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Everyone gets zits, but for many people, acne is much more than just an occasional blemish or two. People with acne can experience social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Severe acne can leave scars, both physically and mentally, that take years to heal after the breakouts clear. The causes of acne are multifactorial and vary from one person to another, so figuring out which acne treatment to use can sometimes be confusing.
Fortunately, acne isn’t a condition that you have to just live with. Taking proactive steps to care for your skin today can reduce your chances of scarring tomorrow. In this article, we’ll review the causes of acne and share several treatment options. If you’re struggling to understand what’s causing your acne and you’re ready to get it under control, get in touch with your dermatologist.
What’s Causing My Acne?
Acne has many causes, including excess sebum (oil) production, hormones, and slow cell turnover.
Many people get acne for the first time during puberty or in their late 20s when they undergo significant hormonal changes. High stress can also cause a hormone imbalance, which contributes to adult acne.
Male hormones, called androgens, are a leading cause of acne. During puberty, our bodies begin producing more androgens, which increases sebaceous glands and sebum production. Each pore on your face contains a hair follicle and a sebaceous gland. When your skin produces too much oil, it can clog the hair follicles on your face and body, creating a blemish.
When hair follicles become plugged with oil, they can also begin producing a bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes. The combination of oil and bacteria creates inflammation and pressure. Sometimes, the pressure can build up so much that it breaks the follicle, which leads to larger acne cysts.
Another cause of acne is slow cellular turnover. When dead skin cells are slow to slough off, they can clog follicles. So, acne can be caused by hormonal changes that lead to excessive oil production, C. acnes bacteria buildup in the pores, slow cell turnover, or a combination of the three.
A dermatological consultation is the best way to figure out what is causing your acne. Once your dermatologist has assessed your skin and overall health, you can come up with a plan to treat your acne.
Acne Treatments: Topical, Oral, and Lifestyle
There are several ways to treat acne, depending upon your unique combination of factors.
Birth Control for Acne
Women whose acne is partially or totally due to imbalanced hormones may benefit from taking oral contraceptives. Physicians have been using hormonal birth control to treat acne for decades because it is both safe and effective.
According to Brentwood Dermatology’s Dr. Lilly Zhu, the estrogen in birth control pills helps control acne by increasing a protein in the blood that then decreases the amount of male hormone circulating through a woman’s body. With fewer androgens, your body should produce less sebum, which leads to fewer clogged pores and clearer skin.
At this time, there are only three types of birth control that are FDA approved for the treatment of acne:
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Other types of birth control may improve acne in women, but the FDA has not specifically approved them for acne management. Since birth control only treats acne caused by hormonal imbalances, women with multifactorial acne may need to take additional steps to clear their skin.
Topical Acne Treatment
For Dr. Zhu, retinoids are the backbone of an acne regimen. Sometimes, the skin can form plugged pores when dead skin cells become “sticky” and do not shed normally. Retinoids work by normalizing the follicular keratinization process (the process of shedding dead cells), which minimizes clogged pores. Retinoids are also anti-inflammatory, meaning that they can reduce the swelling around inflamed blemishes.
Over-the-counter topicals like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can be good treatment options for people with mild acne. However, they are not as strong as prescription retinoids and may not be able to treat moderate to severe acne.
Brentwood Dermatology also carries several non-prescription products from Epionce including the Purifying Wash and Spot Treatment Gel. Schedule a consultation to learn more about the best topical treatment regimen for your skin.
Oral antibiotics, such as tetracycline, treat acne by reducing the amount of C. acnes bacteria that grows in a patient. Often, Dr. Zhu will prescribe oral antibiotics in conjunction with topical medications. Together, topicals and antibiotics treat two significant causes of breakouts.
Don’t overthink your skincare routine. Healthy skin starts with the basics: washing twice daily (no more!) with a gentle cleanser, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate sleep, and living an overall healthy life. The whole body is connected, so treating acne usually takes more than just slathering on a prescription cream each night.
Forgetting to take your makeup off before bed or not washing your face after a workout can cause breakouts. In some people, oily or scented hair products can cause breakouts around the hairline. Another great tip? Change your bedding weekly. Your pillowcase gets covered in dead skin cells and oils that can clog your pores.
If you wear makeup, choose non-comedogenic and mineral products because they are less likely to clog your pores. It’s also important to wash your makeup brushes regularly as they can harbor bacteria.
Although excessive sebum production is a leading cause of acne, trying to “dry out” your acne by skipping moisturizer or using harsh products is not a good idea. When you dry out your skin, you actually encourage it to produce more oil, which can worsen acne. Instead, choose a gentle, unscented, non-comedogenic moisturizer and use it twice daily after cleansing.
Be careful not to over-exfoliate the skin either. If you have active acne lesions, it’s best to wash them gently with a foaming cleanser. If you use abrasive exfoliants, you’ll most likely end up irritating your skin and potentially causing scarring by breaking open blemishes.
Take Charge of Your Acne Treatment
If you’re ready to finally say goodbye to acne, schedule an appointment with Brentwood Dermatology today. Once we figure out what’s causing your acne, we can start building a smart skincare regimen to get you on the road to clear skin. You’re not in this alone, and clear skin IS possible!
Learn More About Brentwood Dermatology.
The trusted physicians at Brentwood Dermatology can assist you with all of your general, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology needs. If you would like to learn more about our services or schedule an appointment, visit our website or give us a call at (615) 377-3448.