Clean and Clear your Complexion

Acne is a disorder of the sebaceous glands that leads to the production of extra sebum.

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2010, 22:03 PM IST

New Delhi: Conventional wisdom has always associated pimples with teenagers but with the rising incidence of acne among older women this perception has now begun to change. Acne is striking professional women at an alarming rate and it is about time we started taking it seriously. New medical findings offer a better understanding of acne and provide better solutions for a clear skin. There are many over the counter products available, which women can use to deal with their acne woes. There are also some nice and simple home remedies.
What is Acne?

Acne is a disorder of the sebaceous glands that leads to the production of extra sebum – the thick oily substance that acts as a lubricant. This overproduction results in blocked pores and outbreaks of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads or simply blemishes. There are two kinds of acne – vulgaris and cystic. The most common is acne vulgaris, which occurs on your face, neck, back, chest and shoulders. Cystic acne appears as painful cysts or firm, painless lumps. Although acne poses no serious threat to your health, in some cases it can cause scarring, loss of self esteem and depression.

What causes it?

Bacteria, clogged pores, chocolates and oily foods have all been blamed as the culprit, but new findings have proven that it is our fluctuating hormone levels that are actually responsible. The fluctuation happens mostly during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and during the perimenopausal period. Birth-control pills also enhance sebum production.

The most important hormone in this process is a by product of Testosterone called DHT that is produced in both men and women of all ages. Says Dr. Aman Sharma, Dermatologist, New Delhi, “Acne results when your sebaceous glands become sensitive to the male sex hormones. Incidentally, these hormones are present in both men and women. The sensitivity to male sex hormones triggers more oil production and this, together with the build up of dead skin cells blocking your hair follicles, results in either blackheads or when, bacteria are present and the spots become inflamed, in red or yellow pustules”.

Acne can also be related to insulin resistance and even genetics might be responsible. Acne mainly affects teenagers during puberty but 50 % of adult women 30 years of age or older also suffer from acne.

How is it treated?

Pharmacy shelves are overflowing with acne remedies promoted by celebrities. Almost all over the counter acne treatments work by opening up pores, killing bacteria and reducing inflammation. More persistent cases will respond to either antibiotic creams or lotions or oral antibiotics or a combination of both.

Treatment may either be topical (employing creams or lotions for local application) or systemic (employing oral medication).

Topical treatment (in less severe disease) includes retinoid (tretinoin) and antibiotic creams, Benzoyl Peroxide (in creams, gels and lotions) and a range of combination products.

Systemic treatment (in more severe disease) includes oral antibiotics, isotretinoin and oral contraceptives (In cases where these can be used).

Dermatologists also employ several procedures to treat acne. There are a wide variety of treatment procedures available and many of these are very effective. Some of the common ones are:

•Surgical extraction or ‘acne surgery’ - Involves drainage and extraction of large cysts not responding to medication. This lessens pain and also reduces the chances of scarring.

Chemical peeling (employing agents known as chemical peels) - Refers to the removal of the top, dead layer of the skin. This results in the exposure of the underlying younger and smoother layer.

•Laser treatment - Targets follicle sacs, oil producing sebaceous glands as also bacteria responsible for infection.

•Photodynamic therapy - Employs red and intense violet light to treat acne.

Of these, chemical peels and laser treatments are being increasingly used for treating acne. Chemical peels, in particular have been shown to be very effective. As far as treating acne outbreaks is concerned, chemical peeling is increasingly being recognized as one of the best methods.

Says Dr. Ramanjeet Singh, Dermatologist, Gurgaon, “Chemical peels are very effective. Peeling not only helps treat acne but also makes your skin look youthful. As it involves the removal of the top layer of skin, it helps deal with scars visibly improved. It is very important to remember, however that procedures like chemical peeling are highly specialized and require the services of a trained dermatologist. Factors like the oil levels of your skin, skin pigmentation and the severity of the scars need to be taken into consideration before treatment is begun”.

Chemical peels also offer a significant cost advantage. At a fraction of the cost of other procedures, chemical peeling is completely affordable.

Alternate treatment options

•The redness and inflammation can be reduced with the simple application of ice cubes. Hold it to the affected area at least two times a day.

•Tea tree oil is believed to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide solution that discourages infection and speeds up healing. Another option is to give yourself a steam treatment infused with tree oil.

•Some of the effective folk remedies include vinegar and lemon juice as they contain acids that can flush out pores.

•Try applying powdered nutmeg mixed with honey. Leave it for half an hour and then wash it off. Honey is an antiseptic and nutmeg is a good cleanser that calms the inflamed skin by clearing excess oil.

•Consider aloe vera which is another very effective healer.

•People with acne are usually low in zinc so enrich your diet with zinc or supplements.

Preventive measures

•Keep your skin free from dirt and excess oil but don`t over clean which may again trigger the sebaceous glands to generate more oil.

•Enrich your food with protein and go low on fats, carbohydrates and sugar.

•Never squeeze or pick the affected parts

•Visit your dermatologist only when blemishes don`t respond to any of the treatments within three months.