Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a long-term skin disease that occurs when hair follicles are clogged with dead skin cells and oil from the skin. It is characterized by blackheads or whiteheads, pimples, oily skin, and possible scarring. It primarily affects areas of the skin with a relatively high number of oil glands, including the face, upper part of the chest, and back. The resulting appearance can lead to anxiety, reduced self-esteem and, in extreme cases, depression or thoughts of suicide.
Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne. Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne. Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis. Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against C. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties. Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality. There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.
Inside your hair follicles, there are small glands producing oil called sebum. This oil mixes with skin cells in the follicle and joins them on the journey outward. But when there's too much sebum, too many dead skin cells or something on the surface that blocks their exit from the follicle, a blockage can occur. Bacteria joins the party, and the result is acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.
We suggest avoiding spot treatments. “Benzoyl peroxide, when placed on red spots, can actually cause more irritation and inflammation to the area. It’s best used to prevent red bumps and pustules, and applied all over the area you want to treat,” said Townsend, who was also quick to naysay a spot-treat-only approach: “Acne affects all of the pores. If someone is going to spot treat against my advice, I still suggest they spot treat one day and treat the whole face the next.”
First, let’s talk about what causes acne. Pimples form when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a plug that blocks the pores. “As the P. acnes bacteria that naturally live on skin overgrow within this plugged follicle, the area becomes inflamed and this is when you start to see papules, pustules, and cystic lesions,” RealSelf dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., tells SELF. The treatments ahead work to exfoliate away dead skin cells, suck up excess oil, stop inflammation, and kill the P. acnes bacteria. There are even a few treatments that target hormonal acne specifically.
This inflammatory cascade typically leads to the formation of inflammatory acne lesions, including papules, infected pustules, or nodules. If the inflammatory reaction is severe, the follicle can break into the deeper layers of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue and cause the formation of deep nodules. Involvement of AP-1 in the aforementioned inflammatory cascade leads to activation of matrix metalloproteinases, which contribute to local tissue destruction and scar formation.
Dear acne, you suck. Seriously, we thought the breakouts would be over soon after AP Calculus. But it’s actually something that affects women and men in their 20s and 30s, and even well past their 50s. It’s just not fair (throws childlike temper tantrum). And if you thought blackheads and whiteheads were annoying, the deep painful pimples that often pop up in adult acne are much more aggravating—and harder to get rid of. So, we talked to dermatologists to find out which acne treatments are the most effective on all types of pimples.
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.
Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response. They are described as firm and raised from the skin. Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders. Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.
All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
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.
In the simplest sense, acne is caused when pores containing hair follicles and sebaceous (oil) glands become clogged. The sebaceous gland is responsible for producing sebum, an oily substance necessary for skin to stay hydrated and soft. However, too much sebum can plug the opening at the top of the pore, trapping a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria leading to acne lesions.
If one of you is a night owl and the other an early riser, bedtime can become a source of conflict. It’s hard for a light sleeper to be jostled by their partner coming to bed four hours after them. Talk to your partner about negotiating some compromises. If you’re finding it difficult to agree on a bedtime, negotiate with your partner. Don’t come to bed before or after a certain time, giving the early bird a chance to fully fall asleep before the other comes in. Consider giving the night owl an eye mask to allow them to stay in bed while their partner gets up to start the day.
But the side effects of targeted breakout cream treatments aren’t always worth it. “So many products instruct consumers to use benzoyl peroxide spot treat red bumps and pustules. I don’t recommend it,” says Dr. Lawrence Green, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University. Such high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide cause added irritation and inflammation to already sensitive skin, so with this in mind, we cut kits that included spot treatments.
Hormonal acne is exactly what it sounds like: breakouts that are tied to fluctuations in hormones. If your skin flares up at the same time each month, tends to occur in the same spot (chin, cheeks, jawline), and is characterized by pimples that are deep and cystic, your acne might be hormonal. Hormonal acne is usually due to a sensitivity to androgens, which are a specific type of hormone. With respect to acne, the androgen in charge is testosterone. Testosterone (and estrogen) are produced and needed by both sexes, but women are sensitive to extraneous amounts since it’s unnecessary for their typical functioning. The excess androgen has to go somewhere, and is usually purged via the skin’s androgen receptor cells which creates breakouts. While testosterone remains in the bloodstream, it increases sebum production and can make breakouts worse.
Like baby acne, eczema is very common in newborns, but it’s usually caused by dry (not oily) skin. Mild eczema can cause lots of small bumps, similar to baby acne. Since it often starts on the cheeks, it’s easy to confuse with baby acne. But, if it spreads into a rash that covers the skin or develops in other areas of your baby’s body, such as the folds of his elbows and knees, then it’s probably eczema, not acne. Eczema isn’t usually serious. You can treat it by using a gentle hydrating lotion on your baby’s skin after bathtime.
Toothpaste is a good option if you have a mammoth pimple that you want to take care of quickly. It is effective because it contains silica, which is the same substance that can be found in bags of beef jerky to keep moisture out. As such, toothpaste has been know to dry out and reduce the size of pimples over night. Simply apply some to the affected area before sleep and wash it off in the morning.
Whereas acne vulgaris clogs pores from the bottom up, acne inversa (or hidradenitis suppurativa) is a form of acne that clogs pores from the top down. It’s caused by excessively rapid skin growth, occluding the mouth of pores with shed skin cells. When the pores are blocked and clogged, they become inflamed and can create pimples and acne lesions. This form of acne is usually observed in intertriginous skin, where two skin areas may touch or rub together. Induced or aggravated by heat, moisture, maceration, friction and lack of air circulation. Examples of these areas include underarms, folds of the breasts, and between buttocks cheeks.
Salicylic acid and azelaic acid. Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in whole-grain cereals and animal products. It has antibacterial properties. A 20 percent azelaic acid cream seems to be as effective as many conventional acne treatments when used twice a day for at least four weeks. It's even more effective when used in combination with erythromycin. Prescription azelaic acid (Azelex, Finacea) is an option during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Side effects include skin discoloration and minor skin irritation.