I think we can all agree that acne is just the worst and knowing how to treat acne can be a real challenge.
I struggled with acne from the moment I hit puberty to just about a few months ago. My acne didn’t actually clear up until my round of Accutane.
For those who aren’t familiar with Accutane, it is a very, very serious drug and should only be considered as a very last resort so this post is NOT advocating for Accutane.
Quite the opposite, actually.
Accutane is an incredible extensive process of medications, monthly visits to your dermatologist, monthly pregnancy tests, regular lab tests. Basically, you don’t want to take Accutane if you don’t have to.
Your dermatologist will let you know if they feel you are a candidate for Accutane, but thankfully, the vast majority of people who struggle with acne and breakouts don’t need to take such a drastic measure.
I want to take some time today to talk about some of the basic principles around acne and best practices.
Even those who don’t experience extensive acne conditions, we all get blemishes from time to time.
So today, let’s cover some of the key points around what could be causing these pesky breakouts and how we can better treat them.
What Is Acne
Acne is a skin disorder that happens when the sebaceous glands, or oil glands get clogged.
This clogging can happen for a number of reasons, but some of the main reasons are excessive oil production and what is called retention hyperkeratosis.
We’ll talk more about those later on.
Acne is an inflammatory condition that is characterized by inflammation around the site. It is also characterized by blemishes.
What Causes Acne
There are several factors that can cause acne and everyones triggers can be different. This is the main reason why acne can be so frustrating and difficult to treat effectively.
Let’s go over some of the key reasons your skin could be in a fit.
This is perhaps the worst reason! Acne can be hereditary meaning it’s been passed down through family. One genetic factor that can cause acne is retention hyperkeratosis, which we briefly mentioned earlier.
Basically retention hyperkeratosis is a hereditary condition where the dead skin cells don’t shed like normal and continue to build up on the skin. This paired with oil production makes for a not so fun experience.
Clogged follicles are breeding grounds for bacteria, primarily because bacteria doesn’t survive well in the presence of oxygen.
When follicles are blocked or clogged with excess oil or dead skin cells, oxygen isn’t reaching the bottom of the follicle leaving bacteria free to roam.
This combination of sebum (oil), bacteria, and dead skin cells, is what starts it all.
The body doesn’t like foreign objects so when it senses this block of “things” stuck in the follicles, it reacts by becoming red and inflamed. Hence, breakouts.
Triggers are the things that get talked about most often in terms of acne causes. These include stress, hormones, foods, and products we use such as skincare and makeup.
Statistically, teen acne is more common in men and adult acne is more common in women. My acne started as a teen so I guess I was the unlucky one.
Male hormones stimulate oil glands more so than female hormones. This stimulation causes an over production of oil and can cause acne.
Hormonal acne in general is very common in women. The skin reacts to hormonal fluctuations including birth control, pregnancy, menopause and can usually be detected by acne around the chin area.
It’s easy to overlook the physical toll stress can have on your body. Stress can cause those hormone fluctuations we just talked about. It also increases our sebum production which can lead to pesky blemishes at the worst times.
It is always super important to manage your stress levels for the sake of your physical and mental health, but also the health of your skin.
Food is kind of a weird one because there is a lot of controversy on whether food actually causes acne or not.
I am a firm believer that what you put in your body absolutely has an affect on your health and on your skin. Eating healthy has no down side so it’s worth a shot to change your diet.
Other factors that can lead to acne and breakouts are skincare, makeup products, and how you manage your skin.
Some of these factors are easily overlooked such as touching our face throughout the day, our hair resting on our face, sweat, and not regularly cleaning our phone.
How To Treat Acne
Treating acne effectively will vary person to person. Everyone’s skin is different and skin reactions will vary for everyone.
Before going into some treatment options, please keep in mind that I am not a dermatologist.
I am a licensed esthetician which means I have completed the required course hours and hands-on practical hours to legally practice esthetics in the state.
There are 4 grades of acne and the more severe the case is, the more aggressive the treatment plan will need to be.
Please keep this in mind as you keep reading and discuss any treatment plans with your dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.
Okay, so let’s get to it.
As I stated earlier, treatments for acne vary based on your skin and triggers. We’re going to keep it light today and go over a handful of ingredients and best practices you can try to get the ball rolling on improving your skin and minimizing breakouts.
Grades of Acne
Grade 1 acne is those minor breakouts. It’s occasional blemishes and blemishes that don’t always come to the surface.
You may notice small “bumps” on the skin that don’t quite come to a head, but just kind of chill in the skin.
Grade 2 acne becomes a little more difficult to treat. The breakouts are becoming more stubborn and noticeable with more blemishes rising to the surface.
Grade 3 acne is when the skin starts becoming inflamed. Redness accompanies the inflammation and you’ll notice a more pink/ red appearance to your skin.
The areas may feel more sensitive as more blemishes are appearing at the surface and in different stages.
Grade 3 is far more stubborn and difficult to treat and will sometimes require prescription medications such as topicals, creams, or oral options.
Grade 4 acne is the most severe case. This is sometimes referred to as cystic acne which is characterized by cysts that form under the skin.
These cysts can be extremely painful and create a lot of inflammation. Because these cysts are living beneath the skin, scar tissue is likely to form around these areas leaving what we know as “acne scars.”
Grade 4 acne definitely needs to be monitored by a dermatologist and will more than likely require medication to treat.
We are going to focus on grades 1 and 2 primarily today. If you experience acne that you believe to be a 3 or 4, you may still benefit from some of these best practices, but just keep in mind that more aggressive treatment is likely needed.
