The Truth about Acne

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Photo by Kevin Cortopassi/ CC BY 2.0/Edited from original

 

Besides something that afflicts even the best of us, what is acne?

Well, the actual word acne comes from the word acme, which means “the highest point.” Acne Vulgaris is the medical term for what most of us call acne, or breakouts. These breakouts involve the oil glands at the base of hair follicles, and they often occur in youths going through puberty — which is a time when sebaceous oil glands can become agitated and stimulated by male hormones. These hormones are produced by the adrenal glands in both males and females. When follicles beneath our skin get blocked, pimples grow; and, although they are harmless, they can leave scars. Also, even though it is most common to have acne during puberty, acne can affect people of all ages and ethnicities.  In fact, anyone from 11 to 30 can get acne at anytime.

Acne includes whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nobules, and cysts. Specialists believe that the root cause is elevated androgen (hormone) levels. It is also thought that one can be susceptible to acne through genetics. Additionally, acne can be affected by one’s menstrual cycle, stress, hot and humid climates, oil-based makeup, unclean hair, anxiety, and pimple squeezing.

There is no study that definitively proves what causes acne, but there are plenty of theories — the chief among these involving junk food consumption (salt and fat!) and genetics. What we do know is that rising androgen hormone levels increase the size of oil glands under your skin, and when a gland is enlarged, it creates more oil. This increased sebum is known to break down cellular walls in your pores and to cause bacterial growth.

Acne is a very common affliction that almost everyone will have to deal with at some point. In fact, Brown University claims that approximately 17 million Americans have acne at one time or another.

The different types of acne are as diverse as the kinds of people who will have it. Here’s a list of them made by Medical News Today:

         Cysts: These are visible on the surface of the skin, and they are painful and filled with puss. These types can easily cause scars.

         Nobules: These are also clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are usually large and solid pimples that are deep in the skin and painful.

         Pustules: These pimples, too, are visible on the skin with a red base and puss at the top.

         Papules: These are small, usually pink bumps that are very visible on the skin.

         Blackheads: These are also clearly visible, but they are black and appear on the surface of the skin. Blackheads are not caused by dirt.

        Whiteheads: Whiteheads are less easy to see, and they remain small and under the skin.

Treatment of acne depends on how severe and insistent it is. For very serious acne, there are solutions like topical antimicrobials. The topical antimicrobials strive to reduce P. acnes (like clindamycin, erythromycin and sodium sufacetamide).

Oral contraceptives have been known to suppress overactive glands and are often used as long-term treatments for acne in women.

Oral antibiotics are also for more severe to moderate acne. These antibiotics lower the population of Propionibacterium acnes (p. acnes), which is a bacterium often found on the skin.

Isotretinoin is a strong oral retinoid that is used to treat severe cystic acne as well as severe acne that has not been countered with other treatments.

An injection of intralesional corticosteroid can be used if an acne cyst has become severely inflamed. The injection is known to lower inflammation and speed up healing.

Treatment for milder acne is usually available over the counter (OTC). These OTC products typically contain the following active ingredients:

Resorcinol:  A crystalline phenol that helps break down blackheads and whiteheads.

Benzoyl Peroxide:  A white crystalline peroxide that kills bacteria and slows down the body’s production of oil.

Salicylic Acid:  A white crystalline substance that helps break down blackheads and whiteheads and is also effective in treating inflammation and swelling.

Sulfur:  A yellow crystalline solid that helps break down blackheads and whiteheads and is a mild antibacterial agent.

Retin-A:  Contains Tretinoin, an acid from of vitamin A. It helps unplug blocked pores, reduces aging of the skin, and works as a peel.

Azelaic Acid: A saturated dicarboxylic acid that is found organically in rye, wheat, and barley. It is known to stop oil eruptions, reduce bacterial growth, strengthen cells that line the follicles, and reduce free radicals, diminishing inflammation.

 

For those of you who want to avoid harsher chemicals, there are natural remedy options.

The first of these is Apple cider vinegar, which is a strong astringent that destroys the bacteria and dries up excess oil. Apple cider vinegar also becomes alkaline, balancing the pH of your skin. When you balance the pH of your skin, it is harder for bacteria to thrive.

The second option, as strange as it sounds, is cinnamon and honey, which are both devastating to acne. Why? Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that can help decrease bacteria, and honey is a natural antibiotic.

Sugar, avocado, strawberries and bananas, aloe vera, and sodium carbonate are also excellent natural resources to combat acne. Mint is another option, which also works as a natural anti-inflammatory and painkiller.

 

For more information about using natural methods like these, head to Every Day Roots. There you can find directions as to how to utilize milk and honey or yogurt, papaya, orange peel pastes and egg whites, tea tree oil, lemon juice, garlic, oatmeal, and potatoes which have the benefit of being loaded with potassium, sulfur, phosphorus, and chloride. These are all components that can help reduce bothersome blemishes and give you antioxidants that help nourish the skin and promote new skin growth.

Take it easy on your skin while destroying acne by following the close directions in your choices of healing methods, whether they are natural or pharmaceutical. Additionally, take care to not touch your face too much (the oils and dirt from your fingers can inflame acne), and be sure to wash your pillowcase regularly.

Remember, your skin is your friend, so be gentle to yourself as you experiment with different ways to combat your acne. Help yourself put your best face forward!

 

Carrie Garrison lives in Ashland, Oregon, with her 12-year-old daughter. She loves to travel and has visited many countries across the globe. She is currently attaining her degree in creative writing. For the last six years, Carrie has professionally worked as a legal transcriptionist and editor for organizations around the world. She offers pro bono work to companies involved in ecological and cultural improvement studies. She enjoys creativity through writing, painting, theater, and dance. Involved in track in high school, Carrie continues to stay active through running and through Pilates. Reach her at carrie@germmagazine.com.

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