- There’s still no cure for acne, but there are many ways to reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of flare-ups when they do occur
- Diet and a healthy lifestyle can have a positive effect on reducing incidences of outbreaks.
- Acne scars are typically permanent, although there are treatments available to substantially reduce their visibility.
- The best way to treat acne scars is to avoid acne blemishes in the first place, and never pop pimples when flare-ups do occur.
Preventing Acne vs Pimples
Acne vulgaris is a condition with multiple levels of severity, but most people who suffer from acne develop multiple symptoms, commonly including pimples (also known as papules), pustules (pimples with pus), blackheads, and whiteheads. However, most people are subject to having small, occasional, breakouts of pimples without any other acne symptoms.
While preventing acne will inevitably help to prevent pimples, preventing full blown acne requires more consistency and effort. If you’re looking simply to prevent a pimple or two, wash your face regularly with any face wash that suits you, and make sure to address areas that are beginning to look irritated with a spot treatment.
If you’re looking to prevent a case of moderate to severe acne, you will have to be more specific. Look for cleansers that contain acne fighting ingredients (like benzoyl peroxide), and consider prescription topicals or pills for adequate prevention.
Can You Prevent Acne Permanently?
There is no guaranteed cure or definitive way to prevent acne. Acne blemishes like pimples and whiteheads are often triggered by a temporary imbalance of androgen hormones, and for many people, comes by way of genetics. So if one of your parents ever suffered acne – or still does – there’s an excellent chance you’ll have inherited the condition as well.
Adult acne breakouts typically take root when the skin’s oil glands are overactive and create a surplus of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the pores, which then become clogged and inflamed and manifest as acne lesions.
And while there’s currently no treatment or therapy that can absolutely stop acne breakouts from happening, there’s a wealth of ways to both treat the symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of acne lesions when they do flare-up .The following are a few well-established tips on how to curb acne breakouts from developing.
Tips for Preventing Acne and Pimple Breakouts
While this is probably fairly obvious to most people, the best way to deal with acne blemishes is to do everything you can to avoid getting them in the first place. To this end there are actually several simple measures you can take that should help to reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of flare-ups.
Avoid touching or irritating your face.
For those susceptible to acne, touching your face too often is a definite no-no as it can very easily trigger a breakout. Facial acne is caused by a combination of excess oil production, skin shedding, and a germ known as p. acnes bacteria. When you touch your face you spread any p. acnes bacteria that’s on it around the area, both on the surface of the skin and beneath it. When this bacteria spreads beneath the skin’s top layers it gets into other pores and stimulates more blemishes.
Most importantly, no matter how tempting it might be, resist the urge to pop or pick at your acne blemishes. Not only will they take longer to clear up if you do, but it can lead to more inflammation and worse, leave acne scars once they do heal. And acne scars, while treatable to a certain extent, are often permanent markings.
Moisturize skin as needed
It may seem counterintuitive, but your skin needs to be properly hydrated in order to clear up an acne breakout. When your skin is too dry your body produces more oil, which may lead to more inflammation.
Also, medications commonly used to treat acne, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and some retinoids (like tretinoin), tend to dry out and even irritate the skin. Gently applying a non-comedogenic moisturizer will hydrate your skin to an optimal level to resist flare-ups while helping it better tolerate these medications.
As for how often to apply a moisturizer, some dermatologists recommend it be done twice a day while others suggest that you apply an oil-free moisturizer (that won’t clog pores) whenever your skin feels dry, it’s as simple as that. As an extra tip, applying a moisturizer after bathing is the very best time to do it as it helps to trap water in the skin.
Another thing you can do to make sure you’re skin is getting the hydration it needs to stay healthy is to drink plenty of water throughout the day, enough to keep your entire body properly hydrated. When dehydrated, the body produces excess oil to address the situation, but excess oil clogs the pores, which frequently results in inflammation.
Wash Your Face Regularly – but Don’t Overdo It.
