What’s the Best Way to Treat Acne?

Profile of woman's face showing before and after acne treatment

Are you bothered by frequent breakouts? Have you tried to get rid of them with no success? Not sure what to do next?

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.

Acne is one of the most common and most frustrating of all skin conditions, affecting at least 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30. And while it occurs most frequently in teens and young adults, it can happen at any age. 

At Cayce Dermatology, we’ve helped many patients overcome the effects of acne and acne scarring. We develop a personalized treatment plan based on your age, the type and severity of your acne and other unique factors. 

Possible treatments include over-the-counter and prescription-strength topical and oral medications. There are also many simple things you can do to prevent or minimize breakouts. Let’s go over some of the basics of acne and what causes it, along with some of the most common treatments available. 

What Is Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when our pores become clogged by sebum, bacteria, dead skin cells or hair. There are many different types of acne pimples that may appear on your skin.

  • Blackheads are darkened areas filled with excess oil and dead skin. 
  • Whiteheads are raised bumps that remain closed by oil or dead skin. 
  • Papules are small red or pink bumps caused by inflammation. 
  • Pustules contain pus and are often surrounded by redness around the affected area. 
  • Nodules are hard, solid pimples deep in the skin. They are often large and painful. 

Although acne can occur anywhere on the body, the most commonly affected areas are the face, forehead, chest, shoulders and upper back. Any of the following factors may contribute to frequent breakouts: 

  • Genetics
  • Androgen hormones, which become more active during the teen and young adult years
  • Stress, which increases production of the hormone cortisol
  • Fluctuating hormones just before your period
  • Picking or scratching existing blemishes
  • Irritating clothing or headgear, such as hats or helmets, rubbing against the skin
  • Humid weather or air pollution
  • Oily or greasy personal care products
  • Side effects of some medications

Topical Acne Treatments

Acne treatments may include topical or oral medications. Topical treatment options are designed to work on different potential causes of acne. For example, benzoyl peroxide treats bacteria, while retinoids reduce oiliness. In some cases your dermatologist may recommend combining treatments to address more than one cause. 

Here are some of the most commonly used topical acne treatments. Cayce Med Spa offers a variety of medical grade skin care products which penetrate deep layers of your skin. 

  • Benzoyl peroxide is available over-the-counter, most often as either a wash or leave-on gel. It targets surface bacteria and may cause dryness as a side effect.  
  • Salicylic acid is available over-the-counter as either a cleanser or lotion. It helps remove the top layer of damaged skin and dissolves dead cells to prevent them from clogging your pores. 
  • Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring substance often found in grain products such as barley, wheat or rye. It kills microorganisms and reduces swelling when applied to affected skin. 
  • Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A and come in over-the-counter or prescription strength. They break up blackheads and whiteheads and help you avoid clogged pores. They are effective for most patients but may cause irritation. Because they increase your risk of sunburn, retinoids should only be applied at night. 
  • Topical antibiotics include clindamycin and erythromycin. They help you control surface bacteria and are most effective when combined with benzoyl peroxide. These products may also help reduce redness and irritation. 
  • Dapzone is a topical gel with antibacterial properties that can help ease inflammation. It works best when applied to the skin twice a day. 

Oral Acne Treatments

In some cases your dermatologist may prescribe oral medications to help control your acne. These may also be used alongside common topical treatments.

Antibiotics commonly used to treat acne include tetracyclines such as minocycline or doxycycline, or a microlide such as erythromycin or azithromycin. These medications are often used alongside topical benzoyl peroxide. Antibiotics may increase sun sensitivity and should be used for the shortest time possible to avoid resistance. 

Isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and may be effective for those whose acne has not responded to other treatments. Possible side effects may include inflammatory bowel disease, depression and birth defects. It should not be taken during pregnancy, and patients must participate in an FDA-approved risk management program to avoid side effects. 

Using Acne Medications Correctly

Most effective acne treatments take between 4 to 6 weeks before you begin to see results. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you wait at least that long before trying another option. Switching treatments frequently may reduce effectiveness. You should also continue your treatment regimen after your skin begins to clear. Consistency will help reduce the risk of future breakouts.  

Using products correctly makes a big difference, so be sure to read all directions and follow them carefully. The directions will include important information such as how much of the product to use and how often to use it.  

If you are using topical treatments, apply them to the entire area of acne-prone skin, not just to blemishes. This is important for keeping your skin healthy and reducing the risk of future breakouts. 

Other Self-Care Tips

In addition to the many treatment options available, keeping your skin clean and other important habits can reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts.

Most people know that washing your face is important, but overdoing it can be just as bad as not washing at all. Washing too often, or scrubbing too aggressively, can cause irritation that makes your acne worse. Three times to wash your face are in the morning, in the evening before bedtime and after sweating. Wash acne-prone skin with warm water and a gentle cleanser. Be gentle if you need to shave affected skin. 

Choose skin care products and cosmetics carefully. Look for water-based, oil-free products that are noncomedogenic, which means they won’t clog pores. Choose an oil-free sunscreen to reduce the risk of sunburn while also avoiding breakouts. Remember that some acne medications may increase the risk of sun damage, so it’s a good idea to stay in the shade during the middle of the day when ultraviolet rays are the strongest. 

Avoid touching acne-prone areas as much as possible. Touching, scratching and picking at blemishes increases breakouts, slows the healing process and increases the risk of scarring. You should also avoid direct contact with items such as phones, helmets, collars, straps and backpacks as much as possible. 

When to See a Dermatologist

If you’ve been unable to get rid of your acne through at-home care or by using over-the-counter treatments on your own, schedule an appointment with Cayce Dermatology. Your dermatologist will examine your skin and recommend a personalized treatment plan specifically tailored to your needs. We also offer treatments to reduce the appearance of acne scars to reveal the beautiful, clear skin underneath.

If you’d like to schedule a consultation, please call us at 573-234-1000 or reach out to us online at any time