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Acne is something that if given a chance, anybody would avoid. Apart from uneven skin texture, it contributes to emotional distress. 

However, acne can be successfully treated given the right medication and remedies. It is always ideal to consult an expert or professional, especially when your acne is severe. Acne, however, can cause scarring that should be addressed only once a person’s active acne is under control. 

This article talks about what may be the cause of your acne and the various ways in which you can help improve it.

Highlights

  • What is acne?
  • What causes acne?
  • Types of acne
  • How to get rid of acne (In-office, over-the-counter and home remedies)
  • How can you prevent acne?

What is acne?

Pores blocked by oil, bacteria and dead skin cells that develop into zits on your skin repeatedly can be termed ‘acne’. 

People often confuse acne to be pimple outbreaks on the face. However, acne can develop anywhere on the body. It can be seen in various forms such as pimples, blackheads and whiteheads. 

Inflammatory acne can cause scarring. These include nodules (solid lumps below the surface of your skin), papules (small, raised, red bumps), pustules (puss-filled tips on red bumps) and cysts (large puss-filled lumps found beneath the skin).

Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands attached to the hair follicles are stimulated and they end up producing excess sebum. It may also occur due to clogged pores.

What causes acne?

There is no one way for a person to develop acne. You may experience it due to hormonal changes, genes, certain medications like birth control pills or diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates.

  • Hormonal changes 

Hormonal changes can result in oily skin. This causes clogged pores. Hormonal changes that contribute to acne include pregnancy, puberty, a woman’s menstrual cycle, birth control pills and stress. (1)

  • Stress

Studies suggest that stress contributes to acne. Research also indicates that the severity of acne reduces with relaxation therapy.  (2)

  • Diet

Studies suggest that what you eat can affect your skin health. Diets high in carbohydrates can cause acne. (3) However, the American Academy of Dermatology says there is no direct relationship between your diet and acne. (4)

  • Genes

Your genes are a key factor in determining your skin-type. If most of your family members have oily skin, it is likely you have it too. Oily skin can lead to clogged pores. This can result in acne. (5)

  • Climate

Humid climates can stimulate oil production in the body. Hot climates can dehydrate your skin. This leads to excess sebum production in the body. (6)

Signs and Symptoms of acne

White, red or black bumps or puss-filled zits on parts of your body is usually a sign of acne. Acne can occur anywhere on your body. 

Types of acne

Acne can be inflammatory or non-inflammatory

Acne can be inflammatory or non-inflammatory

Acne can be categorized into inflammatory and non-inflammatory:

Inflammatory 

Papules

A papule is a red/pink raised bump on the skin. It is typically less than a centimeter around. A papule doesn’t have a pus-filled center. (7)

Pustules

A pustule is a defined bump on the skin with a white or yellow pus-filled center.The base of the bump is usually pink or red.

Nodules

A nodule can be defined as a large, painful and inflamed lump. Nodules form deep within the skin. They are a result of broken tissues deep beneath the skin’s surface. They do not have a center and look like larger papules. 

Cysts

A cyst is the most severe form of acne. It is a large bump on the skin with a pus-filled center. It can cause scarring because they are situated deep within the layers of the skin. 

Non-inflammatory acne

Whiteheads

A whitehead or a ‘closed comedone’ is a tiny whitish bump on the skin. A hair follicle may show up in the center of the bump sometimes. This type of acne usually does not cause scarring.

Blackheads

A blackhead or an ‘open comedone’ is a tiny, black colored bump on the skin. Blackheads are not the result of trapped dirt. They are just whiteheads that have opened.

How to get rid of acne

Medical procedures

Laser therapy

Over the last few years, laser and light treatments have become popular to treat several skin conditions. 

Laser treatment may be recommended by your dermatologist to address your acne concerns. Laser therapy targets increased sebaceous gland activity and reduces inflammation. (8) It resurfaces the skin by removing its top layer. 

Chemical peel

A chemical peel acts as an exfoliator. It resurfaces the skin by removing the top layer to regenerate normal skin. (9)

Your dermatologist may recommend a superficial, medium or deep peel depending on your skin-type and medical history. 

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion uses a small hand-held device to remove the top layer of the skin. It can be in-office or done at home. In-office microdermabrasion involves deeper exfoliation.

Microdermabrasion is used to remove dead skin cells and renew texture and tone of the skin. 

Research indicates that microdermabrasion has a positive effect on improving acne. (10)

Isotretinoin

Isotretinoin is a form of Vitamin A. It is used to treat severe cystic and inflammatory acne.

Isotretinoin often results in prolonged or permanent clearance of acne.

Isotretinoin reduces sebum production and has anti-inflammatory properties. (11) Your dermatologist may recommend a low or high dosage depending on the severity of your acne. 

Side effects of using Isotretinoin include dry skin, hair loss, cracked lips, nausea, weight loss, change in nail and skin texture. 

Isotretinoin can also result in some serious side effects like bone softening, vision changes, inflammation of liver or pancreas and depression. 

If you’re pregnant or plan on having a baby, do not consume Isotretinoin. 

Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics have been in use to treat acne for over 40 years. Their anti-inflammatory properties are effective in improving acne. (12) Your dermatologist may recommend oral antibiotics along with a topical medication.

