Young man without acne looking at himself in mirror Acne is one of those medical problems that doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s not life-threatening in any way, it doesn’t cause epidemics, it doesn’t result in a lot of missed school or lost wages. But that doesn’t mean it’s not troubling to those who suffer from it.

Acne starts in the sebaceous glands of the skin. These glands are found in hair follicles and secrete sebum, a substance that lubricates the skin and that bacteria love. When bacteria that are normally found on the skin invade the sebaceous gland, it can cause inflammation and block the exit of sebum. This results in a pimple.

This problem is obviously most common in teens, and it can cause real confidence problems at an age when self-confidence isn’t a given. But it isn’t unusual for adults to struggle with acne as well. Regardless of your age, if you have regular outbreaks of acne, you probably want to do everything you can to keep outbreaks to a minimum. There are a few ways you can approach the process of clearing up your skin.

The Right Diet for Acne

While diet alone may not be enough to clear up a severe case of acne, getting rid of sugars and high glycemic foods in your diet looks like it may help. A study of a small group of young men in Australia showed improvement in those who avoided high glycemic foods – things like white bread, white rice, raisins, fruit roll-ups and potatoes. It was a small study, but the results were promising.

In addition, it’s good for other areas of your health to avoid these types of foods, so there is nothing to lose by giving it a try. Harvard Health offers a list of common foods and their glycemic index if you need a quick reference.

Alternative Treatments for Acne

Not many alternative therapies – herbs, oils, biofeedback, etc – have shown promise for treating acne. However, tea tree oil was shown in two studies to be effective against acne when applied to the affected skin. This is a simple and inexpensive option to try, particularly in combination with an improved diet.

Topical Medications for Acne

A number of topical medications area available over the counter. This is a good place to start if your acne is interfering with your self-image. Most over-the-counter treatments contain benzoyl peroxide. This treatment is usually the first stop in treating acne.

Topical antibiotics can also be used to treat acne, but should only be used in combination with a benzoyl peroxide product, because of the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Topical retinoids, which are vitamin A based products, offer good results as well. You might also find products that include salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and sulfone agents.

These agents can be used alone or in combination, but it is important to read labels carefully, because many of the products sold on pharmacy shelves contain overlapping ingredients. Too much of one ingredient can cause irritation and create problems of its own.

It is important to follow directions exactly, and consult with your doctor before you combine an over-the-counter treatment with something she has prescribed.

Oral Medications for Acne

If topical treatment fails, it is possible to treat acne with systemic medications. Most commonly these will be antibiotics and, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, they should always be used in combination with topical retinoid and benzoyl peroxide product.

Hormones, such as oral contraceptives, can also be effective in the treatement of acne.

For moderate to severe acne that has not responded to other treatments, isotretinoin may be used. This is not a mild medication, and close monitoring by a physician is necessary for those who take it. In addition, girls and women of child-bearing age must adhere to strict birth control measures while taking isotretinoin, as it is known to cause significant birth defects if taken while pregnant.

There are a couple of points to remember as you consider how best to treat acne. First, it can take several weeks for a treatment to yield noticeable results, so follow the directions and stick with it. Second, many of these treatments can make skin particularly sensitive to the sun, so avoid direct sun exposure when possible. And always use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

Acne may be seen by some as simply a nuisance, but if you or your teen suffers from it, you know that it can interfere with your self-image and confidence. There is no reason to let it have that effect on you, because good treatments exist. Contact us if you’d like to discuss the best treatment options for your skin.


Image credit: WavebreakMediaMicro via Adobe Stock