As if it weren’t difficult enough to get through the teenage years with morale and self-esteem intact, along comes the added anguish of acne – unsightly, embarrassing and potentially scarring for life. Fifteen percent of adolescents suffer from clinical acne that ranges from mild to severe. Dermatologist DR GAVIN ONG tells us more.
Pimples are the red, painful spots on acne-prone areas. In more severe cases, they may even be purulent, or pus-filled. Whether it’s a single pimple, a localised breakout or an extensive one, they are all considered acne (or acne vulgaris, its proper medical term).
It generally starts during puberty, when proliferating sex hormones cause the oil glands in the skin to start developing. They become more active and produce oil secretions. These oil glands are mainly concentrated on the face, scalp, chest and back.
As for the causes, there is no single root cause. It’s usually a combination of several factors. Risk factors include: obesity, a family history of severe acne, increased facial hair (in boys) and an earlier onset of menses (in girls).
Lifestyle and diet are important! Reduce your stress, have adequate rest and avoid eating high GI food. Recent studies also suggest a link between consuming dairy products and developing acne.
Squeezing the pimples, when done carefully and correctly, helps to release the pus and reduce the inflammation. But acne sufferers tend to over-do it, driving the inflammation deeper and increasing the risk of severe scarring.
Trying home remedies such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil will probably make things worse. Lemon juice can cause the skin to darken when exposed to sunlight. Apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil are known to trigger irritant contact dermatitis in individuals with sensitive skin.
Scrubbing the face, another favourite activity of acne sufferers, will not “unclog the pores” and clear the pimples.
Fix the problem with…
Medical treatment is either topical or oral. Topical therapies range from over-the-counter creams like sulphur, resorcinol and benzoyl peroxide, to more effective prescription medications like antibiotics and retinoids. Oral medications include antibiotics and isotretinoin – isotretinoin is the gold standard treatment for acne vulgaris. For women with severe acne, a course of hormonal therapy may be recommended. But some of these medications may have accompanying side-effects, so do seek medical advice.
Consider procedural treatments such as chemical peels and the use of blue light, always in combination with medical therapy.
Not just teenagers…
Adult acne is a well-known clinical phenomenon more usually seen in women. Either as a continuation of teenage acne or something new, it affects up to 14 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 50. (How unfair to develop acne simultaneously with the first signs of ageing!) Risk factors include genetics, stress, smoking, cosmetics and hormones. Treatment of adult acne is essentially similar to the adolescent version, but in women with a hormonal imbalance, the underlying medical problem has to be sorted out too.
Be sure to…
Seek treatment early, especially if you have a lot of inflammation and painful pimples, as the risk of scarring is very high. Visit your regular doctor or a dermatologist for advice.
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