Acne 101: What You Need to Know

Do you know that the skin is your armour, protector and essentially your first line of defence? Most importantly, it is your largest organ in the integumentary system. And just like any other organs, it can be prone to health issues such as acne — those zits that seem to pop up at the worst possible time (cue your best friend’s wedding or a highly anticipated vacation with your loved ones).

Some of you might wonder how this could be possible. Weren’t these pimples supposed to leave for good after your teenage years? Unfortunately, the answer is no — especially if you are someone who battles the occasional bout of hormonal acne, which is a common occurrence in adult women between the ages of 20 and 40. If you are reading this and find yourself just beyond this age range, do not heave a sigh of relief too soon. Research has indicated that the post-40 crowd is not excluded from hormonal acne since breakouts could happen around the menopause window period due to hormonal instabilities in the body.

For those of you currently battling with facial issues, stay optimistic because there is still hope. Keep reading to find out more about the main causes and how to tackle or prevent the breakouts from getting worse.


What is Acne?

It is a type of inflammatory and compulsive skin condition which triggers the growth of pimples and spots, particularly on the face, neck, shoulders, upper arms, chest and back. Acne may be difficult to cope with. Coupled with itchy skin, it can be bothersome as it results in people scratching and rubbing their skin, causing it to thicken and trigger the urge to scratch. In addition, scratching can also increase the risk of secondary infection. It usually arises when a lump of congealed sebum continues to develop and blocks the opening of your facial follicular pores. Once the follicle is clogged, it naturally grows in size as more sebum are formed behind it. When amply stretched, the follicle wall ruptures and results in the bacterial sebaceous mixture seeping into the deeper tissues, which then sets off inflammation in the form of a pimple.

This skin condition reportedly affects three in every four people between the ages of 11 and 30 years of age. While this affliction is not grave or critical, it can leave its mark in the form of obvious scars. It can appear on the skin as:

  • Tender red swellings that is commonly referred to as zits or pimples
  • Occluded pores, or otherwise known as whiteheads or blackheads
  • Cysts (deep pimples)
  • Pustules (lumps with pus inside)
  • Papules (small pimples that does not contain pus)


What Causes Acne?

There are a multitude of factors that can contribute to these red bumps, including hormonal changes in the body, menstrual cycle, genetics, cumulative stress, anxiety issues, climate change, type of make-up used and, not to mention, if you were to cave in to the temptation of squeezing those zits.

1. Hormonal Factors

While there is no single determining factor for the appearance of these tender red bumps, the main trigger is often thought to be the upsurge of androgen levels in the body. Androgen is a type of hormone that increases during puberty and gets converted into oestrogen in women. A spike in androgen levels often leads to the enlargement of oil glands under the skin, which in turn, causes more sebum to be generated. This sebum, when in excess, causes the cellular walls in the pores to collapse and stop functioning. This would then result in bacteria growth that leads to inflammation, causing zits and pimples to pop out in its place.

2. Stress

Some people tend to unintentionally touch their face when stressed, allowing their fingers to graze against the bumps, causing the breakout to spread to other areas of their skin. Furthermore, when one is stressed, it would cause a spike in the nerve signalling that triggers an itch. This naturally causes the affected individuals to pick or scratch at their skin, which ultimately leads to more redness and swelling.

3. Anxiety

Apart from stress-related breakouts, anxiety can also trigger bouts of pimple formation. More often than not, those with anxiety issues tend to suffer from a lack of quality sleep, possess poor skin care routine and survive on diets that are usually less than healthy. All these considerations put together is a sure-fire recipe for facial breakouts.

4. Cosmetics

Certain cosmetics products can clog up the pores. With the wide array of skin care products available to consumers, users are advised by dermatologists to inspect the list of ingredients detailed on the labels carefully. If you are someone with sensitive skin or are concerned about acne, it is best to select a product that lists “water” on the label. These water-based products usually complement your skin best, especially if you are prone to acne.

5. Diet

Contrary to popular belief, fried and greasy food does not play a pivotal role in the formation or worsening of existing pimples. Recent studies have shown that some food, which are carbohydrate-rich or contain skimmed milk, may aggravate your condition. These would include quick-digesting carbohydrates and sugars like chips, bagels and bread. A healthy and nutritious diet is best paired with an active lifestyle, so be sure to sneak in a sweat session or two during the week. Additionally, giving yourself ample shuteye in the night can go a long way in keeping those horrid pimples at bay.

6. Drugs / Medications

Certain drugs or medications may trigger, or in some cases, aggravate your acne. To take note of those that contain bromides, iodides or steroids in them since these ingredients in particular have been found to contribute to this skin issue. In addition, lithium and anticonvulsant medications have also been reported to trigger or worsen acne. However, it is worth noting that the bulk of these issues are not drug related. Many cases of acne can be treated through the right combination of medicine, skin care and lifestyle changes. Whenever your symptoms become severe, be sure to talk to your doctor about treatment options.


Possible Treatments for Acne

Depending on the severity of your breakouts, there are several treatment alternatives for you to choose from.