Antibiotics should not be used for too long to prevent resistance. 

Steroid Injections

Cortisone shots provide relief to inflamed areas of the body. Corticosteroid shots are sometimes used to treat acne. 

This procedure involves injecting a diluted Corticosteroid directly into the zit (pustule, cyst). Your dermatologist may or may not numb the affected area. 

Results can be seen within 24 hours. 

These shots are not meant to be used as a regular treatment for acne. They can result in pitting of the skin that may take up to 6 months to go away and sometimes are permanent. 

Cortisone shots are not a permanent solution for acne. They do not prevent future breakouts from taking place. A daily acne treatment is recommended if your skin is prone to breakouts. 

Over the counter medications

Benzoyl Peroxide

Topical forms of Benzoyl peroxide are used to treat mild to moderate acne. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat acne. (13)

Benzoyl peroxide can cause dryness, stinging and tingling sensations. 

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a peeling agent. It has anti-inflammatory properties that decreases skin lipids. This contributes in treating acne. (14)

Azelaic acid 

Topical forms of Azelaic acid are used to treat acne. It helps to reduce swelling and bumps by killing bacteria causing acne. (15) Azelaic acid should be used as prescribed by your dermatologist.

Side effects of Azelaic acid include itching, burning, dryness, redness and tenderness. 

Azelaic acid can have serious after-effects:

  • Difficulty in swallowing 
  • Swelling of the face neck tongue, lips and eyes
  • Hoarseness
  • Rashes
  • Hives

Sulfur

Sulfur has been a treatment for acne since hundreds of years. It has antibacterial properties that reduce swelling and bacteria causing acne in the skin. (16) Sulfur dries up the skin. Topical forms include creams, lotions and foams. 

Topical Retinoids

Experts refer to topical retinoids as the ‘core of topical therapy’. This is because they are anti-inflammatory, reduce comedones and maintain clear skin. (17)

Topical retinoids play a vital role in treating acne and maintaining clear skin post treatment. 

Side effects may include redness, itching, burning and dryness. 

Home remedies to treat acne

Acne ideally should be treated by a professional. However, an economical approach is to use home remedies. These remedies have traditionally been used by people. 

Tea tree oil

Studies indicate that tea tree oil products can significantly improve mild to moderate acne. (16) 

Tea tree oil is a widely used ingredient in anti-acne products. It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. (18) This helps reduce inflammatory acne lesions. 

Honey and cinnamon

Honey has been used as a therapeutic remedy for years. It is used to treat a variety of skin disorders from dry skin to acne prone skin. Honey has antibacterial properties. It can contribute to reducing acne and helps soothe the skin. (19)

Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that can help reduce bacteria and inflammatory lesions in the skin. 

Try this:

Honey and cinnamon mask

Honey and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory properties that help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. Making a honey-cinnamon mask is no task. 2 tablespoons of honey and one of cinnamon is all you need. Make sure the paste is thick enough, as this can get a bit messy at times!

Turmeric 

Apart from adding flavor to your food, turmeric has traditionally been used to treat acne. It exhibits antiinflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. (20) This can help reduce inflammation and bacteria.

Try this:

Take half a tablespoon of turmeric powder. Add warm water and honey to it. Mix well to form a paste. Apply it to the affected area and gently wash it off after 15-20 minutes. 

Neem oil

Studies show that neem oil has antibacterial properties and is a good prolonged treatment for acne. (21) 

Baking soda

Although used traditionally, there is no scientific evidence that baking soda works for acne. However, some people use it as an ingredient in mixtures to treat their acne vulgaris. 

Baking soda can be teamed with lemon, honey, apple cider vinegar, yogurt or just water. You can make a paste using these secondary ingredients and apply it to the affected area.

How can you prevent acne? 

Here are some skincare tips.

More often than not, people forget to follow basic skincare tips on the daily. It is always essential for you to follow a basic skincare routine to keep your skin clean and breathing.

  • Wash your face at least twice a day to remove dirt and pollution from your skin. Don’t overwash. Overwashing can deprive your skin of necessary oils. This can contribute to sebum production. 
  • Drink lots of water to hydrate your skin and prevent it from over producing sebum. Too much sebum may lead to clogged pores.
  • Wear sunscreen every time you step-out of the house in the day. Direct exposure to the sun can dry-up your skin. This can result in excess sebum production. 
  • Avoid oil-based makeup products. They may clog your pores. Water-based makeup products are recommended for acne-prone skin. (22)
  • Remove your makeup before you sleep. Don’t buy oil-based makeup removers.
  • Cleanse, tone and moisturize on a regular basis. Follow a skincare regimen that helps your skin maintain its pH levels and prevents clogging. 
  • Avoid exfoliating your skin every day. Exfoliating too much can stimulate sebum production in the skin. Use gentle scrubs whenever you do. 
  • Follow a healthy diet. Research shows that low carbohydrate diets can help improve acne vulgaris. (23) 
  • Wear sunscreen before you step-out. Direct exposure can dehydrate your skin and body, leading to an overproduction of sebum. Choose an anti-acne sunscreen to avoid clogged pores. (24)
  • Don’t pop your pimples. Popping your pimples can break skin barriers and infect other pores. This may result in acne breakouts.