I suffered from cystic acne as a teenager, so this subject is very important to me. I understand the pain, emotionally and physically, of dealing with constant breakouts which seemingly never stop and appear at the worst possible times. As a teenager, I didn’t have the opportunity or money to seek medical treatment, so I often resorted to drug store remedies, picking and squeezing, and then covering my spots with globs of concealer and makeup. I was depressed about my face, and I think it led to many of the self-esteem issues that I had later as a young adult. When I started making my own money, I did turn to dermatologists. I had 2 courses of Accutane which made the acne go away, but I had extremely dry, sensitive skin, and I had to have blood tests every month. I didn’t realize the risks associated with Accutane use at the time. I was young and just wanted my breakouts to stop. At first, I thought it was a miracle. It was many years later that I read about the potential risks of bone deformities, hair loss, GI problems, and depression that Accutane could cause. I also believe it caused my skin to scar even worse. I had huge depressions, ice picks scars all over my cheeks and chin. The next 30 years were spent trying to correct the scars. I tried all types of skincare, dermatologic treatments, injections, laser treatments, chemical peels…you name it I probably tried it. I will go into scar remodeling next time because I was eventually able to correct at least 90% of my scars. My skin is nearly scar-free today. But it took me thousands of dollars, lots of frustration and time to get to this point. Hopefully, with my experience, I can save you some grief.
For now, I want to address how to avoid the scars in the first place. Stop the breakouts, and you will have less chance of residual scarring. Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for treating acne.
The Don’ts of Treating Acne
1. Acne treatments which contain benzoyl peroxide (BP) or hydrogen peroxide should be limited to spot treatments on a limited basis. Benzoyl peroxide is, well, a bleach. It works by killing bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide also reduces acne lesions in the same manner. It will bleach your towels, bed sheets, hair, whatever it comes in contact with. Putting Hydrogen peroxide or BP all over your face along with an AHA such as glycolic acid, every day, twice a day will cause extreme dryness, irritation, inflame the skin, and eventually make your skin sensitive to almost everything, including water. BP, hydrogen peroxide, and glycolic acids are potent free radical producers…they age your skin. As a result, the skin takes longer to heal and becomes more likely to scar. Once you stop BP or hydrogen peroxide, your breakouts come back in full force, and you will be left with sensitive, blotchy, dried out skin. These treatments are not addressing the source of the acne, just the surface manifestation. So, use BP or hydrogen peroxide judiciously and infrequently as spot treatments if you have to. Try not to use AHAs on a regular basis, as it makes your skin more prone to hyperpigmentation. But I think it’s best to not even start with these ingredients, as the damage caused to your skin may be very difficult to fix later on.
2. Try to forgo Accutane or make it your last resort. The side effects and long-term effects are many and potentially dangerous, especially for young teens and women of childbearing age. There are other safer options that can be tried first which I will list below.
3. Do not pick. Picking definitely increases the chance of infection and making your scarring worse. I was a notorious picker, and I know I caused my scars to be deeper as a result.
4. Stop wearing liquid foundation, primers, smoothers, concealers. These often contain pore-clogging ingredients, irritants, and will exacerbate your acne. It’s better to use mineral powder makeup or no makeup if possible. Find a mineral makeup with as few ingredients as possible, no added fillers, artificial dyes, antioxidants or fancy anti-aging ingredients. You want to limit your chance of having an adverse reaction. Try to find a mineral makeup containing mainly zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and iron oxides if possible. Avoid makeup with bismuth oxychloride because it can irritate the skin, causing breakouts.
The Do’s of Treating Acne
1. Look at your diet. Try eliminating, as much as possible, dairy, refined carbohydrates, sugar from your diet. Many people find modifying their diet helps reduce breakouts tremendously.
2. Reduce stress. Studies have shown that stress has a direct impact on occurrence of acne breakouts. If you’ve noticed how that pimple appears right before a big date or exam, it’s stress related. During times of stress, the adrenal glands produce more male hormones, which in turn enlarge oil glands, making them overactive, causing more breakouts to occur.
3. Try supplements that will treat acne from the inside out by reducing inflammation and killing bacteria. Acne is an inflammatory reaction to the P. acnes bacteria. If you can supplement with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory herbals that are much safer than using drugs, you should try that first. I’ve had very good results with products by Acnescript. I put my 2 teenagers on Acnescript in April 2010, and their skin has markedly improved. Like me, my son had really bad cystic acne with redness. His redness is gone, and breakouts go away much faster now, but he still has the occasional breakout. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s natural and has few, if any, side effects. www.acnescript.com is the website. You can trial their products for free (except for shipping). I even take them, just for the skin health benefits provided by the herbals which include tumeric, burdock, B5, B6, Zinc, and garlic. Another good supplement for acne and skin health in general is black currant oil. It helps the skin to retain moisture and less prone to forming hard sebum plugs which can block pores.
4. Try the 302 Skincare topicals for controlling breakouts. These are gentle and simple to use. At minimum, the Face and Body Bar and the Acne or Calming Mist should be used. These 3 products alone should make a vast difference for most people. Wash once a day with the Face and Body bar and then spray with the Acne Mist or Calming Mist. This simple routine is especially good for kids. There are other stronger 302 products for more severe cases, and your 302 esthetician can recommend the correct products for you. The Acne Mist and Calming Mist contains a very high level of EGCG (green tea extract), proven in scientific studies to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide 4% without the negative side effects. The Acne mist is most suitable for people with a lot of clogged pores as it contains enzymes to break down the clogs. The enzymes have a mild peeling effect, so you should use it once daily and limit sun exposure after application. The Calming mist does not contain the enzymes and can be used as often as needed.
5. Try using noninvasive home gadgets such as LED therapy (blue light) and high-frequency devices like DermaWand to zap acne lesions before they get out of hand.
So, these are some suggestions to try out first. If your acne is still out of control after trying these for at least a few months, then you should see a dermatologist for other prescription options. But I think for 90% of people, the above suggestions will be adequate to control acne with little to no risk.