Acne occurs when the small pores on the surface of the skin become blocked with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Each individual pore on the skin opens up to a follicle beneath the epidermis. Within these follicles lie a singular hair and a sebaceous gland. The sebaceous gland produces sebum, an oil designed to keep your skin lubricated and soft. However, when hormonal changes and other factors cause the gland to produce an excess of sebum, the oil will be pumped through the follicle, and may pick up dead skin cells and P. acnes bacteria on its way out. Should these substances clump together, a plug will form. As this plug starts to press up against the surface of the skin, the body responds with an accumulation of red and white blood cells to combat any infection, and this results in inflammation and redness. Acne can occur on the face, back, neck, chest, arms, and buttocks, and any other skin area with a saturation of sebaceous pores.
Many people believe that acne is a hygiene problem. This is a complete myth. Acne is caused by toxins and excess hormones. When your hormones become imbalance, your oil glands produce excessive quantities of sebum. This forms plugs and traps with bacteria, resulting in inflammation and acne breakout. The basic foundation in how to clear acne effectively is to control your hormones and toxins. This will prevent future acne breakout.
Over-the-counter retinol or vitamin A can also help. Anolik says retinols can be incredibly effective, especially higher-strength prescription retinoids: “They’re the gold standard in acne and aging treatments.” The prescription versions, from Tazorac to Differin, are usually covered by insurance in the case of acne. Vitamin C can also treat pores and exfoliate; Tammy Fender’s System ($165, tammyfender.com) comes with a vitamin C toner.
Surgery frequently treats rhinophyma of the nose. A physician uses a scalpel, laser, or electro surgery to remove the excess tissue. Dermabrasion can help improve the look of the scar tissue. Follow-up treatments with laser or intense pulsed light may help lessen the redness. Medical maintenance therapy with oral and or topical antibiotics may be useful to decrease the chance of recurrence.
Topical (external) applications: Antibacterial cleansers come in the form of gels, creams, and lotions that are applied to the affected area. The active ingredients that kill surface bacteria include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and resorcinol. Some brands promoted on the Internet and cable TV (such as ProActiv) are much more costly than identical and sometimes more potent products one can buy in the drugstore.
You’ll also learn how to prepare for your treatment. We’ll give you products to apply before your procedure to prime your skin and avoid pigmentation. You’ll also receive information on pain medication and the downtime you’ll need as you recover. If you decide to take time off work, you can schedule your procedures before a weekend or take a few days off.
This article was medically reviewed by Hilary Baldwin, MD. Baldwin, medical director of the Acne Treatment Research Center, is a board-certified dermatologist with nearly 25 years of experience. Her area of expertise and interest are acne, rosacea and keloid scars. Baldwin received her BA and MA in biology from Boston University. She became a research assistant at Harvard University before attending Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed a medical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital before becoming a resident and chief resident in dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
For women who break out mainly around their menstrual cycle, some birth control pills can help. Research shows that these pills can clear acne by slowing down overactive oil glands in the skin. Sometimes, birth control pills are used along with a drug called spironolactone to treat acne in adult females. This medication lowers levels of the hormone androgen in the body. Androgen stimulates the skin's oil glands. Side effects of this drug include irregular menstruation, breast tenderness, headache and fatigue. Spironolactone is not appropriate therapy for all patients.
So if popping pimples doesn't cause scarring, what does? Long-lasting scars typically turn up after a recurring bout with cystic acne. Cystic acne is a breakout that burrows deep into the skin. These red, painful nodules occur when clogged pores are filled with pus and bacteria, which causes inflammation. Cystic breakouts are often tied to an internal fluctuation of hormones like testosterone (that's why they're common during puberty, monthly menstruation, and perimenopause). "If there is a cyst in the skin, it's going to cause a scar the longer it sits there because pus or bacteria deeper inside the pores cause surrounding inflammation," says Dr. Karolak. And as a result, the inflammation affects the collagen production as well as the fat stores under the skin, creating a visible scar on the surface.

Treating acne requires patience and perseverance. Any of the treatments listed above may take two or three months to start working (even isotretinoin). Unless there are side effects such as excessive dryness or allergy, it is important to give each regimen or drug enough time to work before giving up on it and moving on to other methods. Using modern methods, doctors can help clear up the skin of just about everyone.
I tried many different products from over-the-counter acne treatments to expensive prescription medications. Price ranged from $5 to over $100. I even have books on “How to Clear Acne in 24 Hours”, “How to Clear Pimples in a Week”, or even “How to Clear Break Outs through Hypnosis”. I was an acne treatment junkie! I would buy anything for a clear complexion.

Ugh, I know. This is the first piece of advice every dermatologist, esthetician, and nutritionist has told me time and time again, yet I've resisted. I'm aware that dairy is known to cause inflammation and increased sebum production, but I just love cheese (and ice cream, and milk chocolate) so damn much, okay? Because I was at my most desperate, I decided to swallow my cravings and go dairy-free for a very doable three weeks. After just one week into the experiment, my cystic bumps died down significantly, and I cursed everyone for being right.
Lowering stress levels can have an immediate beneficial effect on the appearance and frequency of acne breakouts. It’s important to maintain a regular exercise routine, get enough sleep every night, and practice stress control methods. Meditation has been shown to alleviate the effects of various skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and could have a positive effect on the symptoms of acne.
Isotretinoin: Accutane was the original brand name; there are now several generic versions in common use, including Sotret, Claravis, and Amnesteem. Isotretinoin is an excellent treatment for severe, scarring, persistent acne and has been used on millions of patients since it was introduced in Europe in 1971 and in the U.S. in 1982. It should be used for people with severe acne, chiefly of the cystic variety, that has been unresponsive to conventional therapies like those listed above. If taken in sufficient dosage, it should eliminate the need to continue the use of prescription drugs in most patients. The drug has many potential serious side effects and requires a number of unique controls before it is prescribed. This means that isotretinoin is not a good choice for people whose acne is not that severe but who are frustrated and want "something that will knock acne out once and for all." In order to use the drug, the prescribing physician, the patient, and the supplying pharmacy must be enrolled in the online "iPLEDGE PROGRAM." Used properly, isotretinoin is safe and produces few side effects beyond dry lips and occasional muscle aches. This drug is prescribed for five to six months at a dosage that has a high likelihood of preventing the return of acne. Fasting blood tests are monitored monthly to check liver function and the level of triglycerides, substances related to cholesterol, which often rise a bit during treatment but rarely to the point at which treatment has to be modified or stopped.
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