Outside of basic hygiene, it’s important to wash your face at least twice a day to remove all the impurities that collect on it over the course of any given day. All the dead skin cells, excess oil, and bacteria that’s so quick to clog your pores needs to be washed away before they combine to produce an inflammation.
While keeping your face clean as a matter of course is important in the effort to keep acne at bay, it’s even more crucial to wash away the more acne-prone areas of your body immediately after exercising, or doing anything that has you working up a sweat, before those impurities collect and clog up your pores.
However, you don’t want to wash your face more than twice a day, as overdoing it can cause damage by drying out the skin or irritating existing acne. You also need to make sure you don’t wash your face with anything that’s too abrasive, like an exfoliating glove or loofah, as it can hurt your already inflamed skin and cause more irritation.
And don’t scrub, instead, wash your face as gently as you can with warm (not hot) water, a mild cleanser and a very soft cloth. Rinse well and pat dry with a clean face cloth or towel.
Watch What you Eat
Staying away from refined carbs, sugary drinks, and processed foods to follow a low-glycemic diet that’s rich in fruit and vegetables will not only make you feel better in general but has been shown to play a significant role in skin health as well. Studies have shown that eating a high-glycemic diet can cause acne, so foods that spike blood sugar levels need to be kept to a minimum or foregone altogether. Potato chips, fruit juice, soft drinks, snacks made from white flour, as well as most dairy products are just a few foods to be avoided.
Tips for Preventing Acne Scars
Acne scars develop when the dermis has been damaged.
Under most circumstances acne scars are entirely avoidable, but you need to stay vigilant and follow a few important rules to make sure you don’t aggravate the situation and turn a typical inflammation into a scar that will serve as a lifelong reminder of a pimple you might have had a decade prior.
The only time an acne scar might be unavoidable is if you suffer from cystic acne, when a particularly intense inflammation is so deep and severe that scarring afterward is pretty much inevitable..
Fortunately, however, cystic acne, the most severe and uncomfortable variation of the condition, is also the rarest form of acne, often stemming from hormonal imbalances that primarily tends to affect post-adolescent women in their early twenties to late forties.
Don’t Pop Your Pimples
Yes, it’s tempting, but dermatologists warn that picking at or popping your pimples is the worst thing you can possibly do so far as combating acne is concerned. It may cause your inflammation to bleed, become infected, worsen the initial inflammation and clog surrounding pores, leading to even more blemishes. Most disconcerting, however, is that it can leave you with a permanent acne scar. Yes, permanent.
In fact, this is how most acne scars develop. With the exception of severe cystic acne, where the inflammation runs so deep into the dermis it leaves a scar afterward, acne scars can be avoided. Given how difficult they are to remove, the best medicine is to avoid getting them in the first place. Which means no picking or popping. While in extreme instances a dermatologist can safely and professionally pop a blemish for you, doing it yourself with your hands is asking for trouble.
What happens when you squeeze an acne lesion is you force bacteria, debris and dead skin deeper into the problem follicle that created the inflammation. If that follicle ruptures, then the infected debris spreads into the dermis. Essentially, once inflammation gets trapped in the dermis, more white blood cells rush to the area and cause more inflammation. The inflammation worsens to the point where once the skin begins to heal itself, it leaves a scar behind.
Inflammation is the greatest single cause of acne scars. Acne scars typically develop from an inflamed lesion, such as a pimple, cyst or pustule. The inflamed follicle (or pore) is overwhelmed with excess oil, dead skin cells, and p.agnes bacteria, causing it to swell and break the follicle wall. The infected debris then leaks out into the dermis and destroys healthy skin tissue. The deeper and greater the inflammation, the more likely it is to leave a scar when the body forms new collagen fibres and tries to heal itself.
Given the larger and more inflamed the blemish the more likely is it to leave a scar, it’s important to try and reduce inflammation as much as possible by not doing anything that could further irritate the skin. This is one of the reasons why you don’t want to scrub too hard when washing your face or use any harsh skincare products when cleaning or attending to the blemish.
