For teenagers acne is the worst four letter word. I remember looking horrified into the mirror before going to school, or worse a party, noticing a pimple on the chin or nose. Trying to make it go away ended mostly with a doublesized, glazing red one instead.

Acne is caused by inflammation of the oil glands in the skin and at the base of strands of hair. In the teenage years, hormones stimulate the growth of body hair, and the oil glands secrete more oil (sebum).

The skin pores become clogged with shedding cells and bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes ) growing in the clogged pores. When the body works to destroy the bacteria, the resulting inflammation forms whiteheads and blackheads in these areas. Acne lesions usually occur on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. Nearly 17 million people in the United States have acne, making it the most common skin disease. Although acne is not a serious health threat, severe acne can lead to disfiguring, permanent scarring, which can be upsetting for people who suffer from the disorder.

The symptoms of acne are:

  • blackheads
  • whiteheads
  • pimples, some filled with puss

Other troublesome acne lesions can develop, including the following:

  • Papules—inflamed lesions that usually appear as small, pink bumps on the skin and can be tender to the touch
  • Pustules (pimples) — inflamed, pus-filled lesions that can be red at the base
  • Nodules—large, painful, solid lesions that are lodged deep within the skin
  • Cysts—deep, inflamed, pus-filled lesions that can cause pain and scarring

These skin eruptions may be painful. In severe cases, cysts (fluid-filled bumps larger than pimples) may develop under the skin.

What causes my acne?

Although cleaning the skin is a first step in controlling acne, a dirty skin is not the cause of acne. This is one of many myths blamed for originating acne. Also foods like chocolate, pig meat or French fries are not a cause of acne. You might notice a flare up but the relation is different as it might be a mild allergy to an ingredient or it might be the stress your body gets from a unbalanced diet. Fruits and vegetables are the main components to a healthy diet and thus create a balance in your body and as such will have a positive effect on acne. Other important stress factors can be school (nothing new here) and lack of sleep. Stick to a regular 8 hour sleep a night rhythm and sleep away your acne (or keep it under control).

Sexual frustration is also not a cause of acne, although it seems to be a popular myth.

The main cause is hereditary, if it is in the genes of your mom and dad you already have a 80% chance of getting it as well. Nothing you can change about that but at least: It ain’t your fault !

Because the actual process is hormonal (testosterone) related, boys will have a worse outbreak in their teens than girls. Adult women have relatively more problems in their post teens, related with their menstrual cycle or due to the use of hormonal birthcontrol.

How to treat acne.

First of all you should review the soaps and lotions you are using as well as make-up you might use. Oily makeup will probably aggravate your condition by blocking up the pores more. In a pharmacy or cosmetic center you might get advice which ones not to use. Harsh soaps have usually a negative effect on your skin because they tend to wash away your natural fatty acids who work as your skin’s disinfectant which might cause easier growth of bacteria, contrary to the effect you are expecting!

Use “Non-soap” soaps, preferably with a acidy pH i.e. like sebamed, sanex or dove.

Several products may be used to help prevent pimples or blackheads. Treatment usually begins with putting products containing benzoyl peroxide on the areas of skin with acne. Benzoylperoxide will enter the pore and kill the bacteria inside. It also opens up the pore. The strength is not very important, however starting with the lower 5% will give less irritation to the skin. Pharmacies will have a gel for sale that is economic and can be used either as a wash or left on the skin overnight. If benzoyl peroxide alone is not effective, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to be taken by mouth or a antibiotic lotion to put on your skin. You may also need to use a skin cream or gel containing tretinoin (Retin-A, Locacid). Tretinoin is a vitamin a derivative that peels off the old skin while stimulating growth of new cells. Their action might cause a worsening of your condition at first making your skin red and irritated. The best way is to start these creams carefully like every other day before using them daily.

They should be applied at night because they are unstable to sunlight. Other modern “peeling” creams are the those that contain alpha hydroxy acids. They are found in most anti-wrinkle creams.

An oral vitamin A derivative called isotretinoin (RoAccutane) is available for severe acne. However, isotretinoin must be used very carefully because it causes birth defects in babies born to mothers who become pregnant while they are taking the drug or who have taken it several months before becoming pregnant. Sometimes a dermatologist might even use corticosteroids to prevent scarring.

Women can also take certain birthcontrol pills that will counteract the effect of testosterone and therefore dimishing acne.

How long will the effects last?

New whiteheads usually stop appearing after 4 to 6 weeks of treatment, but usually you will need to continue the treatment at least 6 to 8 weeks. Controlling treatment might be needed until you “grow over it”.If you are taking antibiotics, at some point your doctor will ask you to stop taking them to see if they are still necessary.

Many factors may make acne worsen temporarily. Thus, even if you are receiving the proper treatment, results may vary over time. Try to discover and change, when possible, the factors in your environment or lifestyle that make the acne worse.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full treatment prescribed by your doctor.

In addition you can:

  • Wash your face two times a day with a gentle soap.
  • Wash your hands more frequently and avoid putting your fingers and hands to your face unnecessarily. Don’t squeeze, pick, scratch, or rub your skin. Scars may form if you squeeze pimples, however a beautician may expell blackheads with a special tool to avoid any contamination.
  • Don’t rest your face on your hands while you read, study, or watch TV.
  • Watch out wearing backpacks or headbands for a long time, the pressure on your skin can cause pimples to form, pressing weights while lying on your shoulders may have the same effect.
  • Avoid working in hot kitchens where greasy foods are cooked.
  • Avoid getting sunburned.
  • Avoid extreme stress if possible. Practice stress reduction strategies such as exercise, meditation, and counseling if stress is extreme.
  • Get physical exercise regularly.