What is Acne?
Acne is the term for plugged pores (blackheads and whiteheads), pimples, and even deeper lumps (cysts or nodules) that occur on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and even the upper arms. Acne affects most teenagers to some extent. However, the disease is not restricted to any age group; adults in their 20s – even into their 40s – can get acne. While acne usually clears up after several years even if untreated, you need not wait to outgrow it.
What causes acne?
Rising hormone levels in males and females during adolescence cause the sebaceous (oil glands) of the skin to get bigger. These glands are found in areas where acne is common (the face, upper back, and chest).
What does not cause acne?
Acne is not caused by dirt. Acne is not caused by the foods you eat. A tan can mask your acne, but the benefits are temporary.
Men with acne who shave should try both an electric and a safety razor to see which is more comfortable. If you use a safety razor, soften your beard thoroughly with soap or a cleanser and warm water before applying shaving cream. To avoid nicking pimples, shave as lightly as possible. Shave only when necessary and always use a sharp blade.
If you wear a liquid foundation or use a moisturizer, look for ones that are oilfree and not just water-based. Choose products that are “non-comedogenic” (should not cause whiteheads or blackheads) or “non-acnegenic” (should not cause acne). Remove your cosmetics every night with soap or a cleanser and water.
Shield your face when applying hairsprays, mousses, and gels. If the spray comes in contact with your facial skin, it can cause a cosmetic type of acne.
What can your doctor prescribe to help your acne?
Control of acne is an ongoing process. All acne treatments work by preventing new acne. Existing blemishes must heal on their own. Improvement takes time. If your acne has not improved after 6 to 8 weeks, you may need a change in your treatment.
- Vitamin A acid or benzoyl peroxide – Your dermatologist may prescribe topical creams or lotions such as vitamin A acid or benzoyl peroxide to help unblock the pores and reduce the bacteria. These may cause some drying and peeling. Your dermatologist will advise you on the correct use and how to handle side effects.
- Oral Antibiotics – Antibiotics taken by mouth such as tetracycline, minocycline or amoxicillin are often prescribed for moderate or severe cases, especially when there is a lot of acne on the back or chest. The antibiotics reduce the bacteria in the follicle and may also decrease the redness directly. When taking oral antibiotics some women develop a yeast infection in the vaginal area. If this occurs, continue your medicine and contact your dermatologist immediately for treatment of the yeast infection.
- Birth Control Pills – Women who are taking birth control pills may notice a significant improvement in their acne, and occasionally birth control pills are used specifically for the treatment of acne. It is also important to know that oral antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. This is uncommon but possible, especially if you notice break-through bleeding. As with most medicines, check with your doctor about taking antibiotics if you are pregnant or nursing.