By being careful not to irritate the inflammation in any way, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be able to avoid scarring altogether..
How to Clear Acne Once it Starts
Sometimes, no matter what steps you take and how hard you try to prevent them, acne flare-ups are going to happen. There’s still no cure for acne, after all. But there are many things you can do to minimize the discomfort and visibility of the resulting blemishes nonetheless, ranging from simple at-home topical solutions to RX medications to professional treatments performed by dermatologists in cases of severe cystic acne.
There are different kinds of acne and different catalysts that stimulate breakouts. For example, non-inflammatory acne, as characterized by whiteheads and blackheads, is typically less severe than inflammatory acne that results in cysts or nodules, and as such is easier to treat with less intense topical solutions like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids.
The following are a few solutions dermatologists recommend to treat the most common types of acne breakouts..
- Topical creams and lotions: In many cases over-the-counter creams, gels, moisturizers and toners with an active ingredient like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid will effectively treat non-inflammatory acne blemishes like blackheads and whiteheads. For more severe outbreaks, dermatologists may prescribe topical lotions with a more intense concentration of these active ingredients, often in combination with a retinoid like tretinoin that helps to unclog the pores and enable these medications to function more efficiently.
- Tea tree oil: Another topical remedy many people prefer to treat acne flare-ups is this pure essential oil. Studies have shown tea tree oil to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of mild to moderate acne, except it’s a natural product with none of the potential side effects some people experience with the OTC and RX creams containing the medication.
- Eat well: The healthier you are in general, the better your body can defend itself from inflammations like acne. Lifestyle does play a role in stimulating (or combating) acne flare-ups and diet, of course, hugely influences the state of one’s basic health. So in addition to eating a well-balanced, ideally plant-based diet that is low-glycemic and free of the refined carbs that cause blood sugar spikes, there are other lifestyle factors that may hasten the healing of mild to moderate non-inflammatory acne as well.
- Basic health: Consider limiting your exposure to the sun, reduce your stress levels, stay well-hydrated, and try to get a proper night’s rest every night. While none of these things will remove your acne blemishes on their own, taken together a healthy body will work to limit the frequency and duration of your acne flare-ups.
- More severe incidences of inflammatory acne that results in deep papules, nodules and painful cysts typically require the attention of a doctor or dermatologist for proper treatment. For cases of cystic acne, whether the root cause be hormonal or not, doctors will often prescribe an antibiotic such as tetracycline, doxycycline, and amoxicillin to treat the outbreak. Depending on how well patients respond to antibiotic treatment, should the inflammations remain, other, more intense measures to remove them can be taken as well, including topical corticosteroids or steroid injections, systemic retinoids like isotretinoin, chemical peels or certain in-office procedures like laser or light therapy.
- In the case of hormonal acne, which is typically cystic and leaves large, unsightly, often painful inflammations, dermatologists might recommend patients [who are usually female] begin a regimen of oral contraceptives to better balance the production of the acne-causing androgen hormones responsible for the flare-up, or even draining and extracting the large, often painful cysts that accompany this type of acne
Acne scars are notoriously difficult to remove, and in most cases require the services of a dermatologist and potentially expensive procedures to reduce their visibility. Hence, the best way to treat an acne scar is not to get one in the first place. For most acne sufferers, doing so is simply a matter of self-discipline and resisting the temptation to pop or pick at their blemishes when they do flare-up.
While there’s still no cure for acne, regardless of the specific variety of the condition, there are still many ways to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of outbreaks. Some methods and procedures are more intense and demanding than others, just as some types of acne are more compromising and difficult to treat than other varieties of the condition.
For those prone to adult acne breakouts, adopting a healthy lifestyle and following the suggestions outlined above could potentially make a significant difference towards curbing the condition and improving their overall skin health in general.
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- Whitney P. Bowe, Smita S. Joshi, Alan R. Shalita. Diet and acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 63, Issue 1, 2010, Pages 124-141, ISSN 0190-9622.