Acne is a very common skin condition affecting millions of people, particularly young people. In fact, it's been reported that acne affects more than 80 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24.
However, acne can appear at almost any age. It is becoming common to see children developing acne as young as 8 or 9 years, and it can torment adults into their mid-40s.
There is no one specific type of acne, and many factors contribute to its onset and severity. Acne occurs with abnormalities of the hair follicle and associated oil gland. Circulating hormones result in increased oil production. This, along with dead skin, clogs the pore, acting like a plug. Eventually, the pore wall will rupture, resulting in the familiar signs of acne.
Other factors behind acne include family history, cosmetics and other products used on the face, pressure from athletic equipment or backpacks, medications and stress. Diet can also be a factor -- dairy products and carbohydrate dense foods are particular culprits. However, chocolate and greasy foods seem to have little effect on the development of acne.
Dermatologists will generally recommend that acne sufferers wash the affected areas once to twice daily with a mild cleanser or a medicated wash containing either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. When washing the face, the goal is to gently cleanse and remove built-up oils and dead skin. Aggressively scrubbing or washing several times a day may have the opposite effect and worsen the acne.
Try to use products that are oil-free or labeled as "non-comedogenic" -- meaning it won't clog the pores.
It's also helpful to wash soon after exercising, perhaps cleaning your face with a medicated wipe. Make sure athletic equipment is cleaned regularly.
Regular use of over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid creams or gels will help control mild acne in most people. Don't pick, pop or poke acne sores -- this can create more inflammation, which aggravates the problem and may lead to scarring.
When acne becomes progressively worse despite the use of over-the-counter products, it may be time to consider prescription acne treatments. The specific treatment is chosen based on the type of acne lesions and suspected underlying causes. Depending on the severity, your provider may recommend a combination of topical and oral medications.
Your provider may also suggest chemical peels or, in extreme cases, surgical intervention. For best results, it's essential to adhere to the treatment plan, although you may not see any improvement for several weeks or even months. In some cases, the treatment regimen may need to be modified.
The purpose of prescription medications is not only to control acne and minimize the potential for scarring, but hopefully to reduce the social and emotion impacts that result from acne.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for acne, but treatment often provides good control of the disease and offers significant relief.
Dr. Bradley Neuenschwander is a board-certified dermatologist practicing at the Layton and SyracuseTanner Clinic.