Acne can be an embarrassing and painful skin infection that recurs throughout the lifetime. There are many medical and alternative treatments on the market for this pesky skin problem.
What is Acne?
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. 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. Testosterone is associated with the skin disease. Hormones from menstruation, menopause, and puberty can trigger the infections. 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 (stress). It is also thought that diet may contribute (i.e., milk, high glycemic foods).
Scarring from acne can be physical as well as psychological, especially in extreme cases. Treatment of acne can be very important for improving a patient’s self-esteem. In terms 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 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 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 option for acne, such as azelaic acid and tea tree oil.5 Other patients may benefit from alpha hydroxy acids (found in citrus fruits). Orally, patients have options such as brewer’s yeast and zinc supplementation.6 Baking soda or aspirin and water can make a 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. Refined carbohydrates and sugar should be reduced. 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. Multivitamins, especially with 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.8