Don’t suffer with
Acne is a common, chronic
skin condition caused by
inflammation of oil-producing
sebaceous glands. Acne usually
begins between the ages of ten and thirteen, and persists for five to ten
years. Acne breakouts are most common on the face, but they can also
occur on the back, shoulders, neck, chest, scalp, upper arms and legs.
Young men and women get acne in equal numbers. Younger males are
more prone to severe, longer-lasting forms of the skin condition. Many
women suffer from “hormonal acne” - their outbreaks are tied to the
hormonal changes related to their menstrual cycle. While hormonal
acne typically starts between the ages of 20-25, it can strike teenagers
as well. Hormonal acne is sometimes persistent in women in their 30s.
While not life threatening, acne can leave life-long emotional and
physical scars - a reminder of the embarrassment and self-consciousness
that came with the pimples. No one wants to get zits.
Approximately 90% of all adolescents and 25% of all adults experience
acne at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most extensive medical
conditions in the world, and is responsible for about 30% of all visits to
the dermatologists. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to treat. Traditional
therapies have a variety of side effects and sometimes require months
to work, if they work at all. Topical creams and lotions can cause redness
and irritation. Oral antibiotics can cause stomach upset, light sensitivity
and yeast infections in women, and studies indicate about 40% of skin
bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, making them a doubtful
ally in the fight against skin breakouts.
Acne develops when skin
cells do not shed properly —
they stick together and plug
up the pores. An acne
breakout starts in the skin’s
pores. It takes about two to
three weeks before a blemish
shows up on the skin’s
surface. This blockage
encourages an oil called
sebum and a bacteria called proplonlbacterium (P. acnes) to build
up in the skin pores, leading to inflammation. The oil is produced
by the sebaceous glands.
Deep within each pore is a sebaceous gland that works to produce sebum, an oil that keeps skin soft and moist. As the skin renews
itself, old skin cells die and are shed off. Under the best
circumstances this happens evenly and gradually, making way for
fresh new skin. But some people shed skin unevenly and as a result,
dead cells mix with sebum and clump together to form a sticky
plug. This plug traps oil and bacteria inside the pore - the beginning
of a blemish. During puberty, hormones accelerate oil-producing
sebaceous glands into hyperdrive, putting teen skin at particular
risk for acne.
In adolescents, acne breakouts are related to the natural release of androgen hormones, which occur during puberty. Acne can also be caused by the use of harmful, body-building steroid drugs. Humidity and perspiration can also contribute to breakouts. Contrary to earlier belief, acne is not affected by diet or poor hygiene. In fact, over-washing can make an acne flare-up harder to control.
Even though teenagers tend to call any form of a breakout a “zit,” acne has more than one symptom. A build-up of P. acnes can cause:
- Blackheads and whiteheads, also known as comedones. Comedones are enlarged pores filled with sebum. Blackheads are comedones
that have opened onto the skin surface. Whiteheads are comedones
that are closed on the surface.
- Pimples, also known as pustules; these inflamed follicles occur when the P. acnes bacteria in the follicle attracts infection-fighting cells. The follicle may rupture, spilling its contents into the
surrounding skin, causing further inflammation.
- Nodules and cysts, which are more severe forms of acne that go deeper into the skin, forming firm, deep bumps and swellings;
similar to pimples, they result from increased sebum production,
which leads to bacterial growth, irritation and redness. When left
untreated, or when “picked at,” acne lesions can lead to
Available Treatments & Results
In the U.S. alone, more than $1.4 billon is spent on acne medications and treatments each year. In many instances, the money spent yields less than satisfactory results and causes
bothersome or dangerous side effects. Most prescription medications, such as antibiotics, require at least three months of
continuous treatment before any improvement can be expected.
Often, a second, third or fourth cycle of therapy is needed.
There are numerous non-prescription acne cleansers, astringents, moisturizers and pimple creams available at local drug stores. Some help unplug whiteheads and blackheads while others help encourage the skin to shed. It’s important to use all products as directed. Many experts recommend giving over-the-counter products no more than six to eight weeks to work. If there is no improvement in acne during that time period, a dermatologist may be seen to explore other treatment options. Many over-the-counter products are available in stronger “prescription only” formulas.
