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Treating Acne

Acne is the most common skin disease. It affects 80% of us at some point in our lives. Twenty percent will have permanent scarring. And as many of us have found out, it is not limited to adolescence. Twelve percent of women and 5% of men have it at age 25. And 5% of both men and women still have acne at age 45.  Treating acne usually focuses on these four areas: 1) unclog skin pores, 2) reduce skin oils, 3) kill bacteria, and 4) reduce inflammation.

Here are some products and advice that may be useful for your acne:

  1. Benzoyl peroxide is available over the counter. It’s been used for years as a topical product by itself or in combination with other agents. It kills acne bacteria and helps unplug skin pores.
  2. Medicines like Retin-A and Accutane are related to vitamin A. They work by unplugging clogged pores and reducing inflammation. They should be applied once daily to clean, dry skin, or less frequently if irritation occurs. Skin irritation with peeling and redness usually stops after a few weeks. Moisturizers help reduce this irritation. They can be used every other day if irritation persists. Always use sun protection when you’re on them, because of increased sensitivity to the sun. Remember that Accutane is harmful to a developing fetus, so it should never be used if pregnancy is a possibility.
  3. Several different antibiotics may be used for acne as topical products, or as pills taken by mouth. They kill the bacteria associated with acne and reduce inflammation. Improvement is usually seen after several weeks of use. Benzoyl peroxide is usually added when an antibiotic is prescribed, so that the skin bacteria won’t become resistant to treatment. Antibiotics may be applied once or twice a day. Gels and solutions may be more irritating than creams or lotions. Remember that tetracycline antibiotics can cause sun sensitivity, and should not be used by pregnant women or children under the age of eight because of potential tooth discoloration.
  4. Birth control pills have been used for decades as a treatment for acne in women. There is a relationship between hormones and acne, and some women have acne flare-ups as their hormone levels shift during their cycle.
  5. Blackheads can be removed using comedone extractors.
  6. Something as simple as cutting out “junk food” is helpful for many people, although scientific evidence for this is weak.
  7. Injections can be done in the doctor’s office for the huge monster blemishes. This involves a small shot into the lesion that helps shrink it down over several days.
  8. Skin peels using glycolic or salicylic acid can be useful.
  9. Avoid skin pressure from sports helmets, backpacks, tight collars, etc.
  10. Avoid high humidity and skin irritants that can cause a flare-up.
  11. Reducing stress is always helpful.
  12. It may be tempting to squeeze or pick at blemishes, but this only makes things worse in the long run. Also avoid hard scrubbing of the skin.