The world is a daunting place at the best of times.
If you’re feeling self conscious about your skin, this only gets more frightening. The only good news is that you’re not alone. Conservatively, 80% of people have experienced acne in some way shape or form, so feeling the need to cover up is practically a human experience. This is a crash course in all things acne: why it occurs, how to treat it and how to ensure that you don’t have unnecessary flare-ups.
You probably don’t need an explanation of acne, but here goes. It is a very common skin condition where your hair follicles become clogged over time. This can be a variety of gunk: oil, dead skin cells, general dirt. But when that follicle becomes clogged, it forms blemishes across your skin. This manifests in a number of ways:
- Blackheads: These are small black lumps that appear, usually on the T-zone area of the face - the nose, forehead and chin.
- Whiteheads: As the name suggests, these are white lumps that are often referred to as ‘zits’. They usually form on the nose, chin and forehead where there is a higher concentration of sebaceous (oil) glands.
- Papules: These small red tender bumps commonly occur on the neck, chest and back.
- Pustules: These are filled with a yellowy pus under the skin.
- Nodules: These are much more difficult to see, but they are very easy to feel. They are often referred to as blind pimples, and they form deep underneath your skin, showing only a faint red blemish on the surface.
- Conglobate: This is when many of these occur simultaneously, but it is important to note that this is entirely normal.
There are a number of different reasons why you might develop acne. Sometimes, it is the wheel of fortune, and other times, it is environmentally determined.
- Your skin begins to overproduce oil, which then gets clogged in your pores.
- Your pores become clogged with other things like skin or dirt.
- A bacterial infection called Propionibacterium acnes can cause acne to flare up.
- During different periods in your life, your hormones change which can cause acne to spread across your body. The most obvious occasion is during puberty which is why acne is (mistakenly) associated with teenagers. During menstruation, this same effect takes place on a smaller level, which is why women will sometimes break out in the days before their period.
- Certain medications such as corticosteroids and androgens can cause an outbreak of acne.
- Your diet can play a fairly significant role in your skin health. If you are consuming a whole lot of refined carbs, dairy, sugar and deep fried fatty foods, you are increasing the level of oil you will secret from your pores, which will then result in clogged pores.
- Stress and emotional factors play a part here as well. It triggers the release of cortisol which increases oil production and inflammation of your skin. Next stop, acne.
- Sadly, if you have a family history of acne, you are more likely to struggle with this. The genetic tendency to overproduce oil is passed down from parent to child.
What are the medical treatments?
There are many things you can do to help treat acne.
- Your first option is a topical cream like Benzac. It works by killing the bacteria that cause acne and reducing inflammation. The benzoyl peroxide penetrates the skin and releases oxygen which is toxic to the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. Additionally, Benzac helps to unblock the pores and prevent new acne breakouts. Benzac is available in different strengths and formulations, and is typically applied to the affected area once or twice daily, after cleansing the skin. Anything will do as long as it contains retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or antibiotics
- Your next option is oral antibiotics, but this should only come after consultation with your GP or dermatologist for one simple reason: Your acne might not be caused by a bacteria and the antibiotic could be doing nothing at all. Additionally, it is slightly more invasive than a topical cream because an antibiotic wipes your gut biome of its culture. This can end up causing more health issues if you don’t replenish your biome with good bacteria found in fermented foods: kimchi, kombucha, kefir and other things starting with K.
- The next step up from here is hormonal therapy. It seeks to control the hormones that are prompting the production of excess oil in your skin. Again, this is best discussed with a health professional, because it is usually only prescribed for women if the break outs are tied to menstruation
- Then you could consider light and laser therapies. This uses different wavelengths of light (particularly blue light) to target and eliminate the bacteria that causes outbreaks of acne. This can be performed by a dermatologist, but it will require multiple sessions, so don’t expect this one to be a miracle cure.
- Finally, you could resort to a chemical peel. This is where a chemical solution is applied to your epidermis to remove the outer layers of dead skin. It exfoliates, unclogs pores, both of which reduce the severity of acne scars. Given that this does rely on a form of acid, this is not always appropriate for all different kinds of skin. As always, consult your GP or dermatologist.
What are the changes I can make in my lifestyle to reduce flare-ups?
- Wash your face twice a day with warm water
- Don’t pop your pimples, however tempting it may be
- Use skincare products that are listed as non comedogenic. These will avoid clogging your pores.
- Drink plenty of water as this flushes out toxins and moisturizes your skin.
- Try to redirect your life away from stressful situations. This may be easier said than done, but at the end of the day, you either cut down, or learn to live with outbreaks of acne
- Avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks as this will dry out unnecessarily.