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While acne is a much more visible condition than most, it is important to remember that it is like most diseases, in which early detection can help to mitigate its impact. Bearing that in mind, we have taken the time to put together 10 of the most common causes for acne, so that you can be better informed and potentially avoid some (and only some) of its root causes.
Acne scar treatment: Injections of steroids can flatten keloid scars, according to Dr. Elbuluk. When they are discolored or red, there is some active inflammation in the skin. “The goal is to make the inflammation go away,” she says, “and certain lasers, such as pulsed dye laser, can improve any discoloration by targeting blood vessels.” Cryosurgery freezes the scar tissue, causing it to slough off, but this can cause pigmentation problems of its own among people with darker skin, who are already at higher risk for keloids. Prevention has an important role to play for anyone who is prone to keloids, she says. Using a scar-minimizing treatment like Mederma and/or silicone gel scar sheets before scars form can help stave off a keloid. Vitamin C serums such as Kiehl’s ‘Clearly Corrective’ Dark Spot Solution, Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester Serum, Skinceuticals C E FERULIC® vitamin C serum, or Kiss My Face C The Change (Ester C Serum) can also reduce pigmentation around a keloid scar.
Do not—we repeat, do not—even think about attempting to get this out yourself. "With deep zits, there’s no exit strategy, so if you’re pushing on it to try to get rid of it, it could actually leak sebum into the dermis and cause more lesions," explains Dr. Hale. Instead, this is the time to visit your dermatologist for a cortisone injection, which should take care of it in 24 hours. If you're sitting here wondering why doctors don't just shoot all of your zits up with cortisone, that's because that it can actually lead to scarring or even a depression in your skin, especially with smaller zits, says Dr. Chwalek. That's why cortisone shops reserved for the oversize monsters like these.
Many over-the-counter lotions and creams containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are available to help prevent acne and clear it up at the same time. You can experiment with these to see which helps. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly — don't use more than you're supposed to at one time (your skin may get too dried out and feel and look worse) and follow any label directions about allergy testing.
Spot treatments are key for treating a pimple ASAP. Benzoyl peroxide is often vilified for being harsh, but when it comes to really zapping a zit, it should be your best friend. Just dab it on the trouble spot to dry it out and kill bacteria. For heavy-duty action, try Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel; for something gentler, we like Arithmetic Acne Control Complex, which has soothing ingredients to counter the drying effects and is made with adult skin in mind.
Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives (birth control pills), which are low in estrogen to promote safety, have little effect on acne one way or the other. Some contraceptive pills have been shown to have modest effectiveness in treating acne. Those that have been U.S. FDA approved for treating acne are Estrostep, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, and Yaz. Most dermatologists work together with primary care physicians or gynecologists when recommending these medications.
Pimples are raised red spots with a white center that develop when blocked hair follicles become inflamed or infected with bacteria. Blockages and inflammation that develop deep inside hair follicles produce cystlike lumps beneath the surface of your skin. Other pores in your skin, which are the openings of the sweat glands, aren't usually involved in acne.
Clean your skin gently with a mild soap or cleanser twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. You should also gently clean the skin after heavy exercise. Avoid strong soaps and rough scrub pads. Harsh scrubbing of the skin may make acne worse. Wash your entire face from under the jaw to the hairline and rinse thoroughly. Remove make-up gently with a mild soap and water. Ask your doctor before using an astringent.
Rosacea may affect the eyes. Not everyone with rosacea has eye problems. A complication of advanced rosacea, known as ocular rosacea, affects the eyes. About half of all people with rosacea report feeling burning, dryness, and irritation of the tissue lining of the eyes (conjunctivitis). These individuals may also experience redness of the eyelids and light sensitivity. Often the eye symptoms may go completely unnoticed and not be a major concern for the individual. Many times, the physician or ophthalmologist may be the first one to notice the eye symptoms. Untreated, ocular rosacea may cause a serious complication that can damage the cornea permanently damaging vision, called rosacea keratitis. An ophthalmologist can assist in a proper eye evaluation and prescribe rosacea eyedrops. Oral antibiotics may be useful to treat skin and eye rosacea.
