 fatty acids and zinc gluconate supplementation (40 mg per day) may have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that may decrease sebum production.

(5) Diet

There is no concrete evidence to suggest that certain foods cause acne; however, there are some strong associations with dairy and chocolate.  Whether saturated, unsaturated, and/or hydrogenated fats affect acne remains unknown.

Eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables will help your overall health and may or may not help reduce the inflammation inherent in the acne process.

(6) Hormones

Increased androgen (male hormones) levels in both males and females can result in acne.   Acne in women may be more cyclical due to monthly menstruation.  

            There may be some factors that aggravate acne that is already present:

  • Pressure from helmets, chin straps, collars, etc.
  • Some medications
  • Exposure to industrial products like cutting oils
  • Some cosmetics and skin-care products clog pores.  “Water-based” products (those with water listed as first or second ingredient) are usually best for those with acne.

            The focus of both home treatment and prescription therapy is to (1) unclog pores, (2) reduce bacteria, and (3) minimize oil.

            Lifestyle: Sleeping 6-8 hours, eating three good meals, and drinking eight glasses of water daily are all helpful.   Never pick or squeeze pimples unless done properly by a professional.  It is important to leave your skin relatively untouched because physically irritating the skin can cause breakouts.

            Unclogging pores: There is no magic product or regime – you have to figure out what works for you.  However, frequent washing actually irritates pores, which can cause them to become clogged.

  • Mild cleansers: Wash once or twice a day with a mild cleansing bar or liquid like Neutrogena.
  • Exfoliating cleansers and masks: A variety of mild scrubs, exfoliants, and masks can be used to open pores – these products may contain salicylic acid, glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids.
  • Retinol: This is a derivative of vitamin A and can help promote skin peeling.
  • Facials: Steaming and “deep-cleaning” pores are useful especially for people with “whiteheads” or “blackheads.”
  • Pore strips: Pharmacies now carry, under a variety of brand names, strips which you put on your nose, forehead, chin, etc., to “pull out” oil from your pores.
  • Antibacterial cleansers: The most popular ingredient in over-the-counter antibacterial cleansers is benzoyl peroxide.
  • External applications: These products come in the form of gels, creams and lotions, which are applied to the affected area. There are more expensive products like ProActiv or identical cheaper products in your drugstore – you can talk to your pharmacist.
            Reducing bacteria:

Minimizing oil:

            Use a gentle toner to wipe away oil – there are many brands available in pharmacies, as well as from manufacturers of cosmetic lines.

  • Products containing glycolic acid or one of the other alpha hydroxy acids cause the superficial layer of the skin to peel.
  • Masks containing sulfur draw out facial oil.
  • Antibacterial pads containing benzoyl peroxide help to wipe away oil.

If your acne worsens despite trying above suggestions, it is time to consult your doctor for more aggressive treatments that include externally applied medications, oral antibiotics, birth control pills and cosmetic procedures.   Accutane (isotretinoin) provides long-term remission of acne symptoms in approximately 2/3 of people who take an adequate dosage; however, since it may have potentially serious side-effects, it should be taken with consultation and ongoing care under a trusted physician. The goal of treatment should be the prevention of scarring, not necessarily a flawless complexion, because acne can spontaneously resolve over time.

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