Acne is a long-term skin disease that involves oil glands in the skin. Each pore in the skin is connected to an oil gland via a passage. The oil gland secretes sebum that is necessary to lubricate the skin. Acne happens when the pore and canal becomes clogged with excessive sebum +/- dead skin cells. Though it does not pose a serious health threat, it is an inconvenience to have and it also causes scars.
There are a few types of acne but it can be broadly categorized into non-inflamed and inflamed acne. Blackheads and whiteheads (comedones) constitute non-inflamed acne. They are a state where pores are merely clogged.
The real trouble starts when the comedones become colonized by the P. acnes, a normal skin flora. As the bacteria thrives in the clogged pores, inflammation ensues as the body tries to fight the bacteria, giving rise to inflamed acne lesions. This is when we get the papules and pustules (moderate acne), or nodules and cysts (severe acne).
Everyone gets acne. During puberty, there is a surge of sebum production due to hormonal changes in the body in both males and females. That is why teenagers make up the largest crowd presenting to the doctor with acne problem. Due to hormonal fluctuations (i.e menses) some have acne problem that persist into their late 20s or even 30s.
A few well-known triggers of acne are:
- Hormonal changes during puberty, menses, pregnancy.
- Oral contraceptive pills
- Certain types of medicine (i.e steroids)
- Unsuitable makeup
- Diet loaded with simple sugars
The most feared aftermath of acne is scarring. Acne scars can be raised / sunken and they take a lot of time to treat. Untreated acne and scarring leads to embarrassment and a low-self esteem.
A regular facial can rid of the comedones but never ever prick or squeeze actively inflamed acne. All active acne lesions are contained within a sac and is self-limiting, meaning it will resolve on its own within 7-10 days. Squeezing an acne lesion will rupture the sac and push the “dirty” sac contents deeper into the skin, causing prolonged inflammation and higher risk for scarring.
See your doctor instead for proper evaluation and management of acne. Treatment may consist of products to apply and/or oral medicine. The aim of acne treatment is to:
- Calm down inflamed acne
- Stop new acne lesions from erupting
- Treat scarring.
Stress triggers cortisol production, a naturally-occurring steroid in our body. Steroids increase sebum production, hence higher chances for acne to develop. Stress can come from life, work, excessive workout, or even sleep deprivation.
Recent studies point to simple sugars or food high in glycemic index as triggers for excessive sebum production. Try to cut down on sugar-rich food and aim for more fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet.
Hydration is also of utmost importance. Dehydrated skin will cause more sebum to be produced in an attempt to keep the skin moist. 3-4L of fluid intake per day is advised.
Look for non-comedogenic cosmetic products i.e Mediglow products – these products will not clog up your pores. As a general rule, use only clear lotion or gels for acne-prone skin.
Finally, avoid excessive cleansing of the face. It strips the face off its’ natural moisture barrier, causing paradoxical increase in sebum production.