What is Acne?
Acne can be an embarrassing and painful infection of the skin that recurs throughout the lifetime. There are many medical and alternative treatments which are available on the market for this pesky skin problem. Acne, also called “acne vulgarus” is a skin disease that can cause scarring. It may appear red, or it can have “whiteheads” and “blackheads”. It can be large, small, clustered, or can appear as individual pimples. Acne collects in the areas with the most “sebaceous follicles”, such as the face, upper chest, and back. Some areas of the body are more prone to the development of acne and related skin conditions, such as the forehead, nose, chin, and cheeks on the face. Some patients are also more prone to having more severe outbreaks of acne. It forms when the follicles are blocked, leading to more sebum production and a bacterial infection.
The severe cases of this skin disease are “inflammatory”, but there are also non-inflammatory forms. There is also a type of acne that is cystic, and it causes painful cysts and boils in areas of the body that collect sweat, such as the armpit, buttocks, and groin areas. In general, this skin problem happens most often during the teen years of development, but it can also persist through adulthood. Flare-ups of acne might occur regularly, and there might also be times where very little acne appears.
Testosterone is associated with the skin disease. Hormones from menstruation, menopause, and puberty can trigger the infections. Allergies could also inflame the skin and contribute to acne. Anabolic steroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, and hirsutism can also cause this skin problem. Other sources of acne may be genetic or psychological, such as when the patient is under a lot of stress. It is also thought that diet may contribute, and things like milk and high glycemic foods are likely to contribute. Patients who do not shower regularly and allow dirt and sweat to accumulate on the body are more likely to develop acne. Picking at existing acne or irritating the pores in any area of the body might also cause irritation and flare ups.
Scarring from acne can be physical as well as psychological, especially in extreme cases. Just like picking at a scab, patients who purposely irritate their acne cause the healing process to slow and leave the areas of the skin more vulnerable to scarring. Treatment of acne can be very important for improving a patient’s self-esteem. In terms of the cause of physical scarring, this occurs when the skin inflammation starts to heal, leading to too much collagen collecting in one spot. The types of resulting scars are ice pick (deep pits), box car (similar to chickenpox scars), rolling (wave-like), or hypertrophic (keloid, thick).1
Dermatologists may suggest regularly cleaning the skin gently, avoiding touching the skin or “popping” pimples, shaving carefully, avoiding the sun, choosing oil-free or “noncomedogenic” makeup, and shampooing often.2 The general treatments for acne include medications, such as benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics (for severe cases), salicylic acid, hormones (i.e., birth control pills), topical retinoids (i.e., Retin-A), which are related to vitamin A, and oral retinoids. Doctors may also use lasers, to reduce any already existent scarring, or “surgical lancing” for boils.3 There are other cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or even skin surgery that may be recommended.4
Aside from over-the-counter and prescription medications, there are natural options for resolving the onset of acne, such as the topical application of azelaic acid and tea tree oil, as long as the patient is not allergic to these substances.5 Other patients may benefit from alpha hydroxy acids, which are found in citrus fruits. Orally, patients have options such as consuming products like brewer’s yeast and zinc supplementation.6 Baking soda or aspirin and water can also make a topical skin paste. Some may find alum, lemon juice, raw potato, or toothpaste applications helpful. Ice is another option for the inflammation of acne.
Dietary changes can also be useful in acne prevention. Reducing refined carbohydrates and sugar may help. Eating fermented foods, probiotics, and enzymes may also work. Switching to natural cleansers and cosmetics, consuming vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and getting exercise can also assist in combatting this skin problem. Allowing the body to flush out its toxins through hydration and sweat, provided that the patient also showers to keep the sweat from sitting on the surface of the skin for too long, may be very helpful. Multivitamins, especially those which contain vitamin A, can help with blemishes.
Getting a good night’s sleep and reducing stress is not only good for acnes, but for overall health.7 Addressing food allergies may also reduce acne flareups. Patients should try to identify whether or not any foods that they eat regularly are causing allergic reactions, as these reactions could be more problematic than just acne.8