Understanding why you break out requires consideration of a variety of aspects. There are many underlying reasons for acne breakouts, but most pimples are caused by fluctuations in hormone levels. During puberty, the increase in androgens (male hormones) causes the adrenal glands to go into overdrive. This triggers the production of sebum within the sebaceous glands. The more sebum produced, the easier it is for hair follicles to become clogged. When the follicle becomes blocked, oil can’t leave the pore, collecting dead skin cells that would have otherwise sloughed off and hanging onto bacteria called p. acnes. These hormonal fluctuations can arise at other times in life, including menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
"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.
With the proper treatment, patients can control rosacea symptoms and signs. Popular methods of treatment include topical (skin) medications applied by the patient once or twice a day. Topical antibiotic medication such as metronidazole (Metrogel) applied one to two times a day after cleansing may significantly improve rosacea. Azelaic acid (Azelex cream, Finacea gel 15%) is another effective treatment for patients with rosacea. Both metronidazole and azelaic acid work to control the redness and bumps in rosacea.
Even if you have amazing willpower—like the willpower of a Girl Scout with a full inventory of Thin Mints under her bed—and never, ever mess with your acne, you can still scar. "Acne scars result from damage to the skin following repeated inflammation from acne cysts," says Judith Hellman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Pimple popping can make the process worse, but acne can cause scarring even without pimple popping."
Another source of hormonal changes: stress. Whether you work full time, are a full-time mom, or juggle both, chances are, your stress levels are high. "When you're stressed, you have an organ called the adrenal gland that makes the stress hormone cortisol, and puts it out into the body to help the body deal with stress," Dr. Schultz explains. Unfortunately, a tiny bit of testosterone leaks out with it. For a woman, this male hormone can drive the oil glands to produce more oil—the root cause of breakouts. (Thanks a lot, hormones!)
"Fluctuation in hormones, such as before one's menstrual cycle, is the main cause," explains dermatologist Julia Tzu, M.D., of Wall Street Dermatology. Specifically, androgens (male hormones) like testosterone. This usually rears its ugly head in the form of deep (painful) cystic acne around the chin, neck, and back, says dermatologist Rebecca Kazin, M.D., F.A.A.D., of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology.
Acne scars are most often the product of an inflamed lesion, such as a papule, pustule, or cyst. Inflamed blemishes occur when the follicle, or pore, becomes engorged with excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. The pore swells, causing a break in the follicle wall. If the rupture occurs near the skin's surface, the lesion is usually minor and heals quickly. More serious lesions arise when there is a deep break in the follicle wall. The infected material spills out into the dermis and destroys healthy skin tissue.
Buying a generic face wash won’t necessarily improve your complexion; for a cleanser to be most effective, you have to pay attention to your skin’s needs and pick the ingredients accordingly. If your skin tends to be oily, choose products with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid. For sensitive skin, look for cleansers with lactic acid or hydrating ingredients like glycerin, which aren’t as drying as those made for oilier types.
Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone [Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred] or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes sometimes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid). Most cases of acne, however, are not drug related.