If you have acne, you’re among more than 70 million people in the United States who have suffered from this skin condition at some time in their lives. It is so common that acne affects about 80 percent of Americans 20 to 30 years old. During the teenage years, acne is more common in boys than in girls, but in adults it’s more common in women.
Despite the fact that it’s so commonplace, there are many misconceptions about acne, says Guy Webster, MD, PhD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and founder of the American Acne and Rosacea Society.
Getting to the Root of Acne
Whether you call it acne, pimples, or zits, in order to treat the condition, it’s important to understand the causes:
Clogged pores and bacteria: In your teens, the glands in the skin begin secreting sebum, an oily substance. This normally comes out through the pores, but in some people, sebum clogs up in the pores, allowing a bacterium, called P. acnes, to begin to grow.
Hormones: In your teen years, hormones start changing and affecting your body, including causing acne. This also happens during pregnancy, which explains why pregnant women or women having their periods often have acne breakouts. Hormones released during stressful times can also cause acne.
Genetics: You may be more likely to develop acne if your parents had acne when they were younger.
The Right Acne Treatment
There are many ways to take care of acne, depending on what causes it and how bad it is. Moderate and severe acne usually needs acne treatment recommended by a doctor, but mild acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and a few pimples can usually be treated at home.
Dr. Webster says one big misconception is that acne is caused by dirty skin. “The goal is not to scrub acne away,” he says. “If you scrub, you’re taking off skin, and there’s a reason for the skin being there.” Skin is a protective barrier.
Here are some tips that Webster shares with people who have acne:
Wash gently; don’t scrub.
Use a gentle soap to wash your face.
Wash with your hands, not a washcloth or “scrubby.”
Use a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide product.
Treat your whole face — don’t “spot treat.” This way, you’re treating pimples still under the skin but not yet visible.
And what should you stay away from?
Facial scrubs of any kind.
“Face puffs” or abrasive pads.
Expensive cosmetic regimens that people try to sell you.
Acne Treatment: Other Tips
Other tips to keep acne from getting worse:
If you’re a male, be careful shaving.
Don’t pick or scratch at pimples.
Avoid the sun. While many people feel that sun exposure makes their acne better, this is not always so. The rays can also cause other unwanted issues, such as premature aging and skin cancer.
When Should I See a Doctor for Acne Treatment?
According to Webster, if the pimples are leaving scars or if your treatment isn’t working, then it’s time to see a family doctor or dermatologist.
And while acne is a bummer, it doesn’t have to take over your life; take action and take control of your skin.