Acne – the bane of the majority’s existence. There are multiple factors as to why we get plagued by this pesky thing including age, hormones, stress, environment, sleep, diet, genetics, etc. Fortunately, acne is a treatable skin condition.
The first step to treat acne, as with most problems, is to find out the root cause. Was it the chocolate bar you just ate last night? Was it your skincare routine? Knowing which issues to solve can help you take the right steps and choose the right products to cure your acne.
But first, what is acne?
Acne is a medical skin condition that usually appears as whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples on our skin, usually on the face, forehead, back, and chest. This happens when our hair follicles become clogged with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells.
The most common types of acne are:
Comedones are a basic acne lesion that occurs when a hair follicle is clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Comedones may appear commonly in the form of whiteheads or blackheads. Whiteheads are closed comedones where oil and skin cells prevent the hair follicle from opening. Blackheads, on the other hand, are open comedones that appear black because of exposure to air.
Noncomedogenic products are non-clogging and are highly recommended to avoid comedones. Fortunately, over-the-counter medications, work for most cases of blackheads and whiteheads.
Papules are also comedones that become inflamed and sensitive to the touch. They appear in small red or pink bumps on the skin. It is advised not to pick or squeeze them as this causes scarring.
Pustules resemble whiteheads but are filled with pus and are inflamed. It is also advised to pick at them as this may cause scarring and dark spots.
Nodules are inflamed bumps, often painful, that develop within the skin. These may not effectively be treated by over-the-counter treatments, and are best treated by a dermatologist.
Cysts are lesions that can be filled with pus, and be quite painful. Similar to nodules, they develop within the skin and are best treated by dermatologists.
Now that we know more about them, how can we treat acne?
According to the dermatologists we spoke to at Cambridge Therapeutics, there are two types of acne treatment commonly used in Singapore:
Topical acne treatment is the most common. It works either by killing acne-causing bacteria or decreasing oil or sebum production. Ingredients may include retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, or salicylic acid. Lasers can also be utilized in treating acne, especially acne scars.
Topical acne treatments
If you went to the dermatologist or read up on acne as a teen – this acid might be familiar to you. This is one of the most popular ingredients prescribed by dermatologists. It is present in most cleansers and spot treatments targeted for acne.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid or BHA that dissolves excess oils and chemically exfoliates dead skin cells. BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning that they can seep inside the skin. This helps in targeting deep-seated dirt and excess sebum that build-up by penetrating deep into the pores.
This ingredient is a killer. No, really – it effectively kills the P. acnes bacteria that cause acne breakouts. However, if used excessively, it may also dry out your skin if you’re not careful. Specialists from Cambridge Therapeutics advise patients to use lower concentrations (not more than 2%). Going higher than that will dry out your skin. Don’t bother the small number, it is enough to maintain effectiveness.
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid or AHA that also acts as a chemical exfoliant. Unlike BHAs, it is water-soluble and works on the surface of the skin by helping rid of dead skin cells that clog the pores.
If you check out the bottles of your skincare products, you might see it on some. This is because glycolic acid can be found in cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers, or as a product of its own.
This popular anti-ageing ingredient also helps cure acne. This vitamin A helps in faster cellular turnover, exfoliation, and decreasing oil production. This is a stronger ingredient and is not advised for people with sensitive skin. Dermatologists may, however, suggest over-the-counter retinol with lower concentrations. The key to using retinol is patience as it takes time to see results. But you know what they say, “Good things come to those who wait,” and your skin is worth it.
This ingredient helps out in drying up comedones filled with pus by sucking up the oil. Fair warning that this ingredient has a strong scent. It’s mostly found in masks and other spot treatments.
Oral acne treatments
Another type of acne treatment that is administered orally. Oral acne treatment work internally and are usually prescribed by dermatologists when acne is moderate to severe and appear in red or pink painful pimples or cysts.
Most common oral acne treatments are:
Dermatologists may prescribe antibiotics that will allow patients to see results, but only if they don’t stop taking them.
Birth Control Pills
Most women experience sudden breakouts around their period. This is due to the spike of hormones around this time. Acne, commonly cystic acne, is linked to the hormones called androgen which case overproduction of sebum. Birth control pills contain estrogen and progestin, which help keep hormones balanced.
One of the most controversial acne treatments is Isotretinoin, which will require frequent visits to your doctor as there are many side effects to this treatment. These include dry and sensitive skin, possibly birth defects, etc. Isotretinoin is an oral retinoid that functions as it shuts off all the sebaceous glands. This is the cause why it can be very drying to your skin. One of the most common brands that offer it is Accutane.
Unfortunately, there is no one magical holy grail solution for acne for everyone. These ingredients may or may not work for some, but are guaranteed effective for others. Your skincare journey may require you to try out different ingredients in order to find what works best for you. It is best to consult with your dermatologist first as to what might be the most effective as well. Keep in mind that a healthier lifestyle, sleep, staying hydrated, and less stress also attribute to curing acne and keeping your skin clear.