Sorting out the truth from the rumors when it comes to acne is no easy task. Your social media feeds may be filled with ads for dozens of skin “miracle cures”, from creams to masks to gummy vitamins for grown-ups. How is anyone supposed to know what really works — and what’s a waste of energy and money?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, don’t be. This guide will dispel some common misconceptions about acne, as well as highlight treatments that actually work.
If you have acne, you just want it to go away, period. By knowing what’s true and false about acne treatments, you can take one step closer towards getting the help you need.
Acne comes from poor hygiene.
While it’s true that not washing your skin properly can make breakouts more likely, experiencing acne doesn’t mean that you’re any “dirtier” than somebody with clear skin. Acne can be caused by underlying factors like overactive oil glands and hormone imbalances. Somebody with clear skin probably has the same amount of dirt and bacteria (or more) on their skin than you do, but their pores aren’t trapping it and their body isn’t reacting to it with inflammation. Don’t assume that you’re doing anything wrong just because you have pimples.
You can scrub acne away.
Using scrubs or harsh exfoliating cleansers can actually do more harm than good. Over-scrubbing irritates the skin, causing more inflammation and breakouts. Stripping skin of oil can actually cause oil glands to overcompensate. For these reasons the Nurx medical team recommends patients avoid face scrubs entirely.
Tanning helps with acne.
There is no evidence that tanning helps with acne, and some people may even find that the irritation brought about by tanning causes more acne than usual. Keep in mind that tanning also leads to premature aging and raises skin cancer risk. While tanning can disguise the redness of certain kinds of acne, it doesn’t actually affect the acne itself.
Taking more medication will make acne go away more quickly.
If you use prescription gels, creams, or washes to combat acne, use them exactly as prescribed. Using too much or too often can clog pores or cause a bad reaction. When it comes to acne medication, more is not more.
You can get rid of acne quickly and permanently.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but important to remember: for the majority of people, acne has no quick fix. The right treatments will significantly reduce the severity or incidence of your breakouts, but often you have to give your treatment regimen 3-4 months to see consistent improvements, and then you need to stick with it.
There are dozens of different treatments out there for acne, but most contain the same basic active ingredients in different forms and packaging:
This ingredient is a staple of over-the-counter acne treatments and has been for decades. Found in creams, serums, and face washes, salicylic acid prevents the buildup of excess oil on the skin and exfoliates away dead skin cells, reducing the conditions that cause pimple development. Bear in mind that salicylic acid can dry out the skin, so it is often best used in conjunction with a gentle moisturizer cream (look for ones that say “non-comedogenic,” which simply means they don’t clog pores).
Long considered the “gold standard” for over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide is antibacterial, meaning it kills the microorganisms most likely to cause acne breakouts. Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide can also dry out the skin if used in too large a concentration or amount.
Though it’s most famous for that “rotten eggs” smell, the natural properties of sulfur make it a useful ingredient for a number of different acne treatments. Sulfur absorbs excess oil from the skin and can dry out the area around existing pimples, shortening their lifespan. Sulfur also has anti-inflammatory properties. It comes in both OTC and prescription formulations.
Retinoid creams accelerate the turnover of the top layer of skin cells (called “keratinocytes”), which prevents dead skin cells from getting trapped in sebum and clogging pores. There are retinoids available over the counter and by prescription. The OTC retinoid Adapalene 0.1% gel is effective for many people with acne, but others need the prescription retinoid tretinoin to achieve the results they seek.
One of the roots of acne is bacteria getting trapped in your pores, which leads your immune system to react with inflammation, causing pimples. Over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide treatments (see above) can help, but many people with acne need something stronger. Prescription topical antibiotics (which may be creams, lotions, or wipes) pack a greater punch than OTC alone, and patients with moderate acne may be prescribed oral antibiotics pills to get their breakouts under control. The Nurx medical team may prescribe doxycycline, minocycline, or azithromycin for acne.
Birth control pills
For people with periods, the hormone fluctuations brought about by the menstrual cycle can cause the skin to overproduce oil, which leads to clogged pore, overgrowth of bacteria, and inflammation. Combination birth control pills, those that contain both estrogen and progestin, can stabilize the body’s hormone levels and reduce the action of testosterone in the body. This significantly decreases the severity of menstrual acne for many people.
Another prescription medication that improves acne for women by stabilizing hormone levels, is spironolactone, a daily pill which reduces testosterone activity to prevent overproduction of sebum (aka “oil”) and the acne that results when sebum traps bacteria and dead skin cells.
While acne usually can’t be solved through skincare alone, keeping your skin clean, moisturized and protected from the sun is essential. That said, using too many over-the-counter products can actually make acne worse. The Nurx medical team recommends using a gentle cleanser and a cream moisturizer that’s non-comedogenic (meaning it doesn’t clog pores), fragrance- and dye-free and comes in a jar with a screw-on lid (not a watery lotion that comes in a pump because water evaporates, leaving the skin feeling dry). And always practice sun protection, by wearing sunscreen with an SPF 30 or above (and make that SPF 50 if you are darker skinned and are prone to dark spots after acne). A healthy skincare routine can help keep oil in balance and your pores clear of dirt and dead skin cells, leaving acne less opportunity to take hold.
If you have acne and aren’t satisfied with the treatments you’ve tried, request acne treatment from the Nurx medical team. At Nurx, we specialize in finding the right solutions for everyone, so reach out today and get started in the fight against your acne.
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