If you ever had acne, you will know how frustrating it can be to find a solution. Acne is one of the most common skin problems in teenagers and young adults, and can be emotionally devastating for some. The worst part is, these tiny skin imperfections make a grand entry on your face when you least want them to. And the harder you try to zap your zits, the more red and painful they can become. The good news however, is that, with a few lifestyle changes and the right skin care products that help control oil production, unclog pores and lighten acne scarring, you can have a blemish-free skin. Read on to learn the most common reasons for acne and how you can fight acne effectively. Also discover some key facts behind many common acne myths that may be preventing you from seeing clearer skin.
What causes acne?
Also known as acne vulgaris, this skin condition occurs when the pores of your skin become clogged with dead skin cells, dirt and sebum, and interfere with your skin’s natural cycle. The pores in human skin connect to oil glands under the skin. These glands secrete an oily liquid called sebum which keeps your skin lubricated and carries dead skin cells through the follicles or small sacs to the surface of the skin. Excess oil produced by the follicles along with the dead skin cells can clump together into a plugged pore that blocks the follicles. And if bacteria grow in the plug, it can cause swelling which often shows up as whiteheads, blackheads or pimples, and can appear anywhere on the face, scalp, chest and back.
There are several factors that trigger acne, but the foremost is thought to be a rise in androgen levels. Androgen is a type of hormone, the levels of which elevate at the onset of adolescence or due to undying stress levels. Rising androgen levels cause the oil glands under the skin to grow and produce more sebum. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls in the pores, causing bacteria to accumulate. Other possible triggers include
– Certain medications that contain androgen and lithium
– Greasy cosmetics
– Environmental irritants, such as pollution and high humidity
– Squeezing or picking at blemishes
– Hard scrubbing of the skin
– Emotional stress
– Foods high in refined carbohydrates like bread, desserts made with white flour, rice, soda and other sweetened beverages
Causes Of Acne On Forehead, Back And Checks
Acne in certain areas of the face may be caused due to specific factors like:
Forehead acne can occur on account of certain hair styling products like waxes and gels, which block the pores. It can also erupt if you have a fringe, as hair which rubs against your forehead skin can cause irritation and potentially lead to breakouts. The same applies for regularly wearing caps, hats and helmets.
Cheek and jawline acne can result from excessive use of a mobile phone. Your phone screen is loaded with bacteria and placing it against your cheek creates pressure that may stimulate your oil-producing glands causing acne breakouts. This also aggravates with heat generated from the phone.
Men often develop acne on the face and back. Acne affecting the lower half of the face-around the mouth has often been linked to excess sweating due to hot weather or intense exercising. This can often take the form of deep, red painful cysts under the skin rather than blackheads or whiteheads.
Common Acne Myths Busted
Like many ailments that plague people, myths have developed over the years about what causes acne and the best way to treat it. We are here to dispel some of the common acne myths so that you can focus on what’s best when it comes to your skin care.
Acne Myths #1: Only teenagers get acne.
Fact: While acne may predominantly show up during your teens, it can be a part of adulthood as well, thanks to PCOD, menopause, pregnancy, stress, certain medications and other hormonal problems. Rise in certain hormones such as testosterone can cause oil glands to produce excess oil or alter skin cell activity, which can increase the risk of acne in adults. This is when you need to consult your doctor or dermatologist to ensure that hormonal acne is under control.
Acne Myths #2: Acne is caused by dirt that hasn’t been washed off properly.
Fact: About time we busted this myth. Acne starts from within the skin and takes time to develop. Blackheads and whiteheads occur when glands within the skin secrete too much oil or become clogged within the pore along with the dead skin cells and acne-causing bacteria. When the keratin protein from the dead skin cells get exposed to the surface and darkens, it forms a blackhead, and if the build up within the pore is left unexposed, it becomes a whitehead.
Acne Myths #3: Washing the skin several times a day is the ideal way to fight acne.
Fact: Washing your face too often can rob your skin of its natural oils, which may cause it to secrete more, and could potentially lead to more breakouts. The same can be said for using harsh scrubs, exfoliating agents and toners with an alcohol base. You can prevent dryness and irritation by gently washing your face no more than twice a day. A dermatologist can help you determine which skin products and treatments will work best for you based on your skin type.
Acne Myths #4: Popping pimples helps get rid of acne faster.
Fact: The next time you pop your pimple before it’s formed, you will risk pushing the bacteria further into your skin. Squeezing a pimple especially the one affecting the danger triangle of the face which consists of the areas extending from the angles of the mouth to the bridge of the nose and the upper fixed bone of the jaw, can cause the infection to spread to the brain, resulting in deeper central nervous system complications including infection of cavernous sinus. If the cavernous sinus gets infected, it can cause the blood within the sinus to clot. This can happen on account of the peculiar nature of the blood supply to the nose and surrounding area.
Along with spreading the infection, popping your pimples may also lead to permanent skin damage and scarring. It’s best to let the acne heal naturally, which should take about a week or two. In people with darker skin tone, pimple popping can also worsen discoloration, which without medication can take several months to come back to normalcy.
Acne Myths #5: Acne is contagious.
Fact: Acne is not contagious and cannot spread from person to person. Whilst acne bacteria have a role to play in its development, it cannot be transmitted like most other bacterial infections. It is, however, not a good practice to share towels, pillows or caps with someone for general hygiene reasons.
Acne Myths #6: Avoid makeup when you have acne.
Fact: There is no need to avoid makeup if you have acne. In fact you may want to conceal acne or acne spots if that provides self-confidence. So while it is okay to wear makeup, it is all the more important to read labels and opt for products that won’t clog your pores and lead to more breakouts. Lighter and powder foundations, like mineral powder, are not that harsh on your skin. Always look for ‘non-comedogenic’ makeup items as these do not block pores or promote acne. You can also swap traditional makeup items for lighter, oil-free foundation or BB cream that may provide the shield you need to prevent acne breakouts and keep the skin healthy.
Skin Care Tips: Caring for your skin
The first step when tackling acne is to analyze how bad the problem is. Most mild cases can be managed with some simple recommendations and over-the-counter products. Severe cases should be handled in the doctor’s office.
– Be gentle with your skin. Pat your face dry with a soft cloth and apply a mild cleanser, once in the morning and once in the evening. Use natural skin care and grooming products to avoid creating acne by inflaming the skin.
– Avoid the temptation to pick, squeeze or pinch your blemishes, lest they may result in scars or dark blotches.
– Protect your skin from the harsh rays of the Sun by using a sunscreen. Excessive sun exposure can cause your skin to produce more sebum and also puts you at risk of developing wrinkles, sun tan and skin pigmentation
– Use certain over-the-counter topical medications such as adapalene, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide that come in the form of gels, lotions, creams, soaps or pads. These products work differently based on your skin type. They help break down blackheads and whiteheads and control oil production.
– Refrain from touching the face frequently.
– Take proper care to avoid shaving over acne blemishes or shaving off the tops of pimples. In case of more serious inflammatory acne, or if shaving in itself seems to irritate your acne, you might want to try using a beard trimmer.
– Excessive drinking, eating unhealthy and taking certain prescription drugs or steroids can also cause acne in both men and women.
If you have acne, don’t be embarrassed or don’t hide – ask for help. There are certain lifestyle changes you can make to control your breakouts. Staying hydrated, maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and avoiding contact with germs like touching the screen of your phone, door knob, pillow cases or violin chin rests, are some of the ways you can keep acne-causing bacteria at bay.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Anuj Saini, Manager, Data Science)