Many of us have experienced acne to some extent, especially during those teen years and into early adulthood, when hormones are fluctuating and our glands are producing excess oils.
Acne affects around 5.6 million Canadians – that’s nearly 20% of the population. More than 80% of those affected are adolescents, and 20-30% are adults between the ages of 20 – 40, so while we naturally associate acne with puberty, it can persist for many years, regardless of age or ethnicity.
Acne lesions occur when the pores of the skin become clogged, trapping skin oil and bacteria inside, leading to a ‘breakout’ – skin lesions which can vary from mild to severe – and though acne is common, it can have a significant psychological impact, causing embarrassment and low self-esteem, interfering with daily social activities and even leading to depression (in these cases, assurance and counselling are equally as important as physical treatment!).
Factors that may make acne worse: genetics, hormones, physical irritation of the skin, anxiety and stress, sunburns, cosmetics, and diet.
Spot The Difference
Identifying which type of acne you’re experiencing (and whether it’s inflammatory or non-inflammatory) is key to successful treatment. Types of acne include:
It’s also possible to have multiple types of acne at once.
Noninflammatory acne includes blackheads and whiteheads. These normally don’t cause swelling. They also respond relatively well to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
Salicylic acid is often marketed for acne in general, but it usually works best on noninflammatory acne. It naturally exfoliates the skin, removing dead skin cells that can lead to blackheads and whiteheads. Look for it in cleansers, toners, and moisturizers.
Blackheads (open comedones)
Blackheads occur when a pore is clogged by a combination of sebum and dead skin cells. The top of the pore stays open, despite the rest of it being clogged. This results in the characteristic black color seen on the surface.
Whiteheads (closed comedones)
Whiteheads can also form when a pore gets clogged by sebum and dead skin cells. But unlike with blackheads, the top of the pore closes up. It looks like a small bump protruding from the skin. Whiteheads are more difficult to treat because the pores are already closed. Products containing salicylic acid can be helpful. Topical retinoids give the best results for comedonal acne.
Pimples that are red and swollen are referred to as inflammatory acne.
Although sebum and dead skin cells contribute to inflammatory acne, bacteria can also play a role in clogging up pores. Bacteria can cause an infection deep beneath the skin’s surface. This may result in painful acne spots that are hard to get rid of.
Products containing benzoyl-peroxide may help reduce swelling and get rid of bacteria within the skin. These can also remove excess sebum. Your doctor may prescribe either an oral or topical antibiotic along with the benzoyl-peroxide to treat your inflammatory acne. Topical retionoids are also an important part of combatting inflammatory papules and pustules.
Papules occur when the walls surrounding your pores break down from severe inflammation. This results in hard, clogged pores that are tender to the touch. The skin around these pores is usually pink.
Pustules can also form when the walls around your pores break down. Unlike papules, pustules are filled with pus. These bumps come out from the skin and are usually red in color. They often have yellow or white heads on top.
Nodules occur when clogged, swollen pores endure further irritation and grow larger. Unlike pustules and papules, nodules are deeper underneath the skin. Because nodules are so deep within the skin, you can’t typically treat them at home. Prescription medication is necessary to help clear these up.
Cysts can develop when pores are clogged by a combination of bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells. The clogs occur deep within the skin and are further below the surface than nodules. These large red or white bumps are often painful to the touch. Cysts are the largest form of acne, and their formation usually results from a severe infection. This type of acne is also the most likely to scar.
Eating greasy food makes acne worse — Certain foods such as chocolate, french fries and other greasy foods have long been suspected of aggravating acne, but scientific studies have not found a connection.
Poor hygiene can cause acne — Acne is not due to dirty skin, and doesn’t reflect personal hygiene habits. Blackheads aren’t dirt-filled pores; they’re black because the oil in them (keratin) is oxidized when it comes into contact with air. In fact, washing vigorously and too often can make acne worse by irritating the skin.
Acne will go away quickly — It may clear up, but acne can get worse before it improves. The longer you have acne, the greater the chances of permanent scarring. The most effective way to get rid of acne is to talk to your doctor about what treatment is right for you.
You can get acne from contact with someone who has it — Acne may be unsightly and embarrassing, but it is not contagious.
Sun exposure and tanning clear up skin — Neither outdoor nor indoor tanning will help acne over the long run. Being in the sun can help initially by drying up skin lesions and surface oils, and masking spots by tanning, but the effect is temporary. More often, people will experience an acne flare-up after UV exposure. Sun exposure also raises the risk of skin cancer.
There are steps you can take to help ease the symptoms of acne:
- Don’t wash affected areas of skin more than twice a day. Frequent washing can irritate the skin and make symptoms worse.
- Wash the affected area with a gentle, non-abrasive face wash or cleanser and lukewarm water. Very hot or cold water can make acne worse.
- Don’t try to “clean out” blackheads or squeeze spots. This can make them worse and cause permanent scarring.
- Avoid using too much make-up and cosmetics. Use water-based products that are described as non-comedogenic (this means the product is less likely to block the pores in your skin).
- Completely remove make-up before going to bed.
- If dry skin is a problem, use a fragrance-free, water-based emollient.
- Regular exercise can’t improve your acne, but it can boost your mood and improve your self-esteem.
- Shower as soon as possible once you finish exercising, as sweat can irritate your acne.
- Wash your hair regularly and try to avoid letting your hair fall across your face.
The DermaNuva Difference
The most important reasons to treat acne are to control breakouts, avoid scarring, and make any scars that have already developed less noticeable.
Like fingerprints, our skin is unique, and we believe in treating acne – along with many other skin conditions – using a holistic approach. Our skin specialist will diagnose your acne and help you find the best acne treatment plan for your skin type and the kind of acne you have.
Our acne treatments include:
Treatments for acne scarring: