Most people are no stranger to acne. It’s the most common skin condition in the United States. According to the Academy of Dermatology, mild to moderate acne affects between 40 and 50 million Americans annually. While acne usually begins in puberty and affects about 90% of teenagers, it is not restricted to any age group. In fact, clinical studies indicate that between 40 and 55% of the adult population age 20 to 40 years old are diagnosed with low grade, persistent acne and oily skin. The good news is this: Acne is not incurable and there are many great treatments for it.

Here at Sheperd Integrative Dermatology, we’ve helped hundreds of patients in their fight to control breakouts, and our providers understand just how frustrating acne can be for a patient. I know firsthand how much breakouts can impact a person’s life, leading to heightened self-consciousness and minimal self-confidence. Unfortunately, many individuals don’t realize that they are treating their acne at home incorrectly and simply prolonging, and sometimes feeding, the vicious cycle of breakouts. To help you better understand the main causes of acne, how it can present, and how to fight it, we’ve put together this informative guide with the help of our very own, Dr. McLean Sheperd.

What’s Causing Your Acne?

Acne is most commonly linked to the effects of male hormones or androgens in the body, which control excretion from the oil-producing sebaceous glands in the skin. This is one of the reasons why acne is often associated with teenage years; the hormonal shifts in early adulthood often cause significant changes in the production of oil or sebum resulting in blocked skin follicles. However, acne can become an issue at any point of your life. In women, progesterone levels spike before menstruation, which can stimulate increased production of sebum and result in breakouts. Acne may also flare up in women during menopause due to low levels of estrogen.

It’s important to note that the root cause of your acne doesn’t have to be hormone related. There’s a possibility it can stem from food sensitivities, most commonly to dairy or wheat. Food sensitivities can develop at any stage of your life, particularly during high psychological stress. The stress response can disturb gut microbiota and break down the intestinal barrier, allowing substances to leak into the bloodstream. This promotes an inflammatory response throughout the body, which has direct effects on the skin. Make sure to check out my two blogs, “The Brain-Skin Connection: A Holistic View of Skin Health” and “How a Healthy Gut Microbiome is Essential for Healthy Skin” if you’re interested in learning more!

Acne can be broken down into six different categories:

  • Blackheads and Whiteheads: Also called comedonal acne, this is the mildest form of acne that presents in small pimples with either black or white tips (comedones). A common misconception with blackheads is that the dark coloration is due to dirt, when the real culprit is oxidation of the upper layers of the pore plug. This can be difficult for some patients, because they feel even more self-conscious as they mistakenly associate the blackheads with dirty skin.
  • Papules: This type of acne is associated with red, inflamed bumps. The inflammation can lead to acne scarring, which makes it important to treat if the acne is present on a large portion of the skin.
  • Pustules, Nodules and Cysts: These are the most severe types of acne, and can result in deep scarring if left untreated. Cystic acne is perhaps the most difficult to treat, as the cysts and the bacteria are located deep under the skin, where topical medication often cannot penetrate.

How to Treat Your Acne

Treatment must be carefully planned, based on the patient’s unique situation. People suffering from acne often don’t understand that it doesn’t have much to do with hygiene or how often they wash their skin. The hormonal fluctuations are the real culprit. This leads many to exacerbate the problem by washing with harsh ingredients and scrubbing the skin too much, which leads to inflammation, skin irritation and damage. For best outcomes, it’s vital to design a treatment plan that focuses on the root cause of the problem. The goal of Sheperd Integrative Dermatology providers is to help each patient achieve clear skin and reduce chances of future breakouts. Our objective is to get the patient clear, as opposed to some percentage of clear.

  • Oral Antibiotics for Acne: In some cases, topical antibiotics are just not enough, and oral antibiotics may be required to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. Acne-causing bacteria flourish on the oil produced by the sebaceous glands. The bacteria break down the oil into irritating substances, which lead to inflammation. Therefore, by killing the bacteria, antibiotics also reduce inflammation and the probability of scarring.
  • Light and Laser Acne Therapies: In some situations, light-based therapy can also be used to cure acne. The goal is to focus on targeting acne-causing bacteria with different types of light. One of the benefits of such treatments is that they can be performed in addition to using topical medication, but are also a great alternative for individuals whose skin is too sensitive for retinoids or antibiotics.

It’s Time to Clear Acne for Good

If you’re struggling with acne, there’s no need to go it alone. The highly trained providers at Sheperd Integrative Dermatology in Mt. Pleasant, SC will take the time to understand your unique situation and create a customized treatment plan just for you. Stop by our office or give us a call at 843-216-3530 to take the first step towards clear, healthy skin.