If you’re starting your day staring into the mirror over your bathroom sink, scrutinizing your acne, it can be an isolating experience. In that moment, it can feel like you’re the only one suffering, and your acne’s going to plague you for the rest of your days.
However, we’ve all been there. In fact, acne’s the most common skin condition in the United States. At any given moment, close to 50 million Americans have it, and that’s likely a pretty conservative estimate.
When you look into that mirror, you see the acne on your face, but much of what’s causing it is occurring beneath the surface. Basically, acne appears when a pore in our skin clogs. Typically, dead skin cells rise to the surface of the pore, and the body sheds them. However, when the body starts to make a lot of an oil that keeps our skin from drying out called sebum, the dead skin cells can stick together and become trapped inside the pore.
Bacteria that live on our skin, p. acnes, can also sometimes get inside the clogged pore. Once that happens, the bacteria will multiply quickly, and the pore will become red and swollen. If the inflammation goes deep into the skin, an acne cyst or nodule appears. That’s what you see in the mirror.
Some choose to attack their acne with every home remedy they come across online, while others resign themselves to letting it run its course. The smart move: See a dermatologist. There are lots of effective treatments, but they’re not one-size-fits-all. Just about every case of acne, though, can be controlled.
Mild acne (a few pimples) can often be treated with products that you can buy without a prescription. Your dermatologist will likely point you toward one containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Both are very effective at clearing the skin, but you still need to be patient with them. It’ll be a month or two before you begin to notice a difference.
Most acne treatments are topical, meaning they’re applied directly to the affected skin. There are a number of them, and they act in different ways. Some help kill the bacteria, others work to reduce the sebum.
For more severe acne, your dermatologist may prescribe an oral treatment that works throughout the body, such as antibiotics, which help to kill the bacteria and reduce the inflammation; birth control and other medications that work on hormones; and isotretinoin, which is the only treatment that works on all of the acne’s causes.
Severe cases can also be supplemented with a procedure that can be performed during an office visit. The most common include:
• Chemical peels: These are more sophisticated than the kind you can buy on your own. Dermatologists use them to treat two types of acne, blackheads, and papules.
• Light therapies: They’re effective at reducing the bacteria.
• Acne removal: When a large acne cyst doesn’t respond to medication, a dermatologist will perform a procedure called a “drainage and extraction” to remove it. It also helps ease the pain and minimize the chance that the cyst will leave a scar.
Like I said, no one treatment works for everyone. However, a dermatologist can pinpoint one that will help you. And, really, for all your anxiety and frustration, what’s an hour to find out what’s available? In the short-term, treating your acne’s probably going to give your self-esteem a boost. Also, in the long-term, it’ll ensure this temporary condition doesn’t leave a permanent scar.