Acne treatments can be used to treat a variety of skin complaints and range from gels and creams to laser therapy and chemical peels. Acne is a very common condition and affects most of us (about 80%) at one point (or more) in our lives. It can affect any part of the body but particularly the face, back and shoulders. It is unfortunate timing that skin problems often start during our mid-to-late teenage years – just when hormones and the stresses of being a teenager are at their worst (see hormonal acne). Acne sufferers often feel a drop in self-confidence and self-esteem and can also be affected by depression if they feel their situation is out of control. Most acne conditions will ease with the passing of time but in some cases acne scarring may ensue unless an appropriate course of treatment is taken. However, most skin conditions can be successfully treated at home with popular medicated acne products.
Acne occurs when the skin produces excessive amounts of oil (sebum) which attracts dirt and microbes into our pores. These skin pores then become blocked and eventually infected and as a defence, the pore produces pus and swells up to fight off the infection. This is when we see a pimple (or spot in UK english). There are external factors which can increase the chances of an acne breakout and in some cases, it may also be hereditary. Read more about the the cause of acne here: what is acne?
Natural Acne Treatments
Natural acne remedies can be used to treat mild to moderate cases and quite often the side-effects are much less severe than chemical based treatments. However, there are many powerful natural agents which can be effectively used for acne due to anti-bacterial, anti-inflamatory and anti-septic properties – see tea tree oil and aloe vera. Many natural treatments can be taken in teas such as elderflower, green tea, chamomile, dandelion root and echinacea but these treatments could take a number of weeks to come into full effect. Topical treatments (applied directly to the skin) include lavendar oil, olive oil, argan oil, apple cider vinegar and honey. Face masks with natural ingredients can also be beneficial to acne prone skin including fruit face masks and honey and cinnamon. Best of all, natural treatments do not usually cost a lot of money.
Prescription Acne Treatments
There are many prescription acne medications available for all types of acne including topical gels and creams and oral anti-biotic tablets. There are side effects with all these medications so be sure to check with your doctor before engaging in a course of prescription (over-the-counter) acne medications.
Benzoyl peroxide is known to both prevent dead skin cells clogging skin follicles and also kills the P.Acnes bacteria that causes the inflamations that lead to pimples. Benzoyl peroxide is usually applied topically in a gel or cream and is used twice a day after washing. Too much Benzoyl peroxide can damage the skin, so care should be taken not to over-apply. Users should avoid sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) light, so wear sun cream if you are using a product with this ingredient. Side effects such as dry, flaky or itchy skin are usually mild and go soon after treatment stops. A two month course of treatment usually has good results. Benzoyl Peroxide is found in popular acne products Exposed Skin Care and Proactiv.
Topical (a treatment applied to the surface of the skin) retinoids can alleviate acne symptoms by reducing the production of sebum in the skin and preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores. They are normally applied to the affected skin once a day (often overnight) shortly after washing your face. Topical retinoids can make the skin sensitive to sunlight and users should wear protective sun creams in direct sunlight and avoid UV. Topical retinoids have been known to cause birth defects in pregnant women but more commonly mild irritation of the skin. Topical retinoids are usually taken for a minimum of two months and can be prescribed for much longer.
Azelaic acid is often used where other acne treatments such as topical retinoids or Benzoyl Peroxide have caused unwanted side-effects. Azelaic acid works by getting rid of dead skin and killing bacteria. The side effects are usually mild and can include redness, burning sensations, itchiness and dryness.
Salicylic Acid helps acne by opening up clogged pores before they get infamed and turn into pimples. It encourages sloughing of dead skin cells and prevents pimples from forming.
Antibiotics can be taken topically (in a cream or gel) or orally (as a tablet). Topical antibiotics help kill the bacteria on the skin that can infect plugged hair follicles. Topical antibiotics are available as a lotion or gel that is applied once or twice a day. A six- to eight-week course is usually recommended. After this, treatment is usually stopped as there is a risk that the bacteria on your face could become resistant to the antibiotics. This could make your acne worse and cause additional infections.
Side effects are uncommon but can include:
- minor irritation of the skin
- redness and burning of the skin
- peeling of the skin
Combined Contraceptive Pill
The combined contraceptive pill can help women with acne, especially if their acne is caused by fluctuating hormone levels and menstrual cycles. The combined oral contraceptive pill can be taken to control the hormones in the body (and therefore reduce acne), even if you are not sexually active. This combined pill can often has good results for women suffering from acne.
Isotretinoin (also Accutane or Roaccutane) is often used in severe cases as a last resort when other medications have failed to work. There can be serious side effects to this medication including birth defects, inflamation of internal organs and dry/cracked skin. A course of treatment using Isotretinion should not be entered into lightly.
Laser Acne Treatment
Laser acne treatment works by targeting the affected skin and killing the bacteria causing the acne (P.Acnes). This helps to reduce the inflamation of existing pimples and helps prevent new pimples form. However, gains using this procedure are usually only short term and without repeated laser treatments, the bacteria (and acne) will grow back. Longer lasting laser therapies are also available which burn the follicles or sebaceous glands preventing acne forming. However, these treatments have longer lasting side-effects and can cause significant discomfort after the treatment. Laser acne treatment can also be used to treat acne scars by removing the top layers of skin to help smooth out the surface. Dermatologists have yet to agree about the effectiveness of laser treatment for acne but most will admit that there are some benefits to be had albeit in some cases at considerable financial cost.
Skin Care Routines
Part of the solution to clear skin is a good skin care routine which is followed vigorously (see 5 Nighttime skincare tips).