Managing Acne Naturally

Acne, most commonly known as widespread pimples on the face, is one of the most common skin conditions – and between the sheer variety of types and the scale of severity it can occur on, treatment options have flooded both the skincare section of drugstores and the internet. Navigating the mess of marketing can be a headache, and finding out that common “fixes” don’t work for you can be both damaging and disheartening.

This information seeks to handle the basics – everything from who gets acne, to what kinds of acne there are (and how to identify them), to what might be causing it. Tempting as it might be to skip straight to the treatment section, settling down for a longer read will give you the tools you need to tackle your acne once and for all.

1. Who Gets Acne?

Acne is common – as many as eight out of ten teens experience it. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s become a normalized part of puberty. Just because it’s normalized, however, doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Problems with self image and peer perception continue, and many teens struggle to find a treatment option that actually does something.

With how common it is, treatments and even cures for acne would be expected, but because acne is caused by so many different things, most of the solutions available can’t work for everyone. The things that do work consistently are often drowned in a sea of branding, advertising, DIY hacks, and pseudo-scientific misinformation that would leave even the most educated spinning.

That mess of information trickles down to nothing when it comes to adult acne. For those who never “outgrew” their teenage acne, the struggle to find a fix becomes crushing; for those who escaped acne in their teenage years, only to develop it in adulthood, lack of information is bewildering. Unfortunately, reaching for common treatments can often make things worse instead of better.

It’s likely that everyone has experienced acne at some point in their life. The question is often, rather, how long it lasts, how severe the impact is, and what caused it.

Acne, most commonly known as widespread pimples on the face, is one of the most common skin conditions – and between the sheer variety of types and the scale of severity it can occur on, treatment options have flooded both the skincare section of drugstores and the internet. Navigating the mess of marketing can be a headache, and finding out that common “fixes” don’t work for you can be both damaging and disheartening.

This information seeks to handle the basics – everything from who gets acne, to what kinds of acne there are (and how to identify them), to what might be causing it. Tempting as it might be to skip straight to the treatment section, settling down for a longer read will give you the tools you need to tackle your acne once and for all.


1. Who Gets Acne?

Acne is common – as many as eight out of ten teens experience it. It’s so common, in fact, that it’s become a normalized part of puberty. Just because it’s normalized, however, doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Problems with self image and peer perception continue, and many teens struggle to find a treatment option that actually does something.

With how common it is, treatments and even cures for acne would be expected, but because acne is caused by so many different things, most of the solutions available can’t work for everyone. The things that do work consistently are often drowned in a sea of branding, advertising, DIY hacks, and pseudo-scientific misinformation that would leave even the most educated spinning.

That mess of information trickles down to nothing when it comes to adult acne. For those who never “outgrew” their teenage acne, the struggle to find a fix becomes crushing; for those who escaped acne in their teenage years, only to develop it in adulthood, lack of information is bewildering. Unfortunately, reaching for common treatments can often make things worse instead of better.

It’s likely that everyone has experienced acne at some point in their life. The question is often, rather, how long it lasts, how severe the impact is, and what caused it.

2. What Does It Look Like?

The two main kinds of acne are acne vulgaris, and nodular or cystic acne.

Acne vulgaris is the most common kind of acne. It’s the pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads most people are familiar with. While it may be consistent and last for a long time, it’s usually mild in severity.

Acne vulgaris can be either inflamed or noninflamed, though noninflamed is more common, and inflammation is usually mild with acne vulgaris. Both tend to be marked by oily skin. Inflamed acne looks inflamed (red and blotchy) and will usually feel hot to the touch and have a lot of whiteheads, blackheads, and other surface-level pustules and pimples.

While inflamed acne tends to be very sensitive to chemicals and cleaning products, noninflamed acne tends to be insensitive and unreactive. With uninflamed acne, the skin looks much duller, the number of pimples and other pustules is vastly reduced, and the skin is much more congested; someone with uninflamed acne will likely have a lot more oil to deal with.

Inflamed acne vulgaris, however, has the chance of developing into nodular or cystic acne. This kind of acne is set deeper into the skin and has a chance to leave scarring even after it’s gone away. Cysts will frequently (but not always) feel painful to the touch, and since they don’t sit on the surface of the skin like pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or other pustules, topical treatments won’t really affect them.

If cysts are present, it’s recommended that a dermatologist is seen. Most often, they point to an issue within the body rather than without, whether that be a hormonal imbalance or a sign of something more serious. Once they’re there, the scars themselves can’t really be treated, so it’s best to get cysts taken care of right away.

