Acne, scientifically known as acne vulgaris, is a common, yet often embarrassing, skin condition. It most often appears during adolescence, affecting 80-90% of American teenagers. Most will outgrow the condition by their early twenties, but some people suffer from it well into adulthood.
Acne is characterized by excess production of oil, or sebum, which can clog pores and result in blackheads, whiteheads, inflamed red pustules, or even cysts. Most frequently, acne is caused by hormones, especially during puberty and during certain parts of a woman’s menstrual cycle or pregnancy.
Many people may also be genetically predisposed to developing acne. Other factors may include diet; there is not yet a concrete link between food and acne, but individuals with a high glycemic load diet can notice a worsening in the condition of their skin. Scientific research also indicates a correlation between stress and acne, and the National Institutes of Health (USA) list stress as an aggravating factor. Steroid use can also aggravate the condition.
Fortunately, many treatments exist for acne, and they are often very effective. The first line of defense is usually skin-care products containing an ingredient called benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide helps prevent the formation of blemishes, and also contains anti-inflammatory properties to help heal pimples that may already be present. It is important to note, however, that benzoyl peroxide can cause irritation and dryness of skin, and can also increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. The most effective benzoyl peroxide treatments are in the form of topical creams; cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide are generally ineffective, since most of the active ingredients are rinsed way during cleansing.
Another topical acne treatment commonly used, and readily available over the counter, is salicylic acid. It helps to open obstructed pores and promote more rapid shedding of dead skin cells, both of which can help treat and prevent blemishes.
Antibiotics are reserved for more severe cases; they can be taken orally or applied topically. Commonly prescribed antibiotics include erythromycin and clindomycin. Other effective acne treatments include both topical and oral retinoids, hormone therapy, and for severe cases, steroid injections.
For most people, an effective acne treatment regimen involves cleansing the skin twice a day with a gentle cleanser, then apply a product containing benzoyl peroxide to affected areas. Eating as healthfully as possible, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding stress can also help keep the skin looking its best.