What Are the Symptoms of Acne?
While the symptoms of acne vary in severity, you will notice these signs on areas of the body with the most oil glands (the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms):
- Clogged pores (pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads)
- Papules (raised lesions)
- Pustules (raised lesions with pus)
- Cysts (nodules filled with pus or fluid)
The least severe type of acne lesion is the whitehead or blackhead. This type is also the most easily treated. With more extensive acne, prescribed medications are often needed to reduce the inflammation, bacterial infection, redness, and pus.
What Is the Treatment for Acne?
The treatment usually depends on how serious the problem is. For instance, if you have an occasional inflamed pimple, you may use skin compounds containing:
- Retinoids (medications that come from vitamin A)
- Azelaic acid
- Lactic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Various fruit acids
- Benzoyl peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide reduces oil production and has antibacterial properties. But use it carefully, as it might leave your skin dry and flaky. For most people, it should be used just before bedtime.
Resorcinol and sulfur, as well as prescription retinoids and antibiotics applied to skin, can reduce blackheads, whiteheads, and inflamed pustules.
When many pustules or cysts appear on the face and upper body, you'll need an oral antibiotic. Health care professionals also can inject cysts with anti-inflammatory steroid solutions to help decrease their size.
For persistent acne, antibiotics (taken by mouth or applied to the skin) are generally used. Some antibiotics have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These are often prescribed for short-term use (usually a few months).
Because acne is linked to hormones, some oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may help. But not all birth control pills stop acne, and some make acne worse.
Isotretinoin, a prescription medication you take orally, may help control severe acne, which is characterized by many large cysts on the face, neck, and upper trunk and severe scarring.
Pregnant women or women who might become pregnant cannot use this medication, as it is linked with birth defects. Isotretinoin can give people very dry skin, eye dryness, and irritation and requires blood tests to monitor for liver inflammation. It is also very expensive. So its use is restricted to the most severe cases for which other treatments have not worked.
Can I Prevent Acne?
There are some steps you can take to prevent acne. To prevent oily skin that can contribute to acne, keep your skin clean. Wash your face and neck twice daily with mild soap and warm water. But never scrub your face! That can irritate your skin and worsen acne.
When Should I Call My Doctor About Acne?
Whether you have a few pimples or more serious acne, talk to your primary health care provider about treatments. Treating acne early is the key to avoiding permanent scarring.