Acne 101: Everything You Need to Know to Start Treating Your Acne Today
If you have acne and don’t know what to do, you’ve come to the right place! Acne is incredibly common, and there are many treatment options for varying levels of severity.
What Is Acne?
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that occurs when your pores become clogged or blocked. Blockages cause the bacteria inside your pores and hair follicles to increase rapidly, creating the bumps, or pustules, that many call pimples.
What Are the Different Types of Acne?
We categorize acne into the following groups:
- Comedonal acne consists of mostly smaller bumps around the face.
- Inflammatory acne results in larger, redder, and more painful lesions.
- Hormonal acne typically occurs in females during times of fluctuating hormones, like puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, birth control changes, and menopause.
- Cystic acne causes the largest and most inflamed lesions.
Truncal acne typically appears on your chest or back without affecting your face.
Who Does Acne Affect?
Acne affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Usually, acne is more common in teenagers and in women due to the increased hormone fluctuations, though our practice sees a diverse range of patients with acne. We treat acne patients up to their 70s and across all walks of life.
Where Does Acne Most Commonly Occur?
Acne usually affects the face. Occasionally, we see acne on the arms and legs. Ultimately, pimples can pop up anywhere, though acne patterns typically appear on the face, neck, back, and chest.
What Causes Acne?
Many factors can cause you to develop anything from a mild to severe form of acne. Common causes include:
- Hair follicle and pore blockages that create bacterial build-ups in your glands
- Excessive sebum, or natural skin oils
- Hormonal fluctuations that result in overactive oil glands
- Inflammation blockages in more severe acne cases
Does Poor Hygiene Cause Acne?
Poor hygiene does not cause acne. If you already have acne, inadequate cleansing might worsen your condition, though it will not cause the problem. Adequate hygiene can help resolve minor to moderate acne cases, but patients with more severe cases usually need medication.
Can Stress Cause Acne?
Stress can cause or exacerbate acne, and we see this frequently in our practice. Increased stress raises your cortisol levels, causing acne breakouts and other health concerns.
Do Certain Foods Cause Acne?
Dermatologists still debate whether diet causes acne. Certain highly processed foods or skim dairy products cause acne problems for some individuals, though others have no effects from eating these foods.
No dietary changes can definitively cure your acne, though every person is different. If you notice any patterns between food and breakouts, consider cutting the problem items out of your diet.
Is There an Underlying Cause?
We typically see a few main underlying causes of acne, including:
- Hormones: Hormonal fluctuations can increase oil gland production, boost cortisol levels, and alter how your body functions, causing acne to flare up.
- Genetics: Acne has a genetic component, so if your parents suffered from severe acne, you might also face a similar condition. Genetic causes typically lead to the most severe cases since your body reverts to producing acne each time we try to get rid of it.
Medications: Certain prescription drugs can cause acne as a side effect. If it’s a short-term treatment, you will likely clear back up once it leaves your system. If you need the medication long-term, you might not always find a complete cure for the acne.
How Severe Can Acne Get?
Acne is more than just a cosmetic condition. Severe acne can cause internal issues, chronic pain, and serious mental health concerns.
Can Acne Cause Scars?
Acne can definitely cause scars. Even seemingly harmless pimples might leave marks on your face for years. Typically, we see two different types of acne scars:
- Skin damage: With more mild cases, your skin becomes damaged from the pustules opening up or popping. When people pick at their skin or attempt to pop whiteheads, they may end up with flat, red scars.
- Keloid scars: More severe cystic acne often leads to keloid scarring. Keloids look like raised and discolored bumps, sometimes as large as a coin, appearing on a patient’s back, chest, or face. Larger scars like these can lead to movement restrictions and other painful complications.
What Are the Possible Complications of Acne?
Aside from scarring, severe acne cases can lead to other serious health concerns, including:
- Acne syndromes: Acne fulminans and acne conglobata are severe acne syndromes that can cause fever, chills, bone pain, motion issues, and joint pain.
- Mental health issues: Regardless of severity, many patients often struggle with their outward appearance due to acne. Feeling negative about how you look can affect your social life and emotions. Some patients battle anxiety and depression because of acne.
