I was recently going through some of my old pictures when I realized that throughout the years, the one thing that remained the same in all my pictures were my acne. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always suffered from acne, ranging from cute rash-like pimples in areas like my forehead or chin to biblical sized boils in unflattering places like my cheeks, and once the inner corner of my eye.
When it comes to my battle with acne, I’ve done everything humanly possible to fight it with the exception of laser treatment. From 3 to 5step systems, washing my face 3 times a day, changing my diet, visiting all the dermatologists my insurance could cover, trying every product possible, steaming the life out of my face, brushing with all kinds of high tech equipment to even chanting some “I’m happy my face is clear affirmations” (yes it was that serious). I even went the natural route, first mixing the ingredients in my fridge to visiting a herbalist who gave me some shady concoction to apply on my face after first cleansing with my urine. Needless to say I didn’t do that or see the lady again, but I just decided to stop fighting the breakouts and understand why this was happening. After months of researching I finally came upon some basic facts about acne. If you’ve never taken time to understand why you breakout, below are basic facts that will help you understand acne, to best effectively fight them.
1. There are 5 main known causes of acne:
a. Excessive production of oil by the sebaceous gland (or oil producing gland) of the skin
b. Hormonal imbalance
c. Pore buildup based on excessive shedding of dead skin cells
d. Irritations or reactions from makeup, food allergies and medication
e. Bacteria buildup in the pore
2. Not all “acnes” are the same
There are different categories of acne based on their severity, location, and size, and they should be treated accordingly. If you are suffering from the mild forms of acne such as blackheads and whiteheads, topical treatments are you best bet for treating them. But in the case of severe acne characterized by large painful nodules, cysts, pustules, and sores, a dermatologist visit is required to make sure that the problem is not exacerbated by harsh cleansers. Often times an antibiotic may be described to fight the P.acnes bacteria that causes such severe forms of acne. The worst thing you can do is to pop a zit that’s actually a cyst or nodule.
3. Pay attention to the location of your acne
Where you frequently breakout tends to say a lot about the type of pimple you’re having, and how it should be treated. If you breakout on your forehead it is often a sign of stress, using comedogenic makeup, or even your hair style! Acne that occurs around the cheeks and jaw-line is often a result of a hormonal imbalance, (for some women it can be a result of their period). Pimples caused by a hormonal imbalance, needs a combination of topical and systemic treatment.
4. Acne is not always a direct result of dirty skin
So STOP excessively washing, scrubbing and toning you face with skin irritants like alcohol, menthol, lemon and eucalyptus; this aggressive form of cleaning only increases irritation. When I finally learned how to gently wash my face, I noticed that my acne greatly subsided, as opposed to the times when I vigorously scrubbed my face with a wash cloth.
5. There are two course of actions for fighting acne
- Topical treatment &
- Systemic (internal) treatment
a. For Topical treatments you have 4 active ingredients to pay attention to when choosing the right product for yourself.
i. Salicylic Acid or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA): Salicylic Acid fights pimples by sloughing off excess skin cells, it acts as a gentle exfoliate that preps the skin for any treatment to be effectively penetrated. Because of its exfoliating power, Salicylic acid makes for a great face wash.
ii. Benzoyl Peroxide helps fight the P. acnes bacteria that causes acne by oxygenating the pores, this kills the bacteria that cannot live in an environment that is oxygen rich. BP is also great from reducing the formation of new bacteria because it helps rid the skin of excess dead skin cells, eliminating the chances of having clogged pores.
iii. Sulfur is an ingredient frequently found in acne medications. It has been used for years to treat skin ailments, in the case of acne, sulfur works as a disinfectant. It unclogs pores, kills bacteria on the skin and minimize oiliness.
iv. Retinoids (retinol, retin-A) found in prescription acne medication works by speeding up cell growth. Retinoids are not exfoliates that affect the top layer of your skin, but affect the lower layer of the skin (dermis) that forms new skin cells.
b. When dealing with a systemic way of fighting acne the key is to control hormonal imbalance that increases the oil produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands.
i. One way of doing this is to increase you intake of oil supplements: Vitamin E, Fish Oil, and Evening Primrose Oil
6. When fighting acne, the math is as follows:
i. Reduce the oil production (control hormones)- through proper dieting, intake of fish oil supplements and exercise
ii. Improve skin’s exfoliation- by using Salicylic acid or Benzoyl Peroxide face wash
iii. Disinfect the skin to kill P.acnes Bacteria- by using ingredients with sulfur and Benzoyl Peroxide
7. With that said, below is a regimen that has helped me in fighting acne and keeping it off my face
i. Cleansing: The first step in treating acne is to GENTLY cleanse the face with a water-soluble cleanser. This means mild cleansers with no fragrance or harsh ingredients, if you’re not sure look at the ingredients list and make sure water is the first listed. Some great examples of water-soluble cleansers include Olay forming face wash and Cetaphil’s face wash. If your skin is not sensitive, you can use a face wash with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide.
ii. Exfoliating: After first cleansing, the next best step is to exfoliate. The best means of cleaning inside the pores where pimples occur is to use a 1% or 2% Salicylic acid.
iii. Toning: Once you’ve exfoliated use a gentle toner to get rid of excess oil. An excellent option is Tea Tree oil which is a great natural disinfectant, but I find tea tree a bit strong so I don’t use it every day and I switch it up with Proactiv’s aloe vera toner.
iv. Treatment: After cleansing, your next step is to kill the bacteria with a treatment. 2.5% Benzoyl peroxide is still the best over the counter option. I personally find the 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide cream a perfect fit for my sensitive skin. I once used a 10% all over my face and the next morning my face was swollen. However, for a great 3 day spot treatment I gently dab the 10% Benzoyl Peroxide on my pimple with a cotton bud.
Every once in a while I like to deeply cleanse by adding a Retinoid treatment and clay mask, but for the sake of this article I’ll focus on the first steps of fighting acne.
What about you? How do you fight your stubborn acne?
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Photo Credit: Getty Images