Acme: noun - the point at which something is at its best or most highly developed.
Acne: noun - the complete opposite of this. It is not a great deal of fun.
When I was a younger man, my father’s eyes would light up if he spotted a pimple on my face. “Oooh pusss” he’d say, his fingers dancing in anticipation like some cartoonish villain. It is worth saying that in almost every other respect, my father was a normal man. But the joy he vicariously found in attacking my face remains a source of bewilderment to me. It fell into the category of ‘things I don’t want to repeat from my parents’.
The strange thing about acne is that it is simultaneously embarrassing and ridiculously common. 85%. That’s the percentage of people who will suffer from some form of acne in their lives. For some this will be a mild outbreak during puberty, and for others it is a lifelong struggle. Acne, pimples, zits, blackheads, whiteheads. They are often used interchangeably but they aren’t all exactly the same. Today, we are going to get a lesson on everything acne; yes, even how to get rid of it. Stay with me, dear reader.
Your body is covered in pores, little holes that help gasses and liquids move through the surface of your skin. But sometimes, these pores can become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. This is in no way an indicator of hygiene and cleanliness; some people are just more prone than others. And if you are one of those people who can remember their one and only pimple ten years ago… well, just keep that to yourself. The rest of us don’t want to hear about it.
The most common places for acne are your face, back, chest, and shoulders. When the pore becomes clogged up, it creates a growth on your skin that can show up in a number of fun ways.
Whiteheads - this is when the pore is closed and has a off-white yellowy membrane across the top. They are often the easiest to see, and the most tempting to pop.
Blackheads - this is when the pore is open and the gunk is visible. These are common across the nose, and are often less noticeable until you inspect closely.
Papules - these are the small red tender bumps which commonly cluster in the cheeks.
Nodules - These are those large red painful bumps which are under the skin, but hurt like blazes if you accidentally touch them.
There are a number of ways to fight the good fight. Some home remedies have been debunked over the years, while others have shown to be scientifically sound. Here are a couple which might get you on the front foot.
Washing your face
This reduces the amount of oil and dead skin cells that are littered across your face. Logically, this means there is less gunk there that can cause a pimple. Sounds simple, but there are still a few things to consider. Firstly, you shouldn’t use soap. It can be quite harsh on your skin, and it ends up removing too much oil. Your skin then goes into overdrive to combat the barren wasteland that is your face and you end up making it worse.
Tea tree oil.
The humble eucalyptus tree, native to Australia, is a helpful way to spot treat outbreaks across your face. It contains natural ingredients that fight the bacteria which causes acne (P. acnes and S. epidermidis if you’re wondering.) Now, it is quite potent, so if you come across a bottle of undiluted tea tree oil, you really need to dilute it to about 5% with 95% carrier oil - sweet almond oil is a popular choice. Practically, this means one drop of tea tree oil into a teaspoon of carrier oil. You should then apply it directly to the affected area twice a day until you start to see a result.
Because it is natural, it also doesn’t bring too many adverse side effects, which is helpful if you’re smearing it across your face. Various studies have shown it to be four times as effective as a placebo treatment, which is a pretty impressive return because - this will do your head in - placebos actually work. It shows you the power of the mind, hey?
Benzac AC wash
This wash combines two ingredients - benzoyl peroxide and acrylates copolymer - to create a powerful defence against acne. Benzac AC wash deploys the benzoyl peroxide into the pore to kill the bacteria that has caused the pimple to grow, and the acrylates copolymer acts like a sponge to gently absorb the excess oil. Unlike soap, Benzac AC wash doesn’t dry out your skin afterwards, because it leaves some oil on the surface, but re-hydrates with its glycerin properties. It comes in a range of different strengths, ready to hit the minor affliction with the mild dose of benzoyl peroxide (2.5%), the moderate (5%) and the high (10%). I would generally recommend my customers start at the mild dose and work their way up. In my experience, using Benzac AC wash in conjunction with some of these other treatments is often quick and effective in reducing acne.
This is for when all other options have been tried and exhausted. You will need to get a prescription for these, and your doctor will typically prescribe a tetracycline like minocycline or doxycycline. Alternatively, you might be prescribed a macrolide like erythromycin or azithromycin. It is worth noting that dermatologists are beginning to reduce the amount of time you might spend ingesting antibiotics. In the past, people might spend six months taking antibiotics, but it may end up doing more harm than good, especially if you cease doing the methods outlined above.
So there you have it. Whether you are 13 or 33, acne can be a source of embarrassment and fear. But it really need not be. It is both normal, and very treatable.