1. Home Care

If your symptoms appear to be mild and manageable, there are a couple of self-care routines that you can adopt, which includes:

  • Using a mild soap to help clean your skin and remove the excess dirt and oil
  • Keeping shampoo from dripping onto your face when showering
  • Resist the temptation to pick or squeeze your zits
  • Applying makeup that does not clog up the pores — these products are usually water-based and have a “non-comedogenic” label to them.

2. Topical Medication

If you find that home remedy or self-care brings no improvement whatsoever, you may opt for topical creams that are widely available in local pharmacies. These over-the-counter products contain specific ingredients that tackle excess oil production or eliminate bacteria entirely. Here are some ingredients to look out for:

  • Salicylic acid: Aids in keeping the pores unclogged and is a constant feature in acne washes and soap.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: Helpful in drying out prevailing zits and eliminating acne-causing bacteria, effectively supporting the prevention of new pimples in the process.
  • Sulphur: A distinctive natural ingredient known for the smell it possesses, sulphur can be found in certain masks, cleansers and lotions for its ability to dry out the surface of your skin to absorb excess oil.
  • Resorcinol: Aids in eradicating dead skin cells.

3. Oral or Prescribed Medication

Acne symptoms can be stubborn and continue to persist for a handful of us. Should you experience this, consider seeking a doctor or dermatologist for professional help and advice. In most cases, these medical professionals may prescribe you with stronger but suitable medications to ease your symptoms. These may include:

  • Oral antibiotics to ease the inflammation and destroy bacteria that instigate the formation of pimples. These antibiotics are typically consumed for a short duration of time to ensure your immune system does not build up a resistance to these drugs and make you susceptible to infections.
  • Prescription anti-inflammatory creams that are often stronger than their over-the-counter equivalents. These include prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide or retinoic acid, both of which are effective in regulating and curbing oil production in the body.

Additionally, women who are dealing with hormonal acne may be prescribed with spironolactone or birth control pills. These oral medications are effective in moderating the hormones that trigger zits through the decreasing of oil production.

4. Professional Procedures

If your breakout is at a severe stage, your dermatologist may suggest procedures that eradicate the dead cells and help lower excess oil production.

  • Chemical peeling, as its name would suggest, sheds the top layer of your skin’s surface to expose the less damaged skin underneath. Chemical peels are effective in refining mild acne scarring.
  • Dermabrasion, or microdermabrasion (the milder form), is a procedure that removes dead skin cells as well as the topmost layer of your skin with a rotating brush.
  • Photodynamic therapy is a procedure that combines medication and a special laser or light to lower oil production and destroy bacteria.
  • If your acne comprises of large cysts, cortisone injections may be used to treat it. Cortisone, a natural steroid produced by the body, aids in the lowering of inflammation levels and promotes faster healing.


How to Manage Your Acne

Familiarising yourself with a good skincare routine can go a long way in managing your zits. Here are some good habits that you ought to pick up:

  • Use a cleanser that is mild and gentle to the skin’s barrier, is pH-balanced and free of colourants.
  • Apply your choice of moisturiser liberally and frequently. Moisturiser should be applied to the affected area when your skin is clear of pimples and wherever possible, if it does not pose any conflicts with your current treatments.
  • Showers should be of a shorter duration and with lukewarm water to prevent drying out your skin. This should be immediately followed up with the application of moisturiser after.
  • Maintain comfortable levels of air humidity and temperature in your home.

Now that you have a rough idea of what a positive routine looks like, let us take a look at some bad habits to avoid:

  • Do not surrender to the itch to scratch. When you pick and scratch, you are causing trauma to your skin and that might lead to the worsening of your acne. For some individuals with sensitive skin, this might be a challenging task, thus it would be best to  keep your fingernails trimmed to minimise the effects of scratching.
  • Avoid concealing your acne with accessories. Some individuals might find the adornment of a snuggly headband to hide your red spots is a good idea. That might not be wise since the heat and friction from the headband could worsen the situation.
  • Stay away from harsh products. Revisit your makeup counter to identify any products like cleansers, moisturisers, serums, toners exfoliants and face masks that might be causing you more harm than good. If you have to, swap them out for products that are friendlier on the skin.
  • Avoid allergens or substances known to cause reactions. Allergic reactions could trigger acne. Thus, there’s a need to trial and error and identify any ingredients that your body isn’t comfortable with.
  • Avoid touching your face. Studies have shown that humans touch their face about 3.6 times an hour and this unconscious habit could cause the spread of acne to the unaffected parts of your face. Start being more mindful when it comes to where your hands go.


The Takeaway

There are a myriad of ways to manage and address your facial issues with over-the-counter products that are conveniently available in your local pharmacy without the need of a prescription. However, should your condition persist or worsen, it is best for you to speak to a skincare professional like the ones at Geo Aesthetics. The knowledgeable specialists at Geo Aesthetics are well-equipped to handle the different types of acne issues and advise you on the best possible treatment or procedure that would be suitable for your unique situation.