What you can do differently: Make sure all the skin care products you're using are labeled "noncomedogenic," which means your makeup or skin care has been specifically formulated not to clog your pores. That said, even if the product is "noncomedogenic," if you're using it continuously and your breakouts continue to get worse, make an appointment with your dermatologist, as you could be allergic to another ingredient in the product that is causing your issues.
Your doctor might recommend an injectable treatment called a filler. "Mainly, I treat acne scars with hyaluronic acid fillers, such as Restylane, but not all acne scars respond to this sort of treatment," Schlessinger says. "Additionally, I personally find that Accutane has a remarkable effect on acne scars if it is prescribed early on in the course of a scarring acne."
In unusual cases, a skin biopsy may be required to help confirm the diagnosis of rosacea. Occasionally, a dermatologist may perform a noninvasive test called a skin scraping in the office to help exclude a skin mite infestation by Demodex, which can look just like rosacea (and may be a triggering factor). A skin culture can help exclude other causes of facial skin bumps like staph infections or herpes infections. Blood tests are not generally required but may help exclude less common causes of facial blushing and flushing, including systemic lupus, other autoimmune conditions, carcinoid, and dermatomyositis.
Severe acne. Severe acne consists of deep cysts, redness, swelling, extreme damage to the skin and scarring. You should see a dermatologist to care for this type of acne. Scarring can be prevented with appropriate treatments. Your dermatologist can prescribe oral antibiotics and oral contraceptives. Large inflamed cysts can be treated with an injection of a drug that lessens the redness, swelling, and irritation, and promotes healing.
We've all heard the foods that allegedly cause acne—chocolate, fried foods, pizza, caffeine, nuts. But Dr. Schultz reminds us that in large, statistically significant studies, these have not been proven to cause zits, but there are always exceptions. "If you break out when you eat chocolate, don't eat chocolate." Same with dairy, which again, has been shown in some cases to have an effect but no concrete cause-and-effect relationship exists.
A new, big trend in acne treatments over the past year has been stick-on dots. Some brands, like Nexcare Acne Absorbing Covers, aren't medicated; instead, the clear, absorbent, sterile patches (which feel more like gel than a Band-Aid) dry out the zit like a sponge. Bonus: They'll keep you from picking at it! Despite the fact that they contain no actual medicine, the Nexcare covers have a perfect five-star rating on drugstore.com and a cult following. Meanwhile, many brands do medicate their acne dots, like Peter Thomas Roth's new Acne-Clear Invisible Dots. These invisible stick-on patches contain salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and hyaluronic acid to disinfect and clear clogged pores.
There’s no quick fix for acne. Medicines don't work overnight. Many treatments take weeks of daily use before your skin improves. Some acne may take up to 6 months to clear up. Afterward, basic skin care -- bathing daily and washing your face and hands with mild soap -- may not be enough. You may need to keep using your medicine even when your skin clears. Follow your doctor’s directions. Don’t use too much or too little.
It is a myth that women get acne because they don't wash enough. Too much washing or scrubbing the skin harshly can make acne worse. And washing away surface oils doesn't do much to prevent or cure acne, because it forms under the skin. The best way to clean the face is to gently wash it twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser. Be careful to remove make-up without harsh scrubbing.
Strat beauty editor Rio Viera-Newton mentioned this paraben- and fragrance-free concealer in her post on makeup for broken-out skin. “This has helped me conceal even the worst of the worst,” she wrote. Designed for buildable coverage, it will also work on masking those acne marks until they gradually fade away, and the gentle formula means it won’t cause additional irritation.
Retinoids: Retin-A (tretinoin) has been in use for years, and preparations have become milder and gentler while still maintaining its effectiveness. Newer retinoids include adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac). These medications are especially helpful for unclogging pores. Side effects may include irritation and a mild increase in sensitivity to the sun. Adapalene 0.1% is now available without a prescription. With proper sun protection, however, they can be used even during sunny periods. The combination medication known as Epiduo gel -- which contains the retinoid, adapalene, along with the antibacterial, benzoyl peroxide -- is applied once a day.