3. What are the Triggers?

Teenage acne is usually caused by the hormonal changes prompted by puberty. During this time, especially the early teenage years, an excess of androgen hormones prompts the glands surrounding the hair follicles around the face, called sebaceous glands, to produce more sebum, the oily substance most commonly associated with acne.

Sebum Production

Increased production of sebum, combined with the increased shedding of the hair follicle lining that also occurs during puberty, leads to more clumps, clogging, and a breeding ground for the bacteria Proprionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).

While this bacteria is found on everyone’s skin and plays a part in a healthy and acne-free face, a large buildup of the bacteria in a clogged pore will break down all of the sebum they naturally eat into fatty acids that may trigger the body’s immune response.

Stress

Stress is the other most common producer of acne. While scientists haven’t found conclusive and study-backed reasons for it, the sebaceous glands that produce sebum have stress hormone receptors on them. Since when under stress, the body produces an excess of many hormones including androgen, it makes sense that people are more prone to breakouts then.

Hand in hand with stress is both a lack of sleep and not enough exercise. Research has proven that sleeping more and exercising more both reduce stress; it comes as no surprise, then, that not getting enough of either can prompt the same sort of facial reaction that too much stress does. While missing a day or two of sleep might not be enough to cause you to break out, a poor sleep schedule might make your pimple problem worse – and going out for a jog every morning may help keep things in check.



Poor Diet

Another huge factor in the appearance and continuation of acne is diet. Obviously, eating greasy foods, getting your hands messy, and then touching your face can prompt more breakouts. It’s common for people to experience acne after eating (or stress-eating) chocolate, too.

Wider research, though, has suggested that eating high-glycemic foods – junk foods – will make already present acne much worse. Strangely enough, dairy might make people more prone to breakouts, too; laying off the ice cream and cheese may be another option if acne is an issue.

More serious health issues might also be the cause. In women, if sudden outbreaks of acne are combined with irregular periods and the growth of unwanted facial hair, a possible underlying reason might be polycystic ovarian syndrome. While not always the case, it couldn’t hurt to speak with a dermatologist or doctor if problems are persistent.

Allergies

Another reason to see a dermatologist or doctor for persistent acne is the possibility of it being prompted by an allergen. Sometimes, the solution to an allergy may be something as simple as vacuuming the bedroom more regularly, switching your laundry detergent, and changing your pillow cases every other night.

However, persistent acne might mean a change in makeup, cleaning chemicals, foods, or medications. It’s important to explore these potential causes with a doctor and work with them to create a treatment plan.

In almost all cases, however, acne is far more than a “skin problem”. Acne is a symptom of something bigger going on in the body, whether it’s puberty, stress, allergies, or something else going wrong. Since that’s the case, it makes sense that simple topical treatments won’t always do the trick. A holistic approach will mean both a cleaner face and a healthier body.

4. How Can You Lessen it?

One of the most important things to remember when starting to treat your acne is to not slather random concoctions all over your face. With the rise of DIYs and YouTube tutorials, there are plenty of “household hacks” for acne – but they’re rarely made by medical professionals.

Things like vinegar and lemon juice, while safe for putting in your body, are too harsh for the face and can easily throw the bacteria there even more out of balance, causing more redness, swelling, irritation, and potentially making acne much worse instead of better.

Take Care with DIY Options

These DIY projects usually don’t discuss the kinds of acne and skin they’re meant for, either. As discussed above, the kind of acne and the reason for your acne are both vital for treatment that works.

As tempting as it is to go for a solution that promises instant or overnight results, both your face and your body will be much happier if you do your research, have a bit of patience, and make sure there aren’t other factors like stress causing breakouts.

Another thing to remember is that only certain kinds of acne respond well to harsher cleansing routines. A treatment meant to kill off the clusters of P. acnes or other bacteria that might be causing the outbreak may aggravate the skin more, prompting an even stronger reaction from your body.

Even if your acne responds well to the treatment, it’s common for it to come back as soon as you’ve stopped cleansing and exfoliating, as underlying issues haven’t been addressed.

Antibiotics

Topical antibiotics may also encounter issues; while they’re designed to specifically kill off the bacteria associated with acne, and therefore have a smaller chance of prompting the redness and swelling that may occur with harsher cleaners, their ability to penetrate the skin is limited, and the risk of developing strains of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics is also important to consider.

Oral antibiotics have the same issue, and both topical and oral antibiotics are meant to be short-term solutions, not long-term ones, as they don’t address the cause of the increased bacteria. If the bacteria are there because of some underlying reason, they’ll come back after your prescribed antibiotics are over.

What You Can Do

So what does work, then? The best place to start is with the basics – washing your face every morning with water and a mild cleanser. Be careful about using your fingers to scrub, as scratching your skin with bacteria under your nails could make acne issues worse.

