They say the devil is in the details — we say the answer is in the ingredients, at least where acne is concerned. While it is true that seeking professional help for that cursed skin affliction can set you back considerably, that is not to say that help for acne is out of reach for those who are on a shoestring budget. Knowledge is power — if you are armed with useful and correct information about your troubled skin and the effective solutions, it would be easier for you to navigate through this difficult condition.
With that said, the information contained here is not meant to diagnose or treat your acne condition, and the best course of action in the case of acne is always to seek a professional who is trained to help you with your acne. After all, even the professionals will tell you that they enlist the help of some (or even all) of these ingredients to solve your condition.
The Origins of Acne
To understand how the following ingredients work, it is important to first know what causes acne. Acne occurs when your pores are clogged up with excess sebum (the natural oil your skin produces), dead skin cells and bacteria. Sometimes you experience a pimple outbreak because your skin is producing too much oil or sebum, is not able to get rid of the dead skin cells quickly enough before they clog your pores or if the bacteria responsible for acne are proliferating in your pores.
For Mild to Moderate Acne
If your acne is considered mild to moderate, consisting of blackheads, whiteheads, papules and pustules, you can try facial washes that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Benzoyl peroxide, along with salicylic acid, is one of the wonder ingredients that are actually effective in improving acne. You can get your hands (and skin) on benzoyl peroxide without the need for a prescription. Benzoyl peroxide works primarily by killing acne-causing bacteria, called P. acnes, and helps to remove dead skin cells from pores by increasing cell turnover rate. It also removes excess sebum, so you may encounter some dry and flaky skin when using this ingredient. If so, perhaps opt for a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide, as it typically comes in concentrations of 2.5%, 5% and 10%.
Salicylic acid, derived from willow bark, is considered to be a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that is available in 0.5% to 2% concentrations in non-prescription acne treatment products. Unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, salicylic acid is able to get into your pores to unclog them by removing dead skin cells and the ‘glue’ that holds them together, sebum. Its chemical composition is similar to aspirin, so it is not surprising at all that this compound also contains skin-soothing properties and helps to reduce the size of your pores (yay!).
Adapalene, commonly known by the brand name Differin Gel, is another non-prescription retinoid or vitamin A derivative that prevents and promotes the healing of breakouts, whiteheads, blackheads and clogged pores. The way adapalene does this is by increasing cell turnover rate, while decreasing inflammation and swelling of the skin.
For Moderate to Severe Acne
If you are struggling with more severe acne in the form of nodules and cysts, or more than usual comedones, papules or pustules, your dermatologist may prescribe oral and/or topical antibiotics, perhaps in combination with retinoids in the form of topical tretinoin and/or oral isotretinoin.
It would make sense that antibiotics would be an acne treatment option, since bacteria proliferation, as well as inflammation, is one of the main causes of acne. Oral antibiotics can be prescribed in the form of doxycycline or tetracycline, while topical antibiotics prescribed could be clindamycin or erythromycin, to name a few examples. Bacterial resistance to topical and oral antibiotics may be a concern for some, in which case, you should discuss your options with your physician before starting on a course of antibiotics for acne.
Last but not least, retinol or a retinoid is probably the miracle ingredient that deserves an entire article on its own because of its extensive use and efficacy in acne and anti-ageing treatments. Isotretinoin is usually dermatologists’ go-to treatment for more severe acne, especially cystic acne, which causes large, painful acne lesions that tend to cause acne scarring afterwards. The treatment effects of isotretinoin can be long-lasting, even after the patient has stopped taking it. However, due to the potency of isotretinoin, patients must take care not to become pregnant when on it. If this is a concern for you, make sure you see a doctor or dermatologist to discuss your acne treatment options before embarking on a course of oral isotretinoin.
A Final Word
When faced with acne, it is best to seek treatment at the earliest possible time, to prevent your acne from becoming worse and leaving you with permanent scars. A professional will be able to advise you on the best treatment modality or combination of products and ingredients that will tackle the type of acne and skin you have.
Remember, with all the options available today, anyone with acne can reclaim their right to clear skin and need not live with acne marring the quality of their lives, physically and emotionally.