Acne is a skin disease consisting of blemishes that can occur on your face, neck, chest, shoulders, and back.

Acne is very common during the teen years but it can also affect you during adulthood as well. To keep your hair and skin well lubricated, your body depends on sebaceous glands which sit just under your skin. These glands secret an oily substance called sebum which coats your skin and hair to prevent them from drying out.

Sebum travels up hair follicles and out through your pores onto the surface of your skin. Your hair follicles routinely shed dead skin cells which sebum carries out of your body. When your body produces extra sebum and dead skin cells, they can stick together and clog your pores, resulting in skin blemishes.

Bacteria that normally exist in small amounts on your skin can flourish in the sebum in the clogged pore leading to inflammation. Depending on where the clog is located and if you have inflammation, acne may appear as:

  • Whiteheads- which are clogged follicles closed off from the air
  • blackheads -which are clogged follicles that turn a darker color when the clog is exposed to air
  • Pustule (pimple) -which is inflamed follicles clogged with pus
  • Cyst- which are larger, painful pus-filled lumps going deep under the skin.

Factors contributing to acne

Hormonal changes, particularly a rise in testosterone can lead to sebum overproduction which is why acne often occurs during the teen years. However, it can occur at any age. Other factors contributing to the development of acne are bacteria, certain medications, and genetics.

Medications for moderate to severe acne

If you have a mild case of acne, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter lotion with one of several active ingredients.

  • Benzoyl peroxide- kills bacteria, dries excess oil and remove dead skin cells clogging pores
  • Salicylic acid- Slows the loss of skin cells to prevent clogged pores. It may also break down whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids- Helps to remove dead skin cells , reduce inflammation, and stimulate the growth of new and smoother skin.
  • Sulfur- Removes dead skin cells and dries excess oil.

These are strong chemicals that may irritate your skin. Follow the directions for use exactly.If over-the-counter products are not effective, your dermatologist may prescribe a stronger prescription lotion such as

  • Vitamin A- Helps to reduce the buildup of dead skin cells in your pores
  • Topical antibiotics- Kills bacteria on your skin
  • Benzoyl peroxide + topical antibiotics

For moderate to severe cases, your dermatologist may prescribe an oral medical alone or in combination with a topical treatment. These medications include

  • Oral antibiotics- Kills bacteria and reduce inflammation
  • Isotretinoin- Used only for the most severe cases
  • Corticosteroid injection- Relieves pain and help clear up particularly large lesions
  • Birth control pills containing estrogen- For women to minimize the effects of testosterone

Tips for good skin care

Regardless of the treatment your doctor recommends, good skincare is essential. For example,

  • Wash problem areas twice daily with a mild soap
  • Wash gently without scrubbing
  • For dry or peeling skin, use an oil-free water-based moisturizer
  • When choosing any product to put on your skin, look for an oil-free or non-comedogentic label that will not clog your pores
  • Avoid picking or squeezing blemishes as these actions may lead to infections or scars
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands, your hair, or any objects such as a cellphone
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