There's no doubt about it: Zits are the pits. And if banishing acne was easy, we'd all have crystal-clear skin. However, you can get the upper hand on pimples, zits and blackheads. Here are a few tips on how to get rid of acne when it happens and how to prevent nasty acne breakouts.
Where Acne Comes FromAcne crops up when your skin produces excessive amounts of oil, also known as sebum. When sebum builds up, it can clog your pores and trap bacteria inside, which can lead to inflammation.
Though it can happen almost anywhere on your skin, acne is most common on the face, back, chest and shoulders. It can appear as red pustules, which many people refer to as pimples, and also as whiteheads and blackheads. Whiteheads are pores and hair follicles clogged close with dead skin cells, bacteria and other fun stuff. Blackheads are almost the same thing, except they aren't closed and they have a darker color due to the skin's pigment being exposed to the air.
What Causes Breakouts?The sources of acne breakouts can vary from person to person, and there are a lot of factors that contribute to oily buildup and clogged pores. Here are a few of those factors:
- Stress: Stress reduces your body's ability to fight infections and ward off bacteria, which may contribute to breakouts.
- Pressure: Tight clothes, humidity and touching your skin repeatedly can trap oil next to the skin rather than letting it evaporate.
- Hormonal changes: This is a biggie, especially for girls. When hormone levels fluctuate, so do sebum levels.
- Man-made dyes and oils: The chemicals in your sunscreen or makeup may clog your pores or inflame your skin. Look for skin products that are "dermatologist recommended" and "non-comedogenic."
Acne TreatmentWhat's the best acne treatment? Start simple: Run-of-the-mill breakouts usually respond well to over-the-counter products such as benzoyl beroxide creams and lotions, which can be found at your local pharmacy or drugstore. Some people find astringents helpful at removing excess oil, though they should be used in moderation so the skin doesn't get too dry or irritated.
Washing your face with a mild cleanser twice a day, along with an exfoliating scrub a few days a week, may also help get rid of acne.
What If Over-The-Counter Acne Treatments Aren't Working?If you have a lot of acne and it's painful and inflamed, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following prescription medications as an acne treatment:
- Oral antibiotics: These are pills you take to kill the bacteria trapped in your pores. They typically start to work in a few weeks and prevent breakouts.
- Birth control pills: If you're a girl and hormones are a culprit in your breakouts, birth control pills may help clear up your skin.
- Isotretinoin (Accutane): This medication is intended to treat severe cystic acne and requires blood tests to check liver and kidney function.
- Corticosteroid injection: If you have a particularly ginormous zit, your doctor may inject it with an anti-inflammatory substance known as a corticosteroid.
What Else Can I Do To Prevent and Treat Acne?Alternative health practitioners often recommend that teens and others who struggle with acne assess whether they're getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diet. Increasing your levels of vitamin A and/or zinc may help zits heal more quickly.
According to the alternative health team at Community Pharmacy in Madison, Wisc., it may be helpful to take 25,000 IU per day of vitamin A during the nastiest phase of a breakout, then reduce the dose to 10,000 IU per day as the acne starts to clear up. Zinc may also be added to the diet through supplements, though no more than 50 mg of it should be taken in a day.