Although acne is most common for teens or young adults it is completely normal for adults to experience acne as well. If you are struggling with adult acne or acne at any age it may be comforting to know that you are certainly not alone. I am a certified Esthetician and I specialize in acne. Having struggled with acne myself I am extremely passionate about helping others who have acne-prone skin, by sharing the knowledge I have on the topic.
What is Acne?
There are so many theories out there on what causes acne. The main thing you should know is that acne stems from the genetic condition known as retention hyperkeratosis. This is where the skin has an accelerated cellular turnover rate meaning the skin is shedding 5-20 times faster than normal. These dead skin cells are unable to shed off the surface of the skin quickly enough, and the excess dead skin ends up clogging the pores. Once the pore is clogged it is cut off from oxygen which creates the perfect anaerobic environment for bacteria to grow. This bacteria feeds off of the skin’s natural oil known as sebum and forms a breakout.
There are two types of acne; non-inflamed and inflamed. Non-inflamed acne consists of comedones, whiteheads, and blackheads. Inflamed acne can consist of papules, pustules, nodules, and even cysts. It is possible to experience one or both of the types which would be known as combination acne. There are several levels of acne consisting of mild, moderate, and severe levels. If you have severe acne it is best to seek help from a professional Esthetician or Dermatologist.
Although acne is first and foremost caused by having the genetic trait there are many factors that play a role in having acne; both internal and external. To effectively treat acne (there is no cure) it is best to address all possible factors. In this blog, I will only be focusing on skincare as it relates to treating acne.
Avoid Pore Clogging Ingredients
There are endless skincare products in stores and online that claim to help treat acne and that actually clog pores further. If you have acne-prone skin I encourage you to be aware of which ingredients are pore-clogging, I recommend taking a look at this list of pore-clogging ingredients to see if your skincare contains some of these. You not only want to avoid these ingredients in your skincare but in your makeup, hair, and laundry products as well.
Please note that even if a product claims that it is non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging) on the packaging, this does not mean it is safe. There are no real regulations around using that term. It is best to take the time to read product labels and reference a pore-clogging list. Also, even if ingredients are natural this does not mean they will not clog your pores. For example, coconut oil and shea butter are some of the most pore-clogging ingredients.
Regular Exfoliation to Help Treat Acne
Since the cause of acne is an accelerated skin cell turnover rate, regular exfoliation is key in the treatment of acne, whether it is inflamed or non-inflamed. Exfoliating helps to rid the skin’s surface of the excess dead skin before it is able to clog the pores. Chemical exfoliation is best, especially when it comes to inflamed acne. I highly recommend mandelic acid; it is gentler than other acids, reduces inflammation, and helps to kill bacteria.
Salicylic is a good option as well, particularly if you have oily skin because it reduces oil. For non-inflamed acne, I recommend glycolic acid because it is the fastest acting. Physical exfoliation like a fine scrub can also be helpful for non-inflamed acne but should not be used on inflamed acne as abrasion will further inflame the breakouts and can spread the bacteria.
Benzoyl Peroxide and Acne
If you struggle with acne chances are you have heard of benzoyl peroxide. It is an extremely common treatment for acne, recommended by dermatologists. I personally love the ingredients but do not feel it is all you need. Benzoyl peroxide works by oxygenating the pores. This is very helpful because as I mentioned before the clogged pore has no oxygen and therefore allows bacteria to grow and causes a blemish. If we force oxygen down into the pores it is forcing everything inside the pore out. This means you may experience increased breakouts at first as it will clean anything and everything out of your skin and bring it to the surface.
The most common mistake in using Benzoyl Peroxide is that we are often told to use it too fast. It is a very strong ingredient and can easily cause dryness and irritation. I recommend that my clients start out by using Benzoyl Peroxide like a mask at first. For the first few days apply it for only 15 minutes at a time and rinse off. Slowly increase the amount of time you wear the Benzoyl Peroxide and this will allow your skin to acclimate until you are able to wear it overnight. Another common mistake is applying it as a spot treatment only.
In order to clear out the gunk under the skin that we cannot see, we must apply the Benzoyl Peroxide to the entire face (or acne-prone area) to prevent future breakouts as well.
Yes you Still Need to Moisturize
One of the most common things I have heard from my acne-prone clients is that they do not use a moisturizer because they fear it will make them oilier and increase breakouts. If you choose a moisturizer that is free of pore-cloggers you will be safe. It is important to moisturize your skin while treating your acne with active ingredients like chemical acids and benzoyl peroxide because it keeps the skin barrier intact and moisturized, which will help to balance your skin overall. Even if you have oily skin, you should be using at least a lightweight moisturizer to ensure your skin is not oily simply from overcompensating its dryness by producing excess oil. Hyaluronic acid is a great choice to add extra hydration to the skin and has a very light feel on the skin as well.
Hands Off & Don’t Pick!
As an acne sufferer, one of the hardest things for me was to keep my hands off of my face. It is so tempting to touch your skin when it has an uneven texture, you may even do it subconsciously. There are also those of us who do it entirely consciously as we plop ourselves in front of a mirror and go to town popping anything and everything on our skin! I know it is hard and takes discipline but nothing good comes out of touching or extracting your acne. It spreads bacteria, increases inflammation, and leaves behind scarring.
Instead, find an Esthetician that you can trust to do extractions for you or simply just wait for the blemishes to clear on their own. If you have a juicy whitehead or pustule that you just can’t stand to leave alone, then please at least make sure your hands and skin are clean and wrap your fingers in tissue before going in. Also, be sure to clean the area afterward. You have to know when to stop and when to not even start at all. Nodules and cysts are acne that resides underneath the skin. They are deep, red, and painful. You will not be able to extract these and will only cause further damage to the pore and can even rupture the pore’s walls and spread the infection further underneath the skin. Believe me, it’s just not worth it.
Know that my heart goes out to you if you are struggling with this frustrating condition. There is so much more to know when it comes to treating acne and overall treatment can vary for everyone. Stay tuned for more content around acne and what you can do to treat both the internal and external factors. You can also connect with a Pomp Esthetician so they can help create a personalized skincare regimen that is safe and effective for treating your acne!