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A Guide to Treating Mild Acne

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WebMD Feature

The first signs of mild acne could be the appearance of a few red bumps around your mouth or chin. Perhaps you're going through a stressful period at work or have other demands knocking at your door. This can't be acne, you think. Acne is what teenagers get.

There's a lingering myth that acne only affects the teenage crowd. In fact, acne is the most common skin condition in the country, affecting an estimated 40 to 50 million Americans, and can cause anxiety and stress regardless of severity.

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Understanding acne and comparing acne treatment options can help you tackle the problem head-on and find a workable solution. While acne, commonly called acne vulgaris or acne rosacea, is not curable, it is treatable. Mild acne can be properly managed with the help of your dermatologist or doctor.

"A lot of patients are surprised to discover they have adult acne," says John E. Wolf Jr., MD, professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "The big myth is that acne is a childhood and teenage disease. Acne can be seen literally cradle to grave."

The Signs of Mild Acne

What does acne look like? The symptoms of adult acne can look vastly different than teenage acne. Take location, for instance. Instead of tiny bumps in the T-Zone, acne may be more likely to appear in the lower part of the face, especially around the mouth, jaw and neck.

Acne spots often appear in areas with the highest concentration of sebaceous glands, for example, the face, neck, upper back, and chest. Basically, pores become blocked, causing pimples, called papules and pustules, to form. Whiteheads (completely blocked pores) and blackheads (partially blocked pores) can trap a combination of oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells.  

There may be itching, pigmentation, or dry skin associated with adult acne, says Patricia Farris, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Metairie, La., and clinical associate professor in the department of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

There are a number of factors contributing to acne. For women, hormonal changes such as pregnancy and menopause can lead to breakouts. Stress may be a contributing factor, and acne can be triggered or aggravated by external factors, such as clothing or medications.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

If you've noticed any symptoms of acne, the first step is to set up an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist. There are a variety of treatments available today so you don't have to rely on expensive cover-ups.

Typically, mild acne is treated with topical medications such as benzoyl peroxide, salicyclic acid, or azelaic acid. Topical antibiotics such as erythromycin, metronidazole, or clindamycin may be used to treat mild inflammatory acne. Your dermatologist may prescribe retinoids, such as Retin-A, Differin, or Tazorac, which are derived from vitamin A, that help unplug follicles and have anti-inflammatory properties.   

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