When You Should See a Doctor
You should see a doctor for your acne if any of the following scenarios apply to you:
- Your acne is only getting worse over time, not better.
- You’ve tried over-the-counter products and remedies, but they don’t work.
- Acne is impacting your daily life, mental health, or physical well-being.
- You want to improve the appearance of your skin.
Should People with Acne See a Specialist?
Many people with acne start by visiting their general physician, pediatrician, or even OBGYN. These professionals are most effective at treating mild to moderate cases of acne.
If they’re not getting the improvement you want, you may want to consider seeing a dermatologist. Another doctor may also refer you to a dermatologist for skin issues like acne.
When Should I Call My Child’s Healthcare Provider about Acne?
You should call your child’s healthcare provider if they begin developing larger patterns of pimples that only worsen rather than improve. Finding safe over-the-counter remedies for children is more challenging, so you should stick with professional medical advice from your kid’s doctor.
If your child complains to you about their appearance due to acne, you should try to boost their confidence and bring them to a doctor to treat their acne before it worsens.
What to Expect from Your Dermatologist Visit
When you visit a dermatologist for acne, they will ask you a lot of questions, like:
- What treatments have you tried?
- What did or didn’t work?
- Do you currently use any products?
- How’s your diet?
- How hygienic are you?
- How frequently do you wash your skin, and with what soap?
- How much time do you have for a new skincare routine?
- What are your goals?
Once we get to know you better, we will develop a treatment plan. Depending on how your skin responds, we will adjust until we find what works best for you.
What Should I Do While Waiting to See a Dermatologist?
While waiting to see your dermatologist, try the following methods to prevent your acne from worsening further:
- Apply over-the-counter washes or creams, like benzoyl peroxide
- Wash your face regularly with a mild, non-perfumed soap, like sulfur bars
- Avoid processed, sugary, and deep-fried foods
- Try a topical retinoid, like adapalene
Your doctor will likely recommend that you attempt some or multiple of these remedies, so starting ahead of time will bring you closer to finding your path to clear skin.
What Acne Treatments Are Available?
We use various treatments for acne since each patient responds differently. We might prescribe topical or oral solutions depending on your severity and underlying causes. If something doesn’t work, we have plenty more options to try.
What Topical Therapies Can I Try?
The most common topical therapies for acne include:
- Benzoyl peroxide washes
- Salicylic acid washes
- Topical antibiotics
- Topical retinoids
Most of the washes help reduce the bacteria in your skin, while the topical treatments help your pores open up, which reduces clogging. You can purchase many of these treatments at your local pharmacy, or we can prescribe stronger doses if we believe it’s necessary.
What Oral Treatments Can I Use?
We will typically try one of the following oral treatments for acne:
- Antibiotics to minimize inflammation and bacteria
- Anti-inflammatories, like prednisone
- Zinc supplements to reduce inflammation
- Isotretinoin (formerly sold under the brand name Accutane) to promote skin renewal and treat severe cases of acne
Can Retinoids Help Acne?
Retinoids, like adapalene, can offer excellent results for patients with acne. We often recommend that acne patients attempt this route before more potent treatments. You can buy adapalene by the brand name of Differin at many local stores.
Certain retinoids frequently cause skin “purging” in the beginning weeks of treatment, meaning you might break out more before things get better. Your doctor can advise you on these side effects.
What About Over-the-Counter Treatments with Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are effective over-the-counter treatments. You can wash your face daily with these products to clear up the bacteria in your pores. Treatments with these ingredients might dry your skin or cause tenderness, so you should always moisturize afterward.
What About Alternative Therapies?
For more natural remedies, we typically recommend vitamin C, B, or Zinc. Some patients also claim that tanning in the sun improves their skin.
However, we don’t recommend this behavior as it can increase your risk for skin cancer and premature aging. Instead of direct sunlight, you can try blue or red light therapies to minimize inflammation and reduce acne.
How Do I Know Which Acne Treatment Is Right for Me?
Picking the right acne treatment for you is challenging. Many patients spend months or longer trying different methods before finding what works best. We recommend seeing a dermatologist for a personalized treatment plan for this common skin condition.
Our team wants to help you clear up your acne. Reach out to Dermatology, Surgery & Cosmetics of Northeast Ohio today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists.