As I mentioned in the tanning article, acne is caused by several key factors. The three that are most crucial are oil overproduction, lack of proper exfoliation, and the presence of acne-causing bacteria.
Unfortunately, the amount of oil your skin produces and the amount of bacteria that exists on your skin are both gene-related. If both of your parents had oily skin and a lot of breakouts, it’s likely that you will have the same traits.
There are ways to counteract this, however. By taking consistent steps to reduce oil, exfoliate gently, and use medication to kill bacteria, you can improve the overall clarity of your skin.
Getting Rid of Oil
Oily skin contributes to the appearance of acne because acne bacteria thrives in the excess sebum in your pores. Since the only way to reduce oil production permanently is by taking Accutane (we’ll talk about that later), the best way to deal with oil is to wash your skin regularly.
Go with a simple, skin-soothing cleanser. This means avoiding even potentially irritating ingredients like menthol, camphor, or peppermint. Anything that gives you a “tingly” feeling is not doing you any favors when it comes to calming your skin.
When choosing a regular cleanser, also avoid anything that leaves a film on your skin after rinsing. These cleansers often contain mineral oil or another oil ingredient, which is the last thing you want when treating oily skin.
Products such as Liquid Neutrogena and Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser are classic options for basic cleansing. Wash once in the morning and once in the evening. If your skin feels slick during the day, use an oil-absorbing sheet to mop up excess oil. Too much washing will dry your skin, leading to irritation and flaky skin. If you wear makeup during the day, use a warm washcloth or a non-alcohol makeup remover at night to help remove any traces of cosmetics.
Getting Rid of Dead Skin Cells
Exfoliation is an important skin care step for everyone, but for those with acne-prone skin, it’s essential. Eliminating dead skin cells helps prevent pores from clogging. Good exfoliation, however, doesn’t include irritating your skin with harsh scrubs. Instead of opting for crushed walnut shells, use an alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acid that can actually get into your pores to clear them out.
Glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids are the most common chemical exfoliants and all encourage the elimination of dead skin cells. Salicylic acid, the only beta-hydroxy skin ingredient, does double duty: It unclogs pores and lends an anti-inflammatory effect since it is similar to aspirin. If you are allergic to aspirin, opt for one of the other ingredients.
Depending on how oily your skin is, look for a lotion or gel formula. Clean & Clear Oil-Free Dual Action Moisturizer contains salicylic acid for slightly drier skin while Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Hydrating Gel offers an alcohol-free formula for even the oiliest skin type.
Getting Rid of Bacteria
P. acnes bacteria are the specific bacteria that live on our skin. When it combines with excess sebum in clogged pores, the resulting inflammation causes pimples. Alcohol does kill off acne bacteria, but it also irritates surrounding skin. The one ingredient clinically shown to penetrate into pores and kill acne bacteria without causing too much irritation is benzoyl peroxide. The added bonus, according to the medical journal, Dermatology, is that acne bacteria do not build resistance to benzoyl peroxide so you can continue to see results.
Look for alcohol-free formulations such as Oxy Spot Treatment or Clearasil Daily Acne Control Vanishing Acne Cream. If you’ve never used a benzoyl peroxide formula before, then start with a low concentration of 2.5% and slowly build up to a stronger dose.
Clear skin doesn’t happen overnight and you may need to stick to this skin care regimen for a few weeks before you see results. Maintain consistency and treat your skin gently and you should see some positive changes. If your skin continues to suffer from acne breakouts, however, you may have to take the extra step to see a dermatologist.
A dermatologist can prescribe a retinoid cream (which increases the rate of cell turnover), a topical antibiotic, or even Accutane. Accutane is an oral drug that eliminates excess oil by shrinking the body’s oil glands. Despite its effectiveness at combating acne, Accutane should be viewed as a last resort only for those who suffer from severe cystic acne. The drug carries associated risks that range from depression to serious birth defects in babies born to women who took Accutane while pregnant.
Laser and light therapies are newer options for acne sufferers, but the results are inconclusive and they are usually not covered by insurance. Neither reduces oil permanently and their benefits (killing acne bacteria and reducing inflammation) can often be accomplished with prescription topical treatments.