Understand and Treat Acne


Understanding Acne

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that about 50 million Americans suffer from acne at any one time. Acne signs can vary and include: blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, cysts, and nodules. Acne symptoms include dark spots, scarring, low self-esteem, and even depression.


Acne can occur at any age within any race. Newborn babies to adults in their 60’s can even have acne. But acne is most common in teenagers and young adults. The Mayo Clinic outlines the 4 main causes of acne:

  1. Oil production  

  2. Dead skin cells

  3. Clogged pores

  4. Bacteria


Acne occurs when hair follicles are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne is more common on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders because these areas have the most oil glands. Hair follicles are connected to the oil glands that secrete sebum (oil) to lubricate the hair and skin. When the body produces excess oil and dead skin cells, they build up in the pore and create the perfect environment for bacteria. This bacteria causes inflammation and the follicle wall to bulge creating a whitehead or blackhead. A blackhead is not dirt- it is oil and bacteria that is exposed to oxygen, which causes it to oxidize.


Triggers can vary and include:

  • Hormones – Hormonal changes can enlarge oil glands and produce more oil. These fluctuations are seen during puberty and pregnancy.

  • Medications – Drugs containing corticosteroids, androgens, lithium, and some oral contraceptives.

  • Diet – There is not enough scientific research to link certain foods to acne but studies show that dairy and carb-rich foods may trigger acne.

  • Stress – Stress irritates acne because of hormone fluctuations, increase in blood flow, and a lowered immune response.

  • Inappropriate skin care – Comedogenic lotions, creams, and aggressive scrubs.

  • Friction or skin pressure – Cell phones, backpacks, tight clothing, and helmets can all contribute to triggering breakouts.


Treating Acne

Because acne can be considered a chronic condition, skin therapists need to emphasize their role in long-term acne treatment. The goal of acne treatment is to reduce oil, speed up cell turnover, fight bacteria, and reduce inflammation. Be sure to know the prescribed medications available such as:

  • Retinol - A derivative of Vitamin A that helps prevent clogged hair follicles.

  • Antibiotics - Such as erythromycin. They kill bacteria and reduce redness. Most effective when used with a topical retinol.

  • Isotretinoin - Commonly known as Accutane, is prescribed for the most severe cases of acne. It has very serious side effects and individuals on this medication have to be closely monitored by a doctor.

So how do we help our clients reach their long-term goal of controlling their acne? Ask questions and know your ingredients! Don’t recommend additional Vitamin A, benzoyl peroxide, or acids if your client is using an oral and topical retinol. Suggest healing products such as hyaluronic acid and sulfur.  Hyaluronic acid restores a compromised lipid barrier and helps fill shallow acne scars. Sulfur draws oil out of pores, removes excess shine, and heals existing breakouts. Clients on Accutane must avoid exfoliation, extractions, and waxing during their course of treatment. A soothing, hydrating facial of 30 minutes or less can ease dryness and irritation but they should get clearance from their prescribing doctor before they being any skin care or spa service.

Esthetic therapies effective for acne treatment include:

  • Light therapy - Blue light therapy specifically targets bacteria that causes inflammation and swelling.

  • Chemical Peels - Note that chemical peels are contraindicated for clients taking an oral retinol and using Isotretinoin (Accutane).

  • Extractions – Ideal for removing whiteheads and blackheads to help prevent deep pimples. Again, contraindicated for clients using Isotretinoin (Accutane).


Common Acne Myths

Accurate information can be scarce regarding acne so it is necessary to stay informed and keep clients above the common myths to treat acne such as:

  • Myth #1: You should wash your face more often – Yes, washing helps to reduce dirt and oil but over washing can cause dryness and irritation.

  • Myth #2: Using toothpaste to spot treat acne – Toothpaste dries out and irritates skin and can even lead to redness and peeling.

  • Myth #3: The sun or tanning beds clear up acne - Sun exposure can temporarily mask acne, but drying out the skin and exposing it to UV rays will lead to future breakouts, sun damage, and premature aging.


Remember to never make false promises, and despite some claims, acne doesn’t go away overnight. It can take months to years for acne to clear up. Education, patience, and consistency is the key to long-term acne therapy.







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