Acne is a common skin condition that causes red, painful bumps on the face, though these can also appear on the back, chest and shoulders. It is not a superficial problem that may potentially leave scars on the skin, as acne sows low self-esteem and doubts about oneself too, causing long-term emotional distress. This guide explains the symptoms and causes of acne and how to treat it as well.
What is Acne?
Acne occurs when the hair follicles of the skin are clogged with dead skin cells and oil. Underneath the skin are sebaceous glands that are responsible for oil or sebum production to prevent hair and skin from becoming dry. However, when the oil glands produce too much sebum that fuses with dry, dead skin, it causes a blockage. The growth of bacteria in the blockage causes inflammation, which brings about whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, pustules or cystic acne.
What are the Symptoms of Acne?
The appearance and severity of acne varies from person to person. Some people may have mild acne which is characterised by small spots or comedones that don't swell, while others may suffer inflammatory acne. The signs of mild acne include:
- Blackheads are open clogged pores
- Whiteheads are closed, flesh-colored comedones
- Pimples are small bumps on the skin with a white centre
- Acne mechanica commonly appears as spots on the forehead and is usually caused by prolonged wearing of sports gear
People with moderate acne have no more than 100 blackheads or whiteheads and minimal inflamed spots. On the other hand, it can be severe acne if there are multiple red, painful bumps that swell and contain pus-filled lesions. The common symptoms of moderate to severe acne are as follows:
- Papules are raised red bumps on the skin
- Pustules are raised patches of skin that contains white or yellowish pus
- Nodules are hard, inflamed bumps under the skin
- Cysts are painful inflammatory lesions filled with pus
What Causes Acne?
We've heard many stories about the development of acne, which include eating chocolates and using makeup and hair products. However, research shows that there are only four things that can cause acne, though it would still help to use noncomedogenic cosmetics and skin care products to avoid potentially clogging your pores. These factors are believed to trigger the growth of acne:
Testosterone is an important hormone that plays a crucial role during puberty as it turns a teenager's body into that of a grown adult. However, the increased levels of testosterone during puberty causes hormonal acne resulting from excessive sebum production by the sebaceous glands.
Children whose parents had acne are more likely to develop severe acne at an early age. Most of the time, hereditary acne is carried into adulthood.
Acne in women is often caused by their monthly periods. The hormones of a woman fluctuate during their menstrual cycle, hence causing the oil glands to secrete more sebum in the weeks leading up to their menstruation. Some women with acne have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone imbalance that causes irregular periods, abnormal facial hair growth and acne.
Eating foods that are high in refined carbohydrates can make acne worse as it increases blood sugar, which prompts the hormone levels to increase and stimulate oil production.
As with other health conditions, stress is the main culprit of acne. It overworks the body's hormones and causes cortisol levels to spike, which leads to the overproduction of sebum.
What is an Effective Treatment for Acne?
Dermatologists would normally prescribe over-the-counter treatments for mild acne such as salicylic acid, azelaic acid and topical retinoids. There have been positive anecdotal reports from light therapy as well, though this method requires multiple sessions and can be quite expensive. Chemical peel is another common type of acne treatment that involves the application of a chemical solution, like glycolic acid, to achieve clearer skin. However, the effect of such treatment is only short-lived, thus frequent treatment sessions are essential.
For modern to severe acne, oral antibiotics may be recommended by the doctor to eliminate bacteria that cause inflammation. It's worth noting that prolonged use of these medications may lead to antibiotic resistance and other adverse effects, including allergic reactions, gastrointestinal problems, bacterial resistance and oral thrush, to name a few.
What are Natural Remedies for Acne?
To prevent or alleviate the adverse reactions that come with conventional oral or topical treatments for different forms of acne, try these natural treatments that are gentle to sensitive skin that is susceptible to acne.
Maintain a balanced diet
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids will prevent inflammation that causes breakouts. Eat more fatty fish, dark leafy greens, nuts and flaxseeds. As much as possible, avoid foods with high glycemic index (GI) such as white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes and artificial sweeteners.
Hydrate your body
Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day will keep your skin hydrated. Dry skin triggers the oil glands to produce excess sebum, which is harmful to the hair and skin.
Contrary to popular myths, skincare specialists say there is no empirical evidence that proves dirty skin causes acne. Although you would want to wash your face daily to feel fresh and clean, of course. However, be sure to limit your washing to two times a day and wash with lukewarm water and a mild facial wash. What's more, don't make the mistake of overscrubbing your face as this will strip off the natural oils and trigger your sebaceous glands to produce more oil than your skin needs.
Avoid stress at all costs
The more stressed you are, the more likely you are to develop acne on your face and other parts of your body as well. Use breathing and relaxation techniques whenever you find yourself in a situation that could increase your cortisol levels.
Although it's a common skin disorder, acne is not something that you must live with. If you have acne-prone skin, it's worth consulting a nutritionist, an acupuncturist or a herbalist, among others, to get clearer, healthier skin. Find a qualified practitioner in your local area through the Natural Therapy Pages.