Effective ways to treat acne and get clearer skin

Effective ways to treat acne and get clearer skin

Everyone loves clear skin, irrespective of their age, but certain skin conditions can strip the skin of its glow. One such skin condition is acne vulgaris or simply acne. One of the most common skin conditions, it is estimated that at least 40 percent of people suffer from low-grade acne at some point in their life. Read on to know more about the most effective acne treatment options to clear both your doubts and skin.

What is acne?
Acne occurs when the hair follicles become clogged with dirt, dead skin cells, and the skin’s natural oil, sebum. It usually develops in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples and mostly affects the face, but it can also appear on the chest, scalp, and back. Around 25 percent of men and 50 percent of women in the country suffer from acne during their adult years. Here are some types of acne based on their appearance:

  • Papules
    These are red bumps that develop when excess skin cells or oil mixes with bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes by blocking the skin pores. When the contents of the blocked pore spill out, the bacteria cause inflammation in the surrounding skin tissue and lead to an inflamed lesion. Papules do not contain any pus.
  • Pustules
    Pustules are small, red-colored, inflamed bumps with a white center that usually form when a blocked pore gets infected. That being said, they can also be a result of hormonal changes, and they contain pus.
  • Whiteheads
    Closed comedones or whiteheads form when the pores are completely blocked. This causes a white tapering bump on the skin. It is important to know that whiteheads should not be popped or squeezed as they can leave a scar on the skin.
  • Blackheads
    When comedones are exposed, they can get clogged with dirt that makes the pores look black. These are called blackheads and can usually be removed by squeezing, but it is not recommended as it can lead to scarring.
  • Nodules
    An acute form of acne, nodular acne or nodules are flesh-colored bumps caused by the C. acnes bacteria. Nodules can be painful as they are caused by infections deep inside the skin pores.
  • Cysts
    This is the most severe form of acne and is also a result of an infection deep within the skin. Cysts can be red, large, pus-filled, and inflamed, and they often burst, causing the pus to infect the surrounding skin.

Here’s how acne can be treated
There are multiple treatment options for acne, from medications and spot-on treatments to simple home remedies that can help provide relief. These treatments work by exfoliating dead skin cells and removing excess oil, stopping the inflammation. Let’s discuss the type of acne treatments individually:

Medications and spot-on treatments
Oral medications, topical creams, and various types of face wash contain the following compounds that can help fight the symptoms of acne:

  • Glycolic acid
    An alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic acid has exfoliating properties and helps unclog pores by getting rid of dead skin cells. Glycolic acid is usually found in peels, face washes, and moisturizers that are easily available.
  • Salicylic acid
    It is one of the best and the go-to fix for acne. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that works by diluting excess oil on the skin and exfoliating dead skin cells. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can provide relief from cystic breakouts caused by infections deep within the follicles. Salicylic acid can be found in leave-on spot treatments, moisturizers, and toners, but excess application should be avoided as it can leave the skin dry.
  • Lactic acid
    Another alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid is an exfoliating agent and is preferable for people with sensitive skin as it is gentler than glycolic acid. Also being a humectant, lactic acid helps keep the skin hydrated, so it can be used by people with dry skin as well. Like glycolic acid, lactic acid can be found in spot-on treatments like face washes, moisturizers, and peels.
  • Benzoyl peroxide
    This is an antibacterial agent that treats acne by killing the C. acnes bacteria that causes papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. However, it is recommended to use benzoyl peroxide with caution, as leave-on and spot-on treatments containing this compound can leave sensitive skin dry. It’s advisable to read the label on the creams as dermatologists recommend using products that have less than 2 percent benzoyl peroxide for best results.
  • Spironolactone
    This is used to treat acne that occurs due to hormonal changes and works by blocking the androgen hormones in circulation. This reduces oiliness in the skin and other symptoms of acne. This medication is often prescribed to women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
  • Isotretinoin
    Isotretinoin is a vitamin A derivative used as an oral medication for acne treatment. Being a strong retinoid, dermatologists recommend it for patients with severe acne. It is specifically good for treating cystic acne as it blocks the sebaceous glands, but it is recommended to keep moisturizers handy as isotretinoin can leave the skin dry and sensitive.
  • Dapsone
    Several dermatologists prescribe dapsone gel for acne treatment as it has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that help provide relief from painful pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.
  • Retinol
    A form of vitamin A, retinol is popular for its anti-aging benefits, but it is also used to treat the symptoms of acne, like inflammation. Plus, it helps the skin exfoliate and prevents clogging of the follicles, which results in acne otherwise. That being said, retinol-based treatments should not be used by people with sensitive skin as they can cause irritation. Also, this form of acne treatment is not a quick fix and can take some time to show results. This treatment should also be avoided by people with skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
  • Fish oil supplements
    Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These acids help manage oil production and hydration in the body, preventing the symptoms of acne. Omega-3 fats also help prevent inflammation due to acne.
  • Antibiotics
    Although antibiotics can cause side effects like nausea or an upset stomach, dermatologists may prescribe these in combination with other medications for acne treatment. That being said, one should ensure antibiotic usage for a shorter period to avoid developing resistance against them. These medications are generally used along with benzoyl peroxide and retinoid.

