Acne is a subject near but not so dear to my heart. Since I began breaking out at about 13 or so it is something I have not only experienced but have done extensive research about. It is a puzzling disease because there is no one cure for everyone who has it. There is a lot we know about it but just as much that we don’t.
Experts estimate that 85% of all teens in the U.S. will experience acne. And recent studies by the American Dermatology Association show that adult acne is increasing in the U.S. Actually more than 17 million adults have been diagnosed with Acne Vulgaris in the past decade. The disease may present as an occasional pimple that pops up every once in a while (if you are lucky) to severely congested cystic inflammation. Unfortunately, I had the cystic type of acne – lots of painful, deep lesions beneath the skin on my face and jawline.
Acne is a skin condition in which the pores of the skin become clogged with dead skin and sebum (oil that lubricates skin). Clogged pores can become infected causing whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and/or cysts that occur primarily on the face, neck, chest, and back.
As I mentioned, we know how acne happens. What is not completely clear, even now, is what triggers acne and what works to get it under control. For example, we have all been told that chocolate and greasy food causes acne. But that is not necessarily true for everyone. My acne trigger may be stress or not getting a sufficient amount of sleep while someone else may get acne eruptions because of eating dairy or peanuts.
I became an esthetician primarily because of my own skin problems. I also started and ran a non-profit organization called Clear Up Skin Care to teach teens how to care for their skin. I am not a doctor and don’t pretend to be; however I do have extensive expertise regarding acne myths and about all of the things I did wrong in an attempt to treat myself. Following are some myths and tips about acne that are still just as relevant today:
Acne is caused by dirty skin
Acne is triggered by a number of things, but dirt isn’t usually one of them. Acne begins deep beneath the surface of the skin. Dead skin cells mix with the body’s natural oil that then forms a plug in the tiny hair follicles commonly called pores. This has nothing to do with dirt, so over-washing your face will not make acne better. In fact, too much washing or the use of irritating products may strip skin of the oil it needs to stay soft and healthy.
Spot treatment works
Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Since breakouts take 2–3 weeks to develop, you’re treating an old symptom of the problem rather than the real problem. The best way to treat acne is to stop the breakouts from starting in the first place — this means treating the entire area every day, even when you don’t have breakouts.
Certain foods cause acne
Scientists have been unable to find any connection between diet and acne. So all the foods you’ve been warned to stay away from — pizza, french fries, chocolate — are not necessarily to blame. Of course a healthy diet that includes plenty of water will help you in your fight against acne. Use common sense, but don’t be afraid to have a piece of pizza now and then.
Make-up causes acne
Many make-ups today are non-comedogenic, which means they won’t clog your pores. When shopping for cosmetics, look for products that are also oil and fragrance free. Be extra careful about products that you use to style your hair. Many of them, including hair spray, can increase acne problems. Wash your pillowcase often — while you sleep your clean face is resting on the products that you used earlier on your hair.
Sun exposure helps acne
Small amounts of sun exposure may seem to improve acne — as the skin darkens, breakouts may be less noticeable. But increased time in the sun also increases the amount of dead skin cells, so you’re more likely to get clogged pores. Also, any scarring or dark areas will actually get darker if you spend a lot of time in the sun. And of course, sun exposure increases your chances of getting some form of skin cancer. Play it safe and use sun protection products that are oil-free and have a “sun protection factor” (or SPF) of at least 30.
A couple of points that are important but you may not know or think about –
Apply ice wrapped in a clean washcloth to breakouts twice a day to reduce swelling and redness. As soon as you feel a pimple starting to erupt, start with the ice treatment and you may avoid the blemish completely.
Breakouts on the chin area are almost always hormone-triggered – related to a woman’s monthly cycle. This means they may pop up faithfully every 28 days or so – keep the area especially clean and avoid resting your chin in your hand.
Use glass cleaner on cell phones that you hold against the skin.
While stress does not cause acne, it can trigger flare-ups. When the body becomes stressed, a side effect is that the glands are encouraged to produce more oil. The best course of action is, of course to try to reduce your stress levels as much as possible. Also try to make time to do the things that make you feel relaxed and happy.