Prescription Gels, Creams and Lotions
Topical Antibiotics: These “prescription only” products help fight acne by killing the bacteria that infect the pores. Sometimes acne may become resistant to the antibiotics, rendering them useless. Side effects can include dry, red skin and an increase in sun sensitivity. Commonly prescribed topical antibiotics include
Cleocin T and Azelex.
Oral Antibiotics: These systemic medications affect the entire body and therefore can cause serious side effects. Some antibiotics, such as tetracycline, need to be taken on an empty stomach. Side effects can include nausea and dizziness.
Vitamin A Derivatives: These retinoid medications prevent skin cells from clumping together and encourage shedding. Usually
applied once a day, these medications can increase sensitivity to the
sun, so it’s important that patients use sunscreen. Other side effects
can include dryness, redness and irritation. Common Vitamin A
derivatives include Retin-A, Differin and Tazorac. One particular
retinoid, Accutane, has been shown to cause more serious side
effects, including psychological disorders and, in rare cases, birth
defects. Sexually active women who take this medication must use
contraception during treatment and have monthly lab work
Birth Control Pills: These are prescribed for women who have flare-ups that occur at the same time each month during the menstrual cycle. The pills help control the hormones that prompt oil production in the skin. Women should consult their physician to determine which birth control pills are most appropriate.
There is a new paradigm for the treatment of acne. It involves a
short treatment regimen with impressive results and no side effects,
pain or downtime.
Clear Light uses Acne PhotoClearing™ technology to destroy acne-causing bacteria within the skin - without drugs, without pain and without downtime. Applied in eight treatments over a four week
period, most patients see a dramatic decrease in the number and severity of acne lesions; some report significant improvements after only two or three sessions. The Clear Light system is the first medical device to receive FDA clearance to market for the treatment of acne.
During treatment sessions, which last approximately 15 minutes, the patient sits comfortably while the high-intensity Clear Light illuminates the acne. Protective eyewear is used during all
treatments. The Clear Light utilizes a unique spectrum of light that
causes the acne bacteria to self-destruct, while having no effect on
the normal skin. The therapy is suitable to treat all areas of the
body, including the back, chest and face. Patients return to normal
activities immediately after treatment. The Clear Light was designed
to treat mild to moderate inflammatory acne.
Clear Light effectively clears most moderate inflammatory acne
within four weeks. Results are especially impressive when compared
with conventional treatments, such as topical medicines and oral
The Blu-U Blue
Light Photodynamic Therapy is a two-step process using prescribed medications plus blue light to treat actinic keratoses and
lesions of the face or scalp (AK).
The treated lesions are sensitive to light therefore, patients will need to avoid sunlight and sources of bright light for
at least 40 hours after Blu-U is applied.
You should not be treated with Blu-U if you have:
- Skin sensitivity to blue light
- Porphyria (a disorder of the metabolism that can lead to sensitivity to light)
- Allergies to chemicals called porphyrins
First and foremost, don’t hesitate to see a dermatologist about your acne. In the meantime, here are some basic skincare tips and advice that can help prevent or ease problems with breakouts:
- Don’t overwash or use harsh scrubs. Acne is not caused by dirt. Two gentle washings a day is sufficient. Anything more can leave
healthy skin dry and irritated, triggering the glands to produce
even more oil. The result being even more pimples.
- Don’t use alcohol-based products. Alcohol strips the top layer of
the skin and many astringents contain alcohol which can cause
dryness and irritation. Again, this can prompt excess oil production
and more blemishes.
- Beware of sweat. Working out heats up the body, and perspiration
makes the skin an even more attractive environment for acne
bacteria to grow. Take a shower as soon as possible after vigorous physical activity.
- Don’t squeeze or pick. It’s important to adopt a strict “hands off” policy when it comes to acne. Trying to pop pimples on your own
can drive acne bacteria deeper into the skin. Picking can lead to
more inflammation and permanent scarring.
- Don’t let acne define you. Remember that who you are goes
beyond the condition of your skin. Smart teens acknowledge the
problem, take whatever action they can to deal with it, and then
get on with what really matters.