What is acne?
Acne is a common skin condition among adolescents and young adults. The severity of acne ranges for teens, though most teens suffer from some degree of acne. Acne presents as pimples, blackheads and whiteheads on the skin. Acne can affect skin on the neck, arms, chest or back. Severe acne that is left untreated, can pose risks such as scarring.
What causes acne?
Acne is caused by overactive oil glands in the skin due to hormones that are released by the body. Bacteria on the skin can further inflame acne, making it appear more red and irritated. A teen’s risk of developing acne is higher if there is a family history of acne. Acne is NOT caused by diet or poor hygiene.
What can I do at home to improve my acne?
You should avoid things that trigger or worsen your acne. For some people, this includes makeup, certain soaps/cleansers, harsh scrubbing of the skin, and stress. For some girls, acne can flare during the menstrual cycle. Never squeeze or “pop” your pimples. Choose gentle skin care products and a good moisturizer to avoid over-irritating the skin.
There are many over-the-counter medications that can be used for acne. Benzoyl Peroxide is considered to be the best over-the-counter product for acne. Benzoyl peroxide is available in different products (washes, creams, gels) ranging from 2.5%-10%. Benzoyl Peroxide can be irritating to the skin, so it is recommended to start with a lower strength a few days per week. If tolerated, it can be gradually increased to daily use. This product can bleach clothing or towels.
What medications are used for acne?
In addition to Benzoyl Peroxide, there are two other common topical (applied to the skin) medications that can be used to manage acne.
- Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic in lotion or gel form available by prescription. It is typically used once per day, in the morning. It should be applied to clean and dry skin over the whole area that you have acne. Retinoids are a topical medication that helps keep pores unclogged. It is available in gel or cream form.
- Retinoids are applied once daily at bedtime. A small amount (1-2 peas) should be applied to clean and dry skin. It is important to know that retinoids can cause significant sun sensitivity, and therefore should never be applied during the daytime. Always wash your skin the morning after retinoids are applied. Similar to benzoyl peroxide, retinoids can cause skin irritation. Teens should start using retinoids a few nights per week and gradually increase to nightly after two weeks of use.
**Any topical acne medication that causes redness or irritation to the skin should be discontinued until you speak to your health care provider.
For certain types of acne that are severe or fail to improve with topical medications, treatment with oral medications may be considered. These treatments can include:
- Oral antibiotics are considered to be “stronger” than topical antibiotics used for acne. Oral antibiotics can be associated with some side effects, which is why topical medications are generally used before oral antibiotics.
- Oral contraceptives can be helpful to treat some acne caused by hormonal changes.
- Oral isotretinoin, formerly called Accutane, is effective for very severe acne. It is prescribed by a dermatologist only for severe acne that has failed to respond to other treatments. Although effective, this medication can cause some unpleasant side effects and potential birth defects. Strict measures must be taken to prevent pregnancy for a woman taking isotretinoin.
How will Amherst Pediatrics help me manage my acne?
Most acne can be successfully managed by your primary care provider, avoiding a trip to the dermatologist. At Amherst Pediatrics, we can assess your acne and make recommendations for treatment. We encourage you to be patient! Any acne treatment can take up to 8 weeks before it becomes effective.