Acne vulgaris, usually called acne, is a disease that involves the oil glands of the skin. These glands produce an oily substance, called sebum which carries dead skin cells to the surface through the follicles, which are connected to your pores. When the follicles become clogged, a pimple develops. Acne can develop at any age, however, it is most common in the teen years. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 80 percent of people between 11 and 30 years old have experienced acne outbreaks.
Scientists aren’t sure of the exact causes of acne, however, it is thought to run in families. So if your parents had acne, there is a good chance you will as well. Hormones are also thought to play a role in acne - the increase of hormones during puberty coincide with the increased rates of acne during the teen years. For some people, acne outbreaks are so bad they are embarrassed to leave the house. For others, acne outbreaks happen only occasionally. It can be different in each person and can change as hormone levels change.
The Course of Acne Treatment
In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidelines for the treatment of acne. According to this report, treatment often follows a typical course:
Mild acne is often treated with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide are generally the most effective. Another common ingredient in OTC treatments is salicylic acid, however, benzoyl peroxide has been better studied and might be more effective. Other at-home treatments include washing your face twice a day with a soap-free pH-balanced cleanser. Facial toners can help but can also cause skin irritation if used too frequently.
When OTC treatments are not effective, your doctor might prescribe retinoid topical lotions. These products are a derivative of vitamin A, and have been found to be effective in treating acne. They do, however, cause sensitivity to the sun and you must be careful to use sun protection when using this type of medication. You might also experience skin irritation and dryness.
The next line of treatment might be oral antibiotics. These medications help by fighting the bacteria that live in your pores and on your skin, which can contribute to acne. Overuse of antibiotics, however, can cause bacteria to become less sensitive to antibiotics. These medications also cause stomach upset and dizziness in some people. Girls using antibiotics are also at a higher risk of developing yeast infections. In recent years, using oral antibiotics has been found to be less effective than previously, and your doctor might recommend not using antibiotics, but instead using a medication specific to acne treatment.
If previous treatments have not worked, a dermatologist might prescribe the medication isotretinoin (Roaccutane). This medication is effective in treating severe and treatment resistant acne but there are some concerns. It can cause birth defects, so using birth control while taking the medication is essential. Regular pregnancy tests are recommended as well. This medication has also been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, depression and suicidal thoughts, so it is important to monitor your health carefully.
When to See the Doctor
Because the severity of acne and each person’s reaction to acne is different, there isn’t any specific time when you should see a doctor. Some people are not bothered by acne eruptions, no matter how severe, while others become very embarrassed and avoid leaving their house. The general rule is that if acne is interfering with your daily life (such as going to work or school, getting together with friends), then you should speak with a dermatologist.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.