Acne is a very common skin condition—in adults as well as in adolescents.

It’s caused when the skin’s sebaceous glands produce too much sebum (oil), which then clogs the skin’s pores. A type of bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes), which is found on everybody’s skin, multiplies rapidly in the clogged pores, triggering inflammation. That inflammation leads to the formation of the telltale inflamed lesions of acne: whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules and cysts.

Research has shown that acne is not caused by diet. Nor is it caused by poor hygiene. In fact, washing your face too often and too hard can actually make your acne worse. Acne is mainly the result of so-called male hormones, or androgens, which are in women as well as men, although in smaller quantities. These hormones encourage the sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum.

Acne Can Be Treated

Acne can lower self-esteem and have a significant negative effect on an individual’s quality of life. Fortunately, acne can be treated, although sometimes several different types of treatments are needed.


Mild acne often responds to over-the-counter medications that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, resorcinol, or other ingredients that help dry up excess oil and kill bacteria. These medications should be used in conjunction with gentle skin care, such as twice daily washing (but not scrubbing) of the skin and avoidance of oil-based cosmetics and other skin care products.

If these simple measures don’t help your acne, seek care from a board-certified dermatologist. He or she may prescribe a topical medication that contains tretinoin (Retin-A, Avita), tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage), or adapalene (Differin). You may also be prescribed an oral antibiotic or, if your acne is very severe, isotretinoin (Accutane). This drug is very powerful and has the possibility of creating severe
side effects, including an increased risk of depression and suicide. When taking this drug, you must be under the careful care of a physician. Also, it should not be taken by pregnant women or by women who might get pregnant during or soon after treatment, as the drug can cause birth defects.

Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion

These two cosmetic skin treatments can sometimes help control acne by removing dead skin cells and de-clogging pores. They are most effective, however, when used in combination with other acne treatments.

Laser and Light Therapies

One of the newest options for acne treatment involve non-ablative laser and light therapies. These treatments send laser energy into the skin’s middle layer (dermis) to inhibit both the production of oil and the multiplication of P. acnes. They can also help minimize the appearance of acne scars.

Laser and light therapies tend to be used when other treatments don’t work. Unfortunately, these treatments don’t help everybody, and there’s no way of knowing who they will help until after they’ve been tried. Most people need a series of treatments, typically 1 to 2 treatments per week for one month.

There are several different categories of laser and light therapies. They include blue light therapy (one of the first to receive approval for acne treatment from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), pulsed light plus heat energy therapy, diode laser therapy, photodynamic therapy, and photo-pneumatic therapy. Your dermatologist will explain the pros and cons of each of these technologies and will discuss with you which treatment is right for your skin.

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