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How to Deal With Acne

Acne develops when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin, dirt, and oils, often exacerbated by hormonal changes.

By Rumaisa Zulfeqar / Edited by Mehmet Mercan

Updated March 10, 2024

Acne is not a disease. However, it is a condition that includes the formation of pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads on the skin, mainly the face. Nearly 85% of people aged 12 to 24, and even some adults, are prone to acne (Yale Medicine). I am one of those people, and maybe you are too. It is nothing to be ashamed of, though it took me some time to understand. Now, buckle up your seatbelts because we're riding through my journey with acne!

It all started when I was in grade 6, and one of my classmates gave me a look and asked, "Why do you have those bumpy things on your forehead?" I ran to the washroom and bawled my eyes out, looking at those 'bumps' in the mirror and wondering, "God, why me? Am I not normal like all my other friends?" From this to aunties asking me if I ate too much oily food or maybe because I did an evil deed for which God was punishing me with pimples, I got all sorts of comments.

Their judgmental words, along with the reddening marks on my face, formed a voice inside my head, making me hate how I looked no matter what I did. I started covering up the acne with makeup, not knowing it would only make it worse. My mental health and my sense of self-love were declining. I did not feel comfortable in my skin (quite literally). Moreover, acne impacted my physical health too because I got too cautious about my diet, avoiding oily, too sweet, or any types of foods people told me of that led to acne. Socially, I stopped attending public gatherings because I did not want to hear comments about my appearance. However, isolating ourselves is not the solution to any problem. Sometimes, what people may consider funny could be someone's insecurity.

Over time, I realized I needed to escape this vicious cycle and do something about my situation. After several appointments with various dermatologists and some research, I finally found causes and ways to treat acne that may prove helpful to you, too. So, let's dig in!

Why does acne form?

Acne forms when the hair follicles on our skin get clogged by dead skin, dirt, and oils. The sebaceous gland secures the oily substance called sebum onto our skin to moisturize it. However, during puberty, hormonal fluctuation and increased androgen formation escalate sebum formation. Eventually, this leads to acne. Furthermore, hormonal changes during pregnancy or menstruation may trigger acne.

Factors that increase your risk of acne

1. An unhealthy diet
A diet incorporating large amounts of sugary foods, caffeine, fried foods, and dairy products- specifically skim milk can increase the risk of acne. It is better to stay hydrated and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Although avoiding oily foods is good for the skin, some oils like Omega-3 fatty acids help combat acne.

2. Stress
Stress hormones such as androgens and cortisol exacerbate oil production and acne (Brown). Exercise, yoga, or meditation can help manage stress.

3. Sleeping with makeup on
Sleeping with makeup on would trap the oil and dirt within the skin, which would lead to breakouts. Furthermore, comedogenic makeup products block pores. It is better to wash off makeup before going to bed daily and follow a night skincare routine (Hong).

4. Using dirty pillow covers
Pillowcases absorb not only your face oils but also retain dirt and bacteria. Using unwashed pillowcases would lead to irritation and inflammation of the skin. Changing pillow covers every few days and spraying them with anti-bacterial sprays is suggested. Silk or satin covers are smoother and do not irritate the skin (Paden).

5. Touching your face
Popping your pimples and touching your face introduces dirt and bacteria to the skin, worsening acne (Ghanem).

Medications to treat acne

Various oral and topical medications are used to treat acne. It is better to consult a dermatologist before using them. Moving on, the oral medicines based on these formulas are ideal for the skin:

1. Isotretinoin
It reduces the size of oil-releasing glands, which leads to acne. It is suitable for treating moderate to severe acne. However, it causes thinning of hair, poor eyesight, and skin dryness. Pregnant patients should avoid it (American Academy of Dermatology Association).

2. Antibiotics
Bacterial acne can be treated using doxycycline, minocycline, and tetracycline (Cleveland Clinic).

Topical acne medications including these ingredients would be beneficial to treat acne:

3. Benzoyl Peroxide
It kills acne-causing bacteria and prevents the clogging of pores. Ointments or gels containing a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide have proven to be less irritating (Yale Medicine).

4. Salicylic Acid
It dissolves dead and damaged skin cells, keeping the pores from getting blocked.

5. Azelaic Acid
This is available in gels or creams and grains such as wheat or barley. It reduces swelling and kills bacteria. It is safe to use for pregnant women, too.

Although maintaining healthy skin is a good habit, we should also understand that acne is a natural condition and nothing to be ashamed of. We should embrace ourselves while striving towards a healthier lifestyle.