Acne is often associated with the teenage years, but this common skin condition also affects adults well into their 30s and 40s. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 50 million Americans develop acne every year.
There are different types of acne, and breakouts can range from mild to severe. Fortunately, effective acne treatments are available. In this video San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Sophia Akhiyat, MD, a dermatologist at Scripps Clinic Liberty Station and Scripps Clinic Anderson Medical Pavilion, about acne causes and treatments.
Acne is a very common inflammatory skin condition. It ranges from mild to severe and usually affects the face, though it can appear on the jawline, neck, chest, back and shoulders as well.
Acne is typically a combination of overactive oil glands and a bacteria called cutibacterium acnes that mix with dead skin cells to clog pores and cause inflammation. Acne can appear as red bumps, blackheads and whiteheads, and sometimes deep cysts that can be painful.
Both teens and adults can develop acne. In the adolescent years, it is primarily caused by hormonal changes that increase oil production. Among people in their 30s and 40s, factors including genetics, biology, medications, environmental factors, and stress can contribute to potential acne flares.
Though acne doesn’t cause any serious health effects, it can be unsightly and negatively affect self-esteem. Deeper types of acne, such as nodule cysts, can result in irreversible scarring.
“Many people with acne feel self-conscious about their appearance, and it can absolutely have an impact on your self-esteem,” says Dr. Akhiyat. “In dermatology, you wear your disease for the world to see. Especially for the more severe, painful acne bumps that can scar, I would immediately seek care from a board certified dermatologist.”
There are many options when it comes to treating acne.
Though it can be tempting to try to treat acne pimples and blackheads by squeezing or popping them yourself, Dr. Akhiyat cautions against this as it can lead to infection and scarring. Warm compresses can help relieve discomfort if you have painful deep cysts, but the focus should be on getting treatment.
For mild acne, over-the-counter cleansers and creams that specifically treat acne may be enough; look for products that contain salicylic acid and follow the directions for use.
“Treatment requires consistent, daily use of your skincare regimen, and it typically takes about eight weeks to start noticing a difference,” says Dr. Akhiyat. “But I would say if you’re giving over-the- counter products a fair shot and don’t see benefit from consistent use, I would seek care from a dermatologist who can create a customized skincare routine for you.”
Stronger treatments are available by prescription, including topical products with retinol that treat acne and have anti-aging effects on the skin.
Oral prescription medications target acne-causing bacteria and help keep skin clear. There are also clinic-based treatments such as chemical peels, light-based treatments and laser therapy for more stubborn cases of acne.
Because acne has many potential causes, preventing it can be challenging. Dr. Akhiyat recommends eating a healthy diet and reducing sugar and processed foods.
“Acne is a very common condition, and it's never something that you should be embarrassed about,” she says. “It’s also a very treatable condition, so please don’t lose hope. See a board certified dermatologist to get treatment customized to your needs.”