The Art of Treating Acne

November 26, 2008 – 9:24 am

The Art of Treating Acne
From Teenagers to Baby Boomers

“I had beautiful skin as a teenager,” complains Karen Robinson*, a 43 year old grandmother. “I had nothing more than the occasional breakout. Now I am suffering with full blown acne. What’s going on with my skin? I hate it!” I reassured her that this is an extremely common complaint dermatologists and skin care specialists hear from busy executive women, peri-menopausal women (whose hormones are in flux), and women under stress from a busy lifestyle. After all, we are the women who make the world go ’round. Who isn’t feeling stressed? Acne is attributed to three main factors: microorganisms, hormones and inflammation. All types have one thing in common, an enlarged hair follicle plugged with oil and bacteria. Karen needed more than just reassurance that she was not alone. She needed a specific plan of action.

Whether you are an adult male, a peri-menopausal woman, or a teenager struggling with acne here are some effective topical treatments to try that are less invasive and don’t require a prescription:

1. Alpha-hydroxy acids (the fruit acids) work wonders on acne because they release the inter-cellular glue that holds dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and inside the follicle. Basically, they remove dead cell build up and loosen impactions in the skin.

2. Salicylic acid helps to dissolve debris and sebum inside the follicle. A word of warning – Salicylic acid in its oral form is aspirin. If you are allergic to aspirin you must have a patch test to use this product. This treatment can really help clogged skin and problem acne. After the acne has cleared, regular use can help keep the follicle clear and help to prevent other acne lesions.

3. Benzoyl Peroxide works well on most forms of acne and occasional pimples. It also peels impactions and debris. However, its main function is to release oxygen in to the follicle, helping to kill bacteria. Benzoyl Peroxide usually comes in three strengths: 2.5% for mild acne (strength in the popular product Proactiv) 5% for moderate acne and 10% for more severe acne. Higher strengths are available by prescription. Warning – Benzoyl Peroxide should be used with extreme caution by people of color as they can experience darkening (hyperpigmentation) of the skin with its use.

4. Retinols are non-prescription natural forms of Vitamin A. Cosmeceutical grades come in serums and gels in a 0.5% and work well on most acne especially when combined with the new LED machines. Light Emitted Diodes are a form of light therapy that does not deliver enough power to damage the tissue, but delivers enough energy to stimulate a response from the body to heal itself. LEDs provide a much gentler delivery of the same healing wavelengths of light as does some lasers but without the risk. This technology works very well on acne when combined with appropriate topicals.

The severity of the acne condition will determine if the patient could benefit from in-clinic peels or get by with merely consistent use of these agents incorporated into their home-care regimen.

Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the author of the New York Times best selling books, The Wrinkle Cure and The Acne Prescription: The Perricone Program for Clear and Healthy Skin at Every Age, believes that all acne is the result of inflammation deep in the cellular layer. By treating acne at that level, individuals will not only achieve healthy skin, but will moderate other medical issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity.

His approach takes an active look at why Western diet is often at the root of those suffering from acne. He examines how nutritional supplements ease inflammation and how topical anti-inflammatory agents such as dimethylamineoethanol (DMAE) hold much of the power to clear skin. Dimethylamineoethanol is found in fish, specifically salmon, ideally wild Alaskan salmon. Dr. Perricone uses DMAE as a near perfect example of both a dietary and therapeutically beneficial supplement. Its nutritional components stabilize the outer layer of the cell. It produces neurotransmitters which affect the body’s nerves. As a building block for acetylcholine, it can improve memory and problem-solving ability.

Another nutritional all-star for treating acne at the cellular level is Vitamin C. As a powerful antioxidant Vitamin C boosts collagen production, defends against free radicals, and builds up inside white blood cells to maintain the body’s immune system.

Because of the obvious benefits of diets rich in these and a wide range of other supplements, Dr. Perricone outlines a 28-day approach to diet and exercise which shows almost immediate results. He couples that with nutritional supplements which enhance the foods’ natural benefits.

“The prevailing wisdom is that the foods we eat have no affect on the systemic disease of acne,” states Dr. Perricone. “Food is the fuel which allows the body’s organs (the largest of which is the skin) to perform at optimum levels. A poor diet full of pro-inflammatory foods will cause the body to break down and age prematurely, leaving it susceptible to numerous diseases. Put aside scientific acumen; this is just plain common sense.”

Further, Dr. Perricone said there is no argument which is universal among dermatologists. Some agree to one root cause; other state without hesitation something else is.

“It is interesting to note,” Perricone continues, “that whole groups of genetically related people have zero incidence of acne in their native countries. Yet, once they come to the West or begin to follow a Western diet, acne suddenly appears!”

He says the cornerstone of the anti-inflammatory diet is the careful regulation of blood sugar. In as little as three days, patients who have followed his intensive diet have seen dramatic changes in the quality of their skin.

Finally, Dr. Perricone wants exercise to be as important a prescription for patients as any antibiotic. Here he leads us to yoga, a practice he values for its ability to treat the entire body, from muscles to skin to brain. Traditional exercises like weight training can actually increase a body’s susceptibility to acne since it produces increased levels of testosterone. Yoga, by contrast, produces an antioxidant and anti-stress effect, both critical to clear skin.

Karen Robinson is now working with her own skin care professional. Together they have combined their efforts and implemented appropriate in-clinic treatments along with very effective home-care cosmeceutical use specifically designed to help Karen’s peri-menopausal acne. Karen concludes, “Just having a professional who cares, who invests a great deal of time and interest in me, provides stress-relieving treatments along with serious products has greatly improved my skin. I’m a happy camper.”

* name has been changed

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