Always make sure your hands are clean, and if you’re going to use a washcloth, make sure it’s soft and gentle. Be sure not to use a drying cleanser; this will strip your skin of healthy oils too, which may be helpful in specific circumstances but will throw off the pH of your face, making it harder for your skin to recover naturally.

A good moisturizer made for acne-prone faces might be a good investment, too, counterproductive though it may seem. Your face being too dry after cleansing will prompt the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, which can lead to more clogged pores; adding moisturizer, especially after using a harsher cleanser, will help keep things less out of balance.

While there are foundations available for acne-prone faces, sometimes the best solution involving makeup is to give your face a break whenever possible. If you’re in a position to ditch the makeup altogether for a while, give it a shot; if work or school or the severity of your acne prevents that, make sure you’re taking it off as soon as you’re home and leaving it off on your days off.

Not only will this give your skin a bit of a break, it’s a great chance for you to see if your makeup is causing your acne. If your skin clears up after a makeup break, be sure to switch your brands, your brushes, and consider talking to a doctor about longer-term solutions.

From there, a lot of the treatment options depend on what might be prompting your acne, and what kind of acne it is. Washing pillowcases, changing up your laundry detergent, switching to a healthier diet, washing your face regularly, exercising, and taking steps to actively reduce stress levels are all great ways to start your acne treatment.

If things don’t start clearing up after four weeks, though, it may be time to talk to a doctor or dermatologist to figure out what you might be missing, and to get recommendations for things you can do that will help you, specifically – and to make sure acne isn’t your body’s way of telling you something more serious is going on.

2. What Does It Look Like?

The two main kinds of acne are acne vulgaris, and nodular or cystic acne.

Acne vulgaris is the most common kind of acne. It’s the pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads most people are familiar with. While it may be consistent and last for a long time, it’s usually mild in severity.

Acne vulgaris can be either inflamed or noninflamed, though noninflamed is more common, and inflammation is usually mild with acne vulgaris. Both tend to be marked by oily skin. Inflamed acne looks inflamed (red and blotchy) and will usually feel hot to the touch and have a lot of whiteheads, blackheads, and other surface-level pustules and pimples.

While inflamed acne tends to be very sensitive to chemicals and cleaning products, noninflamed acne tends to be insensitive and unreactive. With uninflamed acne, the skin looks much duller, the number of pimples and other pustules is vastly reduced, and the skin is much more congested; someone with uninflamed acne will likely have a lot more oil to deal with.

Inflamed acne vulgaris, however, has the chance of developing into nodular or cystic acne. This kind of acne is set deeper into the skin and has a chance to leave scarring even after it’s gone away. Cysts will frequently (but not always) feel painful to the touch, and since they don’t sit on the surface of the skin like pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or other pustules, topical treatments won’t really affect them.

If cysts are present, it’s recommended that a dermatologist is seen. Most often, they point to an issue within the body rather than without, whether that be a hormonal imbalance or a sign of something more serious. Once they’re there, the scars themselves can’t really be treated, so it’s best to get cysts taken care of right away.

3. What are the Triggers?

Teenage acne is usually caused by the hormonal changes prompted by puberty. During this time, especially the early teenage years, an excess of androgen hormones prompts the glands surrounding the hair follicles around the face, called sebaceous glands, to produce more sebum, the oily substance most commonly associated with acne.

Sebum Production

Increased production of sebum, combined with the increased shedding of the hair follicle lining that also occurs during puberty, leads to more clumps, clogging, and a breeding ground for the bacteria Proprionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).

While this bacteria is found on everyone’s skin and plays a part in a healthy and acne-free face, a large buildup of the bacteria in a clogged pore will break down all of the sebum they naturally eat into fatty acids that may trigger the body’s immune response.

Stress

Stress is the other most common producer of acne. While scientists haven’t found conclusive and study-backed reasons for it, the sebaceous glands that produce sebum have stress hormone receptors on them. Since when under stress, the body produces an excess of many hormones including androgen, it makes sense that people are more prone to breakouts then.

Hand in hand with stress is both a lack of sleep and not enough exercise. Research has proven that sleeping more and exercising more both reduce stress; it comes as no surprise, then, that not getting enough of either can prompt the same sort of facial reaction that too much stress does. While missing a day or two of sleep might not be enough to cause you to break out, a poor sleep schedule might make your pimple problem worse – and going out for a jog every morning may help keep things in check.

Poor Diet

Another huge factor in the appearance and continuation of acne is diet. Obviously, eating greasy foods, getting your hands messy, and then touching your face can prompt more breakouts. It’s common for people to experience acne after eating (or stress-eating) chocolate, too.

