What is Acne and How Did I Get it?

Most people get at least some acne, especially during their teenage years. Why you get acne is complicated. One common belief is that acne comes from being dirty, but this is not true. Acne is the result of changes that occur during puberty. Your skin is made of layers. To keep the skin from getting dry, the skin makes oil in little wells called “sebaceous glands” that are found in the deeper layers of the skin. “Whiteheads” or “blackheads” are clogged sebaceous glands. “Blackheads” are not caused by dirt blocking the pores, but rather by oxidation (a chemical reaction that occurs when the oil reacts with oxygen in the air). People with acne have glands that make more oil and are more easily plugged, causing the glands to swell. Hormones, bacteria (called P. acnes) and genetics also play a role.

How to Treat Acne

Acne is a common condition that may vary in severity. A number of topical and/or oral medications can be used for its treatment. Two to three months of consistent daily treatment is often needed to see maximal effect from a treatment regimen. That is how long it takes the skin layers to shed fully and recycle or “grow out.” Remember that acne medications are supposed to prevent acne, and the goal is maintaining clear skin.

Some lifestyle changes can be beneficial in helping acne. Stress is known to aggravate acne, so try to get enough sleep and daily exercise. It is also important to eat a balanced diet. If you find that a certain food seems to aggravate your acne, you may consider avoiding that food. The best thing you can do for your acne is to practice good skin hygiene.

Practice Good Skin Hygiene to Treat Acne

  • Wash your face twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening
  • Avoid over-washing or scrubbing your face as this will not improve the acne and may lead to dryness and irritation.
  • Use a mild cleanser like Cetaphil or CeraVe something labeled “for sensitive skin” not a “deodorant soap.”
  • “Acne washes” may contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid fights oil and bacteria mildly but can be drying and can add to the irritation. Only use if recommended by your doctor.
  • Do not scrub with a washcloth or loofah as this can irritate and inflame your acne.
  • If you use makeup or sunscreen make sure that these products are labeled “won’t clog pores” or “won’t cause acne” or “non-comedogenic,” which means it will not cause or worsen acne.
  • Do not “pop pimples” or pick at your acne, as this can delay healing and may lead to infection, scarring or leave dark spots.
  • Wash or change your pillowcase 1-2 times per week.
  • If you play sports, wash right away when you are done. Also, pay attention to how your sports equipment (shoulder pads, helmet strap, etc.) might rub against your skin and be making your acne worse!