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.
If you wear tight clothing when working out or don heavy equipment for sporting purposes, you may have experienced Acne Mechanica. This type of acne is prevalent among athletes, students, and soldiers, and is directly caused by excessive heat, pressure, and covered skin. It also may be triggered by consistent rubbing of different materials against the skin. This type of acne can be alleviated by changing out of sweaty gear and clothing and showering immediately after a workout. It’s also important to clean gear of acne bacteria and prevent friction by ensuring a comfortably tight fit. If you believe your acne flare up has been caused by a tight or heavy uniform, wearing a clean, cotton t-shirt underneath can help absorb the sweat and keep your skin protected.
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If you have body acne, taking a shower as soon as possible after working out is also key. It turns out that standing around in tight, sweaty workout clothes puts you at the greatest risk for body acne and rashes. “The whole idea is that the bacteria that live on the skin can get trapped in the hair follicles and cause inflammation,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hale. “The more you work out in the heat the more likely this is.” Dr. Levin agrees that showering right after a workout is your best defense against body acne. But in a pinch, body wipes like the Yuni Shower Sheets will do the trick.
What you can do differently: For starters, stop going to tanning beds. Period. And if you are in the sun, make sure to slather on a titanium dioxide- or zinc-based sunscreen (these are natural sun protectants and their formulations usually contain fewer chemicals, so they won't break you out as easily), and wear a sun hat or ball cap to shield your facial skin from harsh rays.
The best way to fix them: This is where the classic zit treatments come into play. "Topical medications are the best way to treat a lesion like this," says Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC. "Benzoyl peroxide-, salicylic acid-, or sulfur-based products can help to dry it up." She prefers salicylic acid over benzoyl peroxide for these, since the latter can cause irritation, dryness, and even post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (a.k.a. dark spots) in those with darker skin tones. Retinol works well for these, too.
Rouleau also enlightened me about another culprit making my skin care routine less effective: using oil-based products at the beginning of my skin care routine. As Rouleau explained, oils have a large molecule size and, therefore, should go at the end of a skin care routine because it almost acts like a sealant. When you use a cleansing oil or balm first (as I used to do along with makeup wipes), you're basically creating a barrier that makes it more difficult for other skin care products to penetrate and do their job.
Oral antibiotics: Doctors may start treatment with tetracycline (Sumycin) or one of the related "cyclines," such as doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox, and others) and minocycline (Dynacin, Minocin). Other oral antibiotics that are useful for treating acne are cefadroxil (Duricef), amoxicillin (Amoxil, DisperMox, Trimox), and the sulfa drugs.
Use a toner after cleansing. After you wash your face, exfoliate, or apply a face mask, apply a toner to the entirety of your face. Toners work to tighten pores making it less likely that dirt and oil will become trapped in them. Buy acne toners at a local drugstore, or use witch hazel or apple cider vinegar dabbed on with a cotton ball. Don’t rinse toners after application - allow them to stay on your skin.
"Retinoids work over time by continuously increasing cell turnover which in turn helps fade hyperpigmentation," says Dr. Idriss. Dr. Shah agrees, noting that Retin-A helps with acne marks by causing your skin cells to "divide more rapidly and pushing out cells with discolored pigments." Since retinoids make your skin super-sensitive to the sun, it's best to not only wear SPF, but to also apply a treatment like RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream before you go to bed.
It's a myth that tanning clears up your skin. UV rays put you at risk for skin cancer, premature aging, and wrinkles. Don't lie in the sun or use a tanning booth. Also, some commonly prescribed acne medications, including retinoids that go on your skin, can make you more sensitive to damage from UV rays. So always wear sunscreen and limit how much sun you get.
Hormone changes as an adult. The menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. Acne lesions tend to form a few days before the cycle begins and go away after the cycle is completed. Other hormone changes, such as pregnancy and menopause, improve acne in some women. But some women have worse acne during these times. Stopping use of birth control pills can play a role as well.
Other concerns include inflammatory bowel disease and the risk of depression and suicide in patients taking isotretinoin. Recent evidence seems to indicate that these problems are exceedingly rare. Government oversight has resulted in a highly publicized and very burdensome national registration system for those taking the drug. This has reinforced concerns in many patients and their families have that isotretinoin is dangerous. In fact, large-scale studies so far have shown no convincing evidence of increased risk for those taking isotretinoin compared with the general population. It is important for those taking this drug to report changes in mood or bowel habits (or any other symptoms) to their doctors. Even patients who are being treated for depression are not barred from taking isotretinoin, whose striking success often improves the mood and outlook of patients with severe disease.