Some of my favorite memories are the ones that took place when I was a teenager. Life was good…that is, with the exception of my acne. I remember examining my acne complexion in the mirror every time I tried out a new topical concoction that guaranteed to clear my skin. Unfortunately most of the products I purchased produced little to no visible results. I am happy to report that my acne problems no longer plague me as an adult like they did when I was a teenager. And if treated correctly, clear skin can be yours too!

Causes of Acne

Acne is the abnormal growth of cells within a hair follicle that can lead to the formation of a plug or blackhead (comedeo). This plug interferes with the normal activity of the hair, skin cells and oil (sebum) which can result in the enlargement and subsequent rupture of the hair follicle. When a hair follicle gets to the point of rupture, the oil contained within spills over to the surrounding skin and results in redness and inflammation.

Certain factors that may contribute to the development of acne can include bacteria that normally live in the hair follicles, as well as certain hormones such as androgens, and a family history.

Certain conditions that can make acne worse may include, but are not limited to, the following: 

– Makeup is the number one culprit when it comes to acne. When shopping for makeup, be sure to select only foundations that are labeled as oil-free or noncomedogenic.
– Suntan lotion and/or oil
– Hair styling products such as gel and mousse
– Stress
– Hormonal changes, especially those that occur during menstruation
– Squeezing or picking at blemishes
– Scrubbing the skin

Contrary to popular belief, certain things like chocolate, French fries and sexual activity do not cause acne breakouts.

Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most effective topical solutions used to treat acne. These kinds of medication can kill bacteria, dry up oil and make your skin peel. Both ingredients can be found in such topical treatments as gel, lotion, cream, or soap. Remember, it can sometimes take up to eight weeks before you begin to notice any visible improvement in the overall appearance of skin, and a decrease in the number of flare-ups. If the over-the-counter product you are using does not clear up your skin within eight weeks, consult a dermatologist, as you may need to use a prescription acne medication.

Certain over-the-counter acne medications can cause side effects. Discontinue the use of any acne products you are using if you develop any of the following side effects:

– Mild to moderate skin irritation
– Burning
– Redness
– Peeling of the skin

Prescription Medication

If you experience little to no success with over-the-counter topical medications, your dermatologist may prescribe a gel or cream formulation containing retinoid. Retinoid products such as tretinoin and adapalene are typically applied to the affected area once daily. Be sure not to get medicine in your eyes, mouth and nose.

When using a product containing retinoid, be sure to use a sunscreen containing a strong SPF and avoid exposure to direct sunlight until your course of therapy has concluded. Tazarotene, a type of retinoid, should not be used if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it may cause birth defects.

In severe cases of acne, your doctor may opt to prescribe an antibiotic in order to treat the condition. Certain antibiotics such as minocycline, doxycycline and tetracycline are known to reduce bacteria and inflammation, and can be used in tandem with other acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide. Antibiotics may be taken orally, or they may be included in lotions, creams or gels.

Treatment for Severe Cystic Acne

A medication called isotretinoin may be prescribed for the treatment of severe cystic acne that does not respond to other treatments. This medication is dispensed in pill form and is taken once daily for a period of 15-20 weeks.

You should not take isotretinoin if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it can cause serious birth defects and even result in miscarriage. A woman taking this particular medication must either use two forms of birth control or abstain from sexual activity for at least one month prior to beginning and ending the medication.

Isotretinoin may cause other serious side effects; therefore, patients should be closely monitored while taking this particular medication.

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