Wider research, though, has suggested that eating high-glycemic foods – junk foods – will make already present acne much worse. Strangely enough, dairy might make people more prone to breakouts, too; laying off the ice cream and cheese may be another option if acne is an issue.

More serious health issues might also be the cause. In women, if sudden outbreaks of acne are combined with irregular periods and the growth of unwanted facial hair, a possible underlying reason might be polycystic ovarian syndrome. While not always the case, it couldn’t hurt to speak with a dermatologist or doctor if problems are persistent.

Allergies

Another reason to see a dermatologist or doctor for persistent acne is the possibility of it being prompted by an allergen. Sometimes, the solution to an allergy may be something as simple as vacuuming the bedroom more regularly, switching your laundry detergent, and changing your pillow cases every other night.

However, persistent acne might mean a change in makeup, cleaning chemicals, foods, or medications. It’s important to explore these potential causes with a doctor and work with them to create a treatment plan.

In almost all cases, however, acne is far more than a “skin problem”. Acne is a symptom of something bigger going on in the body, whether it’s puberty, stress, allergies, or something else going wrong. Since that’s the case, it makes sense that simple topical treatments won’t always do the trick. A holistic approach will mean both a cleaner face and a healthier body.

4. How Can You Lessen it?

One of the most important things to remember when starting to treat your acne is to not slather random concoctions all over your face. With the rise of DIYs and YouTube tutorials, there are plenty of “household hacks” for acne – but they’re rarely made by medical professionals.

Things like vinegar and lemon juice, while safe for putting in your body, are too harsh for the face and can easily throw the bacteria there even more out of balance, causing more redness, swelling, irritation, and potentially making acne much worse instead of better.

Take Care with DIY Options

These DIY projects usually don’t discuss the kinds of acne and skin they’re meant for, either. As discussed above, the kind of acne and the reason for your acne are both vital for treatment that works.

As tempting as it is to go for a solution that promises instant or overnight results, both your face and your body will be much happier if you do your research, have a bit of patience, and make sure there aren’t other factors like stress causing breakouts.

Another thing to remember is that only certain kinds of acne respond well to harsher cleansing routines. A treatment meant to kill off the clusters of P. acnes or other bacteria that might be causing the outbreak may aggravate the skin more, prompting an even stronger reaction from your body.

Even if your acne responds well to the treatment, it’s common for it to come back as soon as you’ve stopped cleansing and exfoliating, as underlying issues haven’t been addressed.

Antibiotics

Topical antibiotics may also encounter issues; while they’re designed to specifically kill off the bacteria associated with acne, and therefore have a smaller chance of prompting the redness and swelling that may occur with harsher cleaners, their ability to penetrate the skin is limited, and the risk of developing strains of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics is also important to consider.

Oral antibiotics have the same issue, and both topical and oral antibiotics are meant to be short-term solutions, not long-term ones, as they don’t address the cause of the increased bacteria. If the bacteria are there because of some underlying reason, they’ll come back after your prescribed antibiotics are over.

What You Can Do

So what does work, then? The best place to start is with the basics – washing your face every morning with water and a mild cleanser. Be careful about using your fingers to scrub, as scratching your skin with bacteria under your nails could make acne issues worse.

Always make sure your hands are clean, and if you’re going to use a washcloth, make sure it’s soft and gentle. Be sure not to use a drying cleanser; this will strip your skin of healthy oils too, which may be helpful in specific circumstances but will throw off the pH of your face, making it harder for your skin to recover naturally.

A good moisturizer made for acne-prone faces might be a good investment, too, counterproductive though it may seem. Your face being too dry after cleansing will prompt the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, which can lead to more clogged pores; adding moisturizer, especially after using a harsher cleanser, will help keep things less out of balance.

While there are foundations available for acne-prone faces, sometimes the best solution involving makeup is to give your face a break whenever possible. If you’re in a position to ditch the makeup altogether for a while, give it a shot; if work or school or the severity of your acne prevents that, make sure you’re taking it off as soon as you’re home and leaving it off on your days off.

Not only will this give your skin a bit of a break, it’s a great chance for you to see if your makeup is causing your acne. If your skin clears up after a makeup break, be sure to switch your brands, your brushes, and consider talking to a doctor about longer-term solutions.

From there, a lot of the treatment options depend on what might be prompting your acne, and what kind of acne it is. Washing pillowcases, changing up your laundry detergent, switching to a healthier diet, washing your face regularly, exercising, and taking steps to actively reduce stress levels are all great ways to start your acne treatment.

If things don’t start clearing up after four weeks, though, it may be time to talk to a doctor or dermatologist to figure out what you might be missing, and to get recommendations for things you can do that will help you, specifically – and to make sure acne isn’t your body’s way of telling you something more serious is going on.

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