Though the exact cause of acne has not been determined, research has shown that four key elements contribute to acne. They are excess oil, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. During adolescence, the body begins to develop more sebum oil, which is produced to ensure our skin does not dry out. When sebum cannot flow freely to the skin, clogged pores result. Bacteria already found on the skin’s surface, flourish in the excess oil, and cause inflammation. The degree of inflammation determines what type of acne appears on the skin. A small number of inflammation results in a blackhead or a whitehead. This means oil flow is blocked right at the surface of the skin and is the least serious form of acne. If the pore is blocked deeper within the skin, a papule, or pimple, forms. If the pore becomes blocked deeper still, a pus-filled pimple, or pustule, forms. The most severe type of acne lesions are cysts, which occur when very deep blockage causes intense inflammation. Cysts, sometimes called nodules, are very painful bumps.
There are many treatment options available for reducing acne. Because every case is different, and treatment effectiveness depends on your skin’s reception, talk to Dr. Urban about finding the right treatment for you. Fortunately, when can acne is properly treated, it can restore the confidence and positive self-image that often wane in people afflicted by acne. Some common options include:
- Cleansers: Cleansers containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide may help reduce acne. These agents dry out the skin, remove debris, and unclog clogged pores. Some cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide will dry the skin, causing it to peel, and thereby helping prevent the growth of bacteria.
- Topical Retinoids (Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac: Topical retinoids work by loosening the plugs in clogged pores. They are also helpful in removing superficially clogged pores that cause blackheads and whiteheads.
- Topical Antibiotics: Topical antibiotics are used to remove the skin bacteria that lead to papules and pustules. They may be used in combination with other agents.
- Oral Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics may be prescribed for more severe acne lesions, and are not effective in treating papules, pustules, and cysts. They work to decrease inflammation and bacteria around the acne lesion.
- Isotretinoin (Accutane): Isotretinoin is an oral medication that is only used for the most extreme cases of acne. Isotretinoin reduces the size of the skin’s oil glands and the amount of oil the skin produces. The reduction in oil also leads to the reduction of bacteria living in the skin. Isotretinoin also slows down how fast the skin produces skin cells inside the pore, which helps pores from becoming clogged. There are many severe side effects of Isotretinoin, such as depression, birth defects if taken while pregnant, which is why it is important to consult with Dr. Urban, understand all the risks, and decide whether the Isotretinoin is right for you.
- Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills may help reduce acne in female patients by decreasing the effect of male hormones that increase or trigger acne development. Birth control pills also have serious side effects that must be considered when determining your acne treatment plan.
If scarring from acne occurs, some options such as laser therapy may help reduce the appearance of scars. Talk to Dr. Urban if you are interested in this type of treatment.
Research has proven that heredity, hormones, menstruation, and emotional stress can trigger acne, or make it worse. Although many of these factors cannot be avoided, it is recommended that patients not wash or scrub the skin excessively, which can irritate the skin and make acne worse. Diet does not generally contribute to acne, although if greasy foods are ingested often, oil from the food may transfer onto the skin, particularly around the mouth, and worsen acne. Likewise, if you have oily hair, shampooing often may help reduce the risk of oil from the hair transferring onto the skin.