Home remedies
These are safer alternatives for acne treatment as compared to topical creams, gels, and over-the-counter and prescription-based medications. This is because home remedies lead to fewer side effects. The following natural remedies can be used for effective acne treatment:

  • Honey and cinnamon mask
    Rich sources of antioxidants, some dermatologists believe that these ingredients can be more effective than retinoids and benzoyl and peroxide. Besides, a honey and cinnamon mask has antibacterial properties that can reduce inflammation and other acne symptoms.
  • Apple cider vinegar
    Apple cider vinegar contains succinic acid that helps in suppressing inflammation by destroying the P. acnes bacteria, which prevents scarring of the skin. Apple cider vinegar is made from fermenting the unfiltered juice of pressed apples and is a natural source of lactic acid, which helps in healing the acne scars. Apart from this, it helps reduce excess oil, which is one of the major causes of acne.
  • Green tea
    Packed with antioxidants, applying green tea directly on the skin helps fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. Green tea is particularly rich in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant that inhibits bacterial growth and sebum production, leading to the reduction of pimples.
  • Tea tree oil
    It is an essential oil extracted from the leaves of the tea tree, native to Australia. This oil is known to have similar effects as that of green tea as it reduces skin inflammation. It has been observed that applying tea tree oil on the skin gives slower results as compared to using benzoyl peroxide, but it causes fewer adverse effects like irritation, dryness, and a burning sensation. Dermatologists advise diluting tea tree oil before applying it on the skin as it is strong.
  • Aloe vera
    A natural moisturizer, aloe vera is a tropical plant that produces clear gel from its leaves. It is used as a moisturizing ingredient in numerous creams and lotions and is used to treat abrasions, rashes, and skin conditions like acne. It contains sulfur and salicylic acid, both of which are effective for acne treatment.
  • Witch hazel
    The North American witch hazel shrub or Hamamelis virginiana contains tannins that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help relieve skin inflammation caused by acne, helping it to heal quickly. Witch hazel is also used in topical medications used for treating eczema, varicose veins, dandruff, and even insect bites.

Lifestyle changes for acne treatment
Apart from using medications and home remedies, making certain lifestyle changes can help provide relief from the symptoms of acne:

  • Ensure regular exfoliation
    It is one of the best acne treatments that does not cause any side effects. Exfoliation refers to the process of removing the top layer of skin that contains dead skin cells by using a brush, scrub, or other physical exfoliating agents. It unclogs the pores, resulting in clearer skin. To make an at-home scrub, mix equal parts of coconut oil and salt or sugar. Gently scrub the solution on the skin and rinse well.
  • Reduce dairy consumption
    Many believe that consuming dairy brings about hormonal changes that can lead to acne. A hormone called IGF-1 present in dairy products can trigger acne breakouts in some people. While it is considered that cutting back on dairy intake can help manage the symptoms of acne better, further research is required.
  • Lead an active lifestyle
    Poor blood circulation is one of the reasons for acne breakouts, and exercising can enhance blood circulation. This helps rid the body of toxins and nourishes the skin, fighting existing pimples and keeping further acne breakouts at bay. Apart from this, exercise helps regulate hormone levels in the body and reduces acne due to hormonal imbalance. Health experts suggest exercising 3-5 times per week for at least 30 minutes.
  • Ensure stress management
    The hormones released in the body when a person is stressed increase the sebum production, which can result in skin inflammation and aggravate acne. It can also inhibit the healing process by almost 40 percent, resulting in slower repair of skin lesions due to acne. So, taking up relaxation and stress-reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises and getting adequate sleep, along with other acne treatments, can ensure better results.
  • Follow a low-glycemic diet
    Dieticians and dermatologists believe there is a relation between acne and Glycemic Index (GI). The GI helps determine how rapidly a food or diet can cause insulin levels to rise. Foods high on the GI are absorbed and metabolized quickly and result in spikes in the insulin levels, which can trigger acne breakouts.

Foods to eat and avoid for acne treatment
Diet plays a crucial role in managing acne. Low-glycemic foods are beneficial, especially for people with acne-prone skin, and foods rich in antioxidants help cleanse the blood. Here are a few other beneficial foods:

  • Foods like cherries, green tea, and spinach are packed with antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress by destroying free radicals in the body, reducing the risk of acne.
  • Selenium-rich foods like almonds, garlic, and Brazil nuts improve the skin’s elasticity and help relieve inflammation.
  • Oranges, tomatoes, strawberries, and all other vitamin C-rich foods boost the immune system and strengthen the cell walls, which heals acne scars and helps prevent further scars.

It is equally important to steer clear of foods that aggravate acne. Foods high on the GI increase blood sugar levels, which can lead to inflammation. So, reducing the consumption of foods like bread, sweetened breakfast cereals, corn flakes, bran flakes, short-grain white rice, pasta, and processed foods can help better manage acne. Some people also experience relief from cutting back on dairy products.

It is important to keep an eye out for any unusual changes in skin health and consult a dermatologist for appropriate acne treatment and advice on how to prevent future breakouts. Approaching a doctor is imperative before using medications and home remedies or incorporating dietary changes to avoid side effects.

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