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A Guide to Treating Mild Acne

Getting to the Root of the Problem continued...

Some research shows that for mild acne, combining a topical retinoid with an antimicrobial agent is more effective than using either agent alone.  

Topical medications come in different forms, including gels, lotions, and creams. Talk to your dermatologist to determine which type will be the best fit for your skin. Individuals with dry or sensitive skin may be better served by creams and lotions, while those with oil-prone complexions may benefit from gels.  

Most adult acne sufferers have dry skin, as opposed to oily-skinned teens, explains Farris, so creams and lotions can be less irritating than gels.

It's critical to the success of your treatment that you follow the prescribed instructions carefully. For example, you may only need to apply a pea-sized amount of your topical medication to your face. You should apply the topical treatment to the entire affected area, not only the lesions. Certain medications should only be applied at night.

Common procedures to improve the appearance of mild scars include microdermabrasion and chemical peels, which physically remold scars. As a byproduct, these can stimulate collagen secretion which can also improve scars. These procedures take away the surface dead skin cell layers, allowing your topical medications to penetrate more deeply and be more effective in treating acne.

There's No Quick Fix

You should set a realistic expectation for the time it takes to see improvements. Know that it takes approximately eight weeks for acne to develop, so therapy must be continued for at least this long for it to be effective.

"We don't have an easy cure for acne," says Wolf. "We can't give you a shot to make this go away in a couple of weeks. It's going to take time and cooperation."

It's important to discuss the time frame and management strategy with your doctor so that you can set realistic expectations as to when your acne should be under better control. Individuals respond differently to treatment, and it can take at least six weeks to see improvements. With retinoids, you usually see visible improvement after eight to 12 weeks of treatment.

The good news for individuals with mild acne is you don't have to live with it. Just keep in mind the following skin hygiene tips.

Skin Care Dos and Don'ts

  • Don't over-scrub. Scrubbing the skin too aggressively can aggravate acne. Avoid harsh soaps, toners, and astringents that can irritate and worsen sensitive skin, especially when you're on prescription medications. 
  • Don't pick. Picking is a surefire way to make a treatable problem worse, and it may exacerbate scarring.
  • Watch what you eat. For years, research had dismissed a connection between diet and acne, but now studies are again looking at the link between the two. Use a commonsense diet, says Wolf. If you notice certain foods aggravate your acne, avoid them.
  • Read labels. Choose cosmetics that are labeled non-comedogenic or oil-free. Check with your doctor about any products that may interfere with your recommended treatment.
Reviewed on April 12, 2011

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