Dealing with Acne? You’re Not Alone
Even people with the most flawless skin have suffered from an unsightly blemish at one time or another. Acne is a disease that impacts virtually everyone at some point in his or her life and to varying degrees. Acne most often affects teenagers and young adults. In fact, 85% of people aged 12-24 suffer from acne in some form. But acne also affects adults, in particular women, with 1 in 5 adult women dealing with acne.
As a dermatologist it is one of the most common skin conditions I am consulted for. Acne, along with the related condition of rosacea, is also an area I sub-specialize in within my practice. Therefore I was excited to see the launch of the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada, a new not-for-profit organization dedicated to acne and rosacea awareness. They recently launched their website for acne awareness at http://www.acneaction.ca/. I thought I would share a bit of information about acne and try to dispel some common myths.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what triggers acne. Having “dirty” skin does not trigger acne and in fact we discourage patients from washing their face multiple times per day or using harsh exfoliating skin cleansers. So, what causes acne? Research shows us that acne can be related to hormones, excess sebum production, pores becoming clogged and the bacteria propionibacterium acnes. All this leads to inflammation, which we start to see as red pimples. To date there is not strong evidence that lifestyle or diet has an impact on acne. However, both dairy and high glycemic index foods have been implicated. Acne is most commonly seen on the face, neck, back, chest, and arms.
The only known action that can make acne worse is squeezing and picking at it, so no matter how tempting it may seem it is always best to let it be. We also know that stress can release hormones that affect oil glands and may lead to increased inflammation, so trying to reduce stress can at least help to mitigate the impact of an acne breakout.
Dealing with acne can be traumatic, and non-sufferers often underestimate the emotional impact. People dealing with acne may experience anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. But acne is a treatable condition.
Effective treatment can help eliminate the physical features of acne and as a result lead to a reduction in anxiety and improvement in self-confidence. There are over the counter acne products that may help, but often a medical prescription may be necessary. Treatments currently available include:
- Topical prescriptions
- Antibiotic pills
- Hormone pills
- Isotretinoin pills
- Light and photodynamic therapy
- Physical treatments of acne such as comedo extraction
Isotretinoin, or Accutane as it is commonly known, is a medication that developed a bit of an unwarranted reputation but is in fact very safe and is one of the most effective treatments for acne. 50-80% of people who take isotretinoin never have significant acne again. Isotretinoin has many side effects, but the majority of people tolerate it very well. The most important side effect with isotretinoin is that it causes severe abnormalities in a growing fetus, so you cannot get pregnant while on this drug or for one month after stopping the drug. As with any prescription medication, isotretinoin must be administered under the care of a physician.
If you or someone you know is suffering from acne I encourage you to talk to a dermatologist to discuss the types of treatment available. With a targeted treatment plan, acne can be well managed or eliminated entirely.