Active Ingredients To Look For When Treating Acne
Common acne treatments available over the counter contain active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
Benzoyl peroxide is a drying ingredient that also has antibacterial properties. You may find high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide in spot treatments.
Spot treatments with 10% concentration shouldn’t be used all over the face. Benzoyl peroxide is extremely drying and with a 10% concentration, your skin will most likely flake and become very irritated.
Benzoyl peroxide works by releasing oxygen that kills bacteria and helps prevent irritation the bacteria causes.
It is worth noting that benzoyl peroxide can stain so if you have colored pillow cases, keep that in mind. You may end up with tiny bleach spots.
Salicylic Acid is a beta-hydroxy acid and has exfoliating and antiseptic benefits. It is a derivative of aspirin so if you have any allergies with aspirins, steer clear of this one.
Beta-hydroxy acids, or BHA’s, are exfoliants that work by loosening the bond between the cells and the epidermis. BHA’s also help to dissolve oil so this factor plus the exfoliation can really help to revitalize your skin.
Keep in mind when using active ingredients in acne products that there is such thing as too much of a good thing.
When choosing a skin regimen, it isn’t always best to go for products that all contain active ingredients. Your skin’s reaction may be the opposite of what you want.
This is actually very common. Often times we go into the store and want to clear our skin as quickly as possible and just grab cleanser, toner, and moisturizer all containing active ingredients thinking it will expedite the process.
Actually what happens is your skin can become overwhelmed and may react negatively. If you notice excessive dryness, redness, irritation, or smaller blemishes appearing on your skin that seem out of the norm, you should discontinue use and seek advice from a professional.
I recommend starting with a foaming face wash that contains an active exfoliant such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Foaming face washes are great for oily skin.
If you are experiencing light blemishes, but your skin is not oily, just reach for a face wash to compliment your skin type. Gels and creams are great for dry skin.
Follow your face wash up with a gentle toner. Toner is important to close up the pores and help soothe the skin.
Sunscreen should always be a number one priority in your skincare routine, but it is even more so when on acne medications as many active ingredients cause sun sensitivity.
Apply moisturizer to help rehydrate the skin. Your moisturizer does not need to contain active ingredients. Choose one to compliment your skin type and one that is non-comedogenic, meaning it will not clog your pores.
If you are unsure of your skin type, I talk about ways to determine your skin type here.
Oil-free formulas are always a great bet when combatting acne.
At this point, the only product we have containing active ingredients in the face wash. To further treat the blemishes, you can grab a spot treatment and only use on needed areas.
A great treatment for directly fighting the blemish itself is the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion.
This drying lotion contains salicylic acid and does an amazing job at drying out the infected area, sometimes overnight.
I found this spot treatment to be far less irritating to the skin than the treatments containing benzoyl peroxide.
Professional Services To Treat Acne
Regular visits to your esthetician can be really helpful when fighting acne.
Estheticians have a wide range of professional grade products at their disposal that can really improve the overall look and health of your skin, as well as provide a relaxing experience.
Services I recommend for acne treatment are facials that provide deep cleaning and exfoliating and are sometimes referred to as signature facials, high frequency, and even chemical peels in certain situations.
It is incredibly important to not pick at your skin as doing so can cause further irritation and spread the bacteria around to other places of the face.
Estheticians can be really helpful to assist with extractions, if needed.
Consider services for post-acne treatments, as well. Regular visits for post-inflammatory maintenance can help reduce the appearance of acne scarring, even out your skin tone, and get started on an effective regimen.
Other Best Practices
Some contributing factors to breakouts happen without us really thinking much about it.
Not cleaning your makeup brushes regularly can absolutely lead to breakouts. Makeup brushes hold an incredible amount of bacteria that will build up over time and then spread back on your face when reused over and over.
Rather than hand washing your brushes daily, use an anti-bacterial brush cleaning solution like the Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner.
This brush cleaner is quick drying and removes 99.9% of the bacteria from your brushes in about 30 seconds.
This product is great to keep on your vanity and run your brushes through daily after use. Then save the deep cleaning for about once a week.
Touching Your Face
Touching your face is another large factor that can lead to the spreading of blemishes. If you think about everything we touch throughout the day, touching our face transfers bacteria from our fingers right to our face.
You may notice this being the culprit if your breakouts tend to stick around the chin or cheek area. A lot of us have a habit of resting our face on our hands. Try to catch yourself doing that so you can break the habit.
Similar to touching your face, your hair can also cause breakouts.
If you notice blemishes occurring along the hairline and on the forehead, your hair may be contributing.
Our hair can be very oily, particularly at the roots. When we let our hair lay in our faces, it is easy for that oil to transfer to the forehead area.
Try being mindful of how you wear your hair and keep it pulled out of your face as much as possible.
Your devices are a factor that most of us completely overlook. But once you think about it, our devices can actually be rather dirty.
Think of how our phones are constantly in our hands, our fingers touching the outside world then touching our devices again. Then they are resting against our face while we talk on the phone.
Now think back to the last time you cleaned the screen of your device to remove bacteria and sanitize it…probably not recently eh?
So there we have my rather long guide on combating acne. Remember that acne can be a beast, but I hope this guide was insightful and gave you some ideas on how you can start minimizing breakouts.
If you’ve personally struggled with acne, still are, or have found ways to help you control your breakouts, let us know in the comments below.
We are a community that loves to learn from each other! Thanks so much guys for reading.