First, let’s talk about what causes acne. Pimples form when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a plug that blocks the pores. “As the P. acnes bacteria that naturally live on skin overgrow within this plugged follicle, the area becomes inflamed and this is when you start to see papules, pustules, and cystic lesions,” RealSelf dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., tells SELF. The treatments ahead work to exfoliate away dead skin cells, suck up excess oil, stop inflammation, and kill the P. acnes bacteria. There are even a few treatments that target hormonal acne specifically.
Eat healthily. Foods that are highly processed and contain a lot of oils greatly increase the amount of acne on your body. Getting the proper amount of nutrients from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein help your skin to regenerate faster and limit unnecessary oil production. When at all possible, avoid foods that are processed or contain a lot of sugar (think junk foods).
Hydrated skin provides the right moisture and balance the skin needs to thrive. Additionally, water helps flush out toxins, something we need on a daily basis. And those omega-3s are pretty awesome at providing a reduction in inflammation. Wild-caught salmon is one of my favorite sources, in addition to sardines, walnuts, flaxseed oil and almonds. (10)
Everything you need to know about blackheads Blackheads are small lesions that often appear on the face or neck. They are a feature of mild acne, and handling blackheads in the right way can help to prevent the acne from becoming more severe. We look at ways to reduce and treat breakouts. Learn more about what causes blackheads and how to get rid of them here. Read now
Whereas blackheads are open, whiteheads are closed comedones. They appear as small, white, round bumps on the skin’s surface. Whiteheads form when a clogged pore is trapped by a thin layer of skin leading to a buildup of pus. They range in size – from virtually invisible to large, noticeable blemishes – and can appear on the face or all over the body. Whiteheads are generally painless and non-inflammatory, so they don’t exhibit redness or swelling. Although they are unsightly, this type of pimple is generally considered a mild form acne.
Acne vulgaris is diagnosed based on a medical professional's clinical judgment. The evaluation of a person with suspected acne should include taking a detailed medical history about a family history of acne, a review of medications taken, signs or symptoms of excessive production of androgen hormones, cortisol, and growth hormone. Comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) must be present to diagnose acne. In their absence, an appearance similar to that of acne would suggest a different skin disorder. Microcomedones (the precursor to blackheads and whiteheads) are not visible to the naked eye when inspecting the skin and can only be seen with a microscope. There are many features that may indicate a person's acne vulgaris is sensitive to hormonal influences. Historical and physical clues that may suggest hormone-sensitive acne include onset between ages 20 and 30; worsening the week before a woman's period; acne lesions predominantly over the jawline and chin; and inflammatory/nodular acne lesions.
Acne is at least in part due to hereditary factors. Those whose parents have a history of acne are likely to struggle with the same condition. Your genetic makeup can determine how to get rid of pimples, how sensitive your skin is, how reactive you are to hormonal fluctuations, how quickly you shed skin cells, how you respond to inflammation, how strong your immune system is to fight off bacteria, how much oil your sebaceous glands produce, and the list goes on and on. All of these determinants can cause acne to develop more easily and determine what’s good for pimples in your complexion.
Antiandrogens such as cyproterone acetate and spironolactone have been used successfully to treat acne, especially in women with signs of excessive androgen production such as increased hairiness or skin production of sebum, or baldness. Spironolactone is an effective treatment for acne in adult women, but unlike combined birth control pills, is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for this purpose. The medication is primarily used as an aldosterone antagonist and is thought to be a useful acne treatment due to its ability to additionally block the androgen receptor at higher doses. Alone or in combination with a birth control pill, spironolactone has shown a 33 to 85% reduction in acne lesions in women. The effectiveness of spironolactone for acne appears to be dose-dependent. High-dose cyproterone acetate alone has been found to decrease symptoms of acne in women by 75 to 90% within 3 months. It is usually combined with an estrogen to avoid menstrual irregularities and estrogen deficiency. The medication has also been found to be effective in the treatment of acne in males, with one study finding that a high dosage reduced inflammatory acne lesions by 73%. However, the side effects of cyproterone acetate in males, such as gynecomastia, sexual dysfunction, and decreased bone mineral density, make its use for acne in this sex impractical in most cases. Hormonal therapies should not be used to treat acne during pregnancy or lactation as they have been associated with birth disorders such as hypospadias, and feminization of the male babies. In addition, women who are sexually active and who can or may become pregnant should use an effective method of contraception to prevent pregnancy while taking an antiandrogen. Antiandrogens are often combined with birth control pills for this reason, which can result in additive efficacy.
Genetics is thought to be the primary cause of acne in 80% of cases. The role of diet and cigarette smoking is unclear, and neither cleanliness nor exposure to sunlight appear to play a part. In both sexes, hormones called androgens appear to be part of the underlying mechanism, by causing increased production of sebum. Another frequent factor is excessive growth of the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes, which is normally present on the skin.
In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide. Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world. Lower rates are reported in some rural societies. Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty. Although acne becomes less common in adulthood, it persists in nearly half of affected people into their twenties and thirties and a smaller group continue to have difficulties into their forties.
Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne. Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne. Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis. Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against C. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties. Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality. There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.
All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
The use of antimicrobial peptides against C. acnes is under investigation as a treatment for acne to overcoming antibiotic resistance. In 2007, the first genome sequencing of a C. acnes bacteriophage (PA6) was reported. The authors proposed applying this research toward development of bacteriophage therapy as an acne treatment in order to overcome the problems associated with long-term antibiotic therapy such as bacterial resistance. Oral and topical probiotics are also being evaluated as treatments for acne. Probiotics have been hypothesized to have therapeutic effects for those affected by acne due to their ability to decrease skin inflammation and improve skin moisture by increasing the skin's ceramide content. As of 2014, studies examining the effects of probiotics on acne in humans were limited.
Accutane is especially good for cystic acne in women and body acne in men. “Oral vitamin A basically shuts down your sebaceous glands. If you suppress [them] for a long enough period, you can cure someone of their acne, and about 50 percent do hit that cure rate,” says Linkner. A course of Accutane can take about six to nine months. Sometimes patients need to repeat the course at a higher dosage in order to truly eliminate acne.
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.