There’s a lot of information out there about acne. From tips from our parents, to old wives’ tales and home remedies. But how do we know what is true, and what really works in acne treatment?
Dr Toni Philips, Group Clinical Director at DestinationSkin took time out with us to respond to some of the most-asked acne questions, as well as common myths to help clear up both your skin and the facts….
Q: How does acne form?
A: Acne is a condition which mainly involves the pilosebaceous gland. This is the oil gland in the skin that is attached to a hair follicle – which then appears at an opening in the skin.
Acne is a condition where there is excessive sebum production from the oil gland, accompanied by inflammation and bacteria which leads to clogging up of the pores, producing a pimple.
Q: Does acne run in families?
A: There is no one cause of acne. There can be a familial tendency in certain severe cases, but it’s not actually a genetic disease. Typically, hormonal influences can trigger the sebaceous glands to be more active than usual, causing acne.
Q: Can acne be caused by stress?
A: Stress doesn’t cause acne directly; however heightened levels of stress can cause the adrenal glands to go into overdrive. Adrenal glands are in charge of regulating stress and can stimulate sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum (oil). This excess oil can cause acne.
Q: Does chocolate cause acne?
A: There is little evidence that chocolate specifically causes acne. However certain diets can predispose an individual to acne, such as high milk and dairy intake or high calorie intake because these diets can encourage certain growth hormones that can stimulate the oil gland and when the oil gland is more active, acne tends to form.
Q: Why do I get acne on different areas of my face?
A: An interesting fact is that the sebaceous glands associated with acne, are a genetic remnant from the pre-historic days when humans had complete facial hair! Therefore, different areas can be affected by acne, and where it appears on the face comes down to the number of sebaceous units a person has in that area.
Some people might have a very high number of sebaceous units on the cheek, so they may see more acne on the cheeks.
The concentration, distribution, and activity of these sebaceous units varies from person to person. That’s why some people might suffer with acne more on their forehead compared to others who might have it more on the chest.
Q: Do topical treatments work for acne scarring?
A: Unfortunately, topical treatments are not particularly useful for most types of acne scarring. However, they do work for a subtype of acne scars, called macular scarring. This is essentially small patches of intense redness or pigmentation that is a very early form of scarring.
Using Vitamin A preparation in all various concentrations and forms can help prevent acne scarring and in some mild cases reverse this macular type of scarring. However, for the atrophic scars, such as box scars, ice pick scars and rolling scars, the best treatments are slightly more invasive such as micro-needling; derma-stamping and injectable gels such as Profhilo.
Q: Does toothpaste work on pimples?
A: The myth of using toothpaste is really a cosmetic one. Applying toothpaste to a spot can quickly but temporarily reduce redness and swelling by drying it out, but it will not help to clear the spot. In fact, toothpaste can really irritate the skin.
Typically, toothpaste contains ingredients such as alcohol menthol and hydrogen peroxide. These things all have the potential to dry out acne, but they also risk causing real irritation which in turn can lead to an overproduction of oils in the skin.
Q: Does my period cause acne?
A: When a woman is on her period, the hormonal changes can trigger your sebaceous glands to secrete more oil or what we call sebum, this can cause pores to block and result in a breakout of acne – this often occurs a few days before your period starts.
When you’re having hormonal skin changes, usually making your skin oilier, you should wash your face regularly in the morning and evening, and even consider using a different cleanser containing Salicylic Acid (BHA) during those days. Make sure you reduce the chances of getting blocked pores, so remove makeup before going to bed.
Q: Does sweat cause acne?
A: Excessive levels of sweating from exercise for example, can lead to clogging up of the pores which can in turn affect people that are prone to acne. It can also trigger acne in milder forms for those that don’t have a pre-existing condition.
That said, although sweat can negatively impact the skin, exercise is good because it increases the blood flow, which washes away the toxins, leading to more healthy skin. It also reduces the oxidative stress and counteracts the reactive oxygen species between the oxidative sweat, which is good for the skin.
Q: What ingredients should you look out for on acne products?
A: For more mild forms of acne that may appear on healthy skin, ingredients such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid in cleansers can certainly help. There are also some over the counter products that contain mild anti-inflammatory ingredients to help with the treatment and prevention of acne.
The main ingredient in these is niacinamide, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which is becoming more popular in acne treatment.
To quickly clear up a new break-out, benzoyl peroxide is useful and will dry out spots and kill bacteria.
Q: Does the sun clear up acne?
Yes UVA/UVB rays can improve the appearance of acne by killing off the associated bacteria. However, UV is well known to have more damaging effects on the skin so it is not recommended to rely on this method.
A much safer photo-dynamic therapy involves using red and blue light to kill bacteria and encourage skin repair, and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is also useful to improve the redness and other discoloration caused by acne.
Dr Toni’s Top products to treat acne:
Cleansers – OBAGI Clenziderm or Dermaquest DermaClear BHA Cleanser
Correction – Dermaquest DermaClear Serum (day or night) or Dermaquest Retinol Brightening Serum (night only)
Protection – Heliocare 360 Dry Touch Gel SPF50 or Heliocare Mineral Tolerance SPF50