This article was medically reviewed by Hilary Baldwin, MD. Baldwin, medical director of the Acne Treatment Research Center, is a board-certified dermatologist with nearly 25 years of experience. Her area of expertise and interest are acne, rosacea and keloid scars. Baldwin received her BA and MA in biology from Boston University. She became a research assistant at Harvard University before attending Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed a medical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital before becoming a resident and chief resident in dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
It is widely suspected that the anaerobic bacterial species Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium. acnes) contributes to the development of acne, but its exact role is not well understood. There are specific sub-strains of C. acnes associated with normal skin, and moderate or severe inflammatory acne. It is unclear whether these undesirable strains evolve on-site or are acquired, or possibly both depending on the person. These strains have the capability of changing, perpetuating, or adapting to the abnormal cycle of inflammation, oil production, and inadequate sloughing of dead skin cells from acne pores. Infection with the parasitic mite Demodex is associated with the development of acne. It is unclear whether eradication of the mite improves acne.
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Everything you need to know about cystic acne Cystic acne is an uncommon and severe form of acne. The skin condition results from blocked pores in the skin that cause infection and inflammation. Treatment often requires the help of a specialist doctor who can prescribe potent drugs. Read on to learn about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and prevention. Read now
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Castor oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can speed up healing, making it ideal for breakout-prone skin. Though I recommend using it in very small amounts with jojoba oil, hemp seed oil or coconut oil, along with one of the essential oils above, it’s high in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, proteins and minerals, which can help reduce acne-causing bacteria and inflammation associated with breakouts. It can even help heal scars caused by acne.
Warning: Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. But it is an effective ingredient at drying up pus-filled pimples and whiteheads (you’ve gotta take the good with the bad). It works by sucking up the oil. Sulfur is typically mixed with other active ingredients to get the most efficacy and fragrances to mask the strong scent. You can often find it in masks and spot treatments.
The other downside to Proactiv+ is that the bottles are small — like, half the size of Paula’s Choice small. Combine that with its recommended two or three-times daily application, and you’re going to be going through a lot of kits, which ultimately means spending more money on your treatment. If Proactiv is the only thing that works for you, it may very well be worth the investment, but we recommend starting with Paula’s Choice to see if you can get the same results at a cheaper price.
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
^ Jump up to: a b GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence, Collaborators. (8 October 2016). "Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015". Lancet. 388 (10053): 1545–1602. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31678-6. PMC 5055577. PMID 27733282.
The Daily Skin Clearing Treatment is an all-over 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream that also touts calming bisabolol and allantoin to alleviate the dryness and irritation that can crop up mid-treatment. Anyone frustrated with oil-slick skin will also love this part of the regimen — it creates a satin mattifying effect, instantly transforming shininess into a glow.
Topical antibiotics deemed safe during pregnancy include clindamycin, erythromycin, and metronidazole (all category B), due to negligible systemic absorption. Nadifloxacin and dapsone (category C) are other topical antibiotics that may be used to treat acne in pregnant women, but have received less study. No adverse fetal events have been reported from the topical use of dapsone. If retinoids are used there is a high risk of abnormalities occurring in the developing fetus; women of childbearing age are therefore required to use effective birth control if retinoids are used to treat acne. Oral antibiotics deemed safe for pregnancy (all category B) include azithromycin, cephalosporins, and penicillins. Tetracyclines (category D) are contraindicated during pregnancy as they are known to deposit in developing fetal teeth, resulting in yellow discoloration and thinned tooth enamel. Their use during pregnancy has been associated with development of acute fatty liver of pregnancy and is further avoided for this reason.
A study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Freiburg in Germany reports that using frankincense and five other plant extracts for antimicrobial effects on bacteria and yeast relating to the skin proved effective. The study concluded that their antimicrobial effects were powerful enough to be used as a topical treatment of some skin disorders, including acne and eczema. (19)
Scientists initially hypothesized that acne represented a disease of the skin's hair follicle, and occurred due to blockage of the pore by sebum. During the 1880s, bacteria were observed by microscopy in skin samples affected by acne and were regarded as the causal agents of comedones, sebum production, and ultimately acne. During the mid-twentieth century, dermatologists realized that no single hypothesized factor (sebum, bacteria, or excess keratin) could completely explain the disease. This led to the current understanding that acne could be explained by a sequence of related events, beginning with blockage of the skin follicle by excessive dead skin cells, followed by bacterial invasion of the hair follicle pore, changes in sebum production, and inflammation.
When blocked pores become increasingly irritated or infected, they grow in size and go deeper into the skin. If pimples get trapped beneath the skin’s surface, they can form papules: red, sore spots which can’t be popped (please don’t try! Squeezing the oil, bacteria, and skin cell mixture can result in long term scars that may be unresponsive to acne treatments). They’re formed when the trapped, infected pore becomes increasingly inflamed and irritated, and they usually feel hard to the touch. Papules are small (less than 1 centimeter in diameter) with distinct borders; when clusters of papules occur near each other, they can appear as a rash and make your skin feel rough like sandpaper. Because they’re inaccessible, they’re a bit more difficult to treat, and are therefore considered moderately severe acne.
If your acne is severe, painful, or refusing to get lost, you may just be beyond what an over-the-counter treatment can do. Not only can a professional set you up with the really powerful stuff, but also Fitz Patrick explains that “working closely with an aesthetician or dermatologist means you can keep tweaking a routine to make it work best for you.”
If you’re experiencing hormonal acne, acne vulgaris, cystic acne or acne inversa, you should learn the potential sources of your problem. By understanding the cause of your acne, you’ll be better equipped to proactively prevent its formation, rather than just treating it ex posto facto. Watch out for these key acne-inducing factors and their relationship to skin:
Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time. Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis. The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone. Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area. Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration. Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people. In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.
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“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
Sometimes birth control alone isn’t enough to really make a difference in hormonal acne. That’s when your doctor might recommend adding in an androgen blocker such as Spironalactone. Spiro (as it’s called) minimizes the amount of androgen hormones in circulation by blocking the receptors that bind with testosterone. When these pills are taken at the same time as an oral contraceptive, 90 percent of women see an improvement in breakouts, according to Linkner. The drug is sometimes prescribed to women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to relieve androgen-related symptoms like excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.
Depression and acne can go hand in hand, and one often leads to the other. In cases where acne occurs first, it’s not uncommon for people to want to withdraw from the world. Whether it’s internal embarrassment or external bullying, acne can lead to an extreme loss of confidence and low self-esteem. How to get rid of a pimple may seem impossible, and the emotional toll of acne can impact anyone at any age, and as depression worsens so too does the acne. In some cases, an individual without skincare issues who becomes depressed could incidentally develop acne. Depression can lead to poor hygiene habits, and failing to wash your face contributes to buildups within clogged pores. Depressed people may also experience poor sleep, which can lead to acne by inhibiting your body’s natural, night-time keratinization process.
Baby acne almost always goes away on its own with no intervention. But bring it to your pediatrician's attention if the bumps look like they might be infected (for example, skin appears extra red, you notice swelling or discharge, or your child spikes a fever or has other symptoms) or if you suspect an allergic reaction or eczema (which may require a cream to keep the rash from spreading).