Acne, commonly known as pimples or breakouts, is a common skin condition that involves the hair follicles and oil producing glands of skin known as sebaceous glands. These glands secrete oil that keeps the skin moist. Acne is caused when these glands get clogged with oil, debris and dead cells. The sebum or oil produced by oil glands normally travels through the hair follicles to the skin surface via the follicular or skin pores. Acne occurs when these skin pores get clogged with oil, dead cells and skin bacteria. Other factors that contribute to acne include hormonal changes, some medicines, cosmetics, diet and stress. Hormonal acne in women happens due to fluctuations in hormone levels. Acne may seem a common condition mostly associated with teens or young adults. However, there are cases wherein acne persists even in adulthood especially in women. To figure out what may be causing your acne breakouts; Misabah Bhat had one-on-one conversation with Dr Iram Qazi, MD Dermatology, Venereology and Leprosy.
What lifestyle changes should a woman make to combat acne?
To prevent frequent breakouts you should eat healthy, prefer foods with less sugar content and take less dairy products. Take plenty of water as water detoxifies skin naturally. Exercise regularly as it increases blood circulation and removes skin toxins. However, sometimes acne may be increased after a workout session so take some precautions while you exercise. Make sure you wipe out your sweat with a clean towel immediately while working out and take a shower after every workout session. Also, wash your workout gear and towels daily or at least twice a week. Sleep well as it reduces stress and anxiety that may sometimes trigger acne.
What are the best treatments for acne?
There are many treatment options available for acne depending on its severity. Milder forms with black heads, white heads and few red bumps can be treated with topical creams like retinoids, topical antibiotics like clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide. Moderate to severe forms which include acne in the form of pus filled lesions and large nodules can be treated with oral medicines such as antibiotics like azithromycin, tetracyclines and oral retinoids like isotretinoin along with topical skin creams.
For treating acne scars there are treatment options like chemical peels, dermabrasion, lasers and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) therapy.
Can birth control pills help treat acne?
Not in every case. These pills can only be used to treat acne in the patients with a condition called Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which is caused due to some hormonal changes taking place inside the body causing high levels of hormones called androgens. These hormones increase the oil production from skin glands causing acne and breakouts.
Is acne a sign of PCOS?
Yes. It can be present in patients of PCOS but in such patients other signs and symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain, irregular periods, increased and thick facial hair may also be seen.
What is the relationship between diet and acne?
Although there is no conclusive evidence to show a direct relationship between diet and acne, however, there are some studies that suggest that a high glycemic diet increases acne breakouts. It includes foods that raise your blood sugar rapidly such as white rice, pasta, white bread, and refined sugar. Such foods increase the levels of hormone insulin in the body which increases the oil production from skin glands. Other foods such as dairy and greasy foods should be avoided as they increase the skin inflammation and oil production triggering acne.
You must also include fruits and vegetables in your diet as they contain anti- oxidants that are good for skin in general. Also foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil, avocados, flax seeds and sunflower seeds reduce skin inflammation and may reduce frequent breakouts.
Why does dry skin type get acne?
Dry skin can cause over production of oil from skin glands to combat and compensate for dryness which may lead to acne.
Does stress cause acne?
Stress may flare up your acne. There is a condition called stress acne. It is the worsening of pre-existing acne in response to mental stress .During periods of stress, the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol are raised that increases the oil production from skin glands triggering acne.
Some cosmetics and skin care products can make acne worse. What kind of cosmetic is least likely to do so?
• Use water based skin products including sunscreens and cosmetics if your skin is acne prone.
• Always remove your make up with an oil free gentle cleanser. You should preferably use mineral make up as it is relatively inert and does not support the growth of bacteria on your skin.
• Always use oil free lightweight makeup and avoid using thick layers of foundations and concealers.
• Avoid using too many skin products on your face as it may irritate your skin even more and flare up your acne.
Why do women have breakouts during periods?
Some women may experience breakouts a few days before periods. This is called premenstrual acne or PMS breakouts. This happens as the levels of a hormone called progesterone increases just before your periods. This hormone stimulates the oil glands increasing their oil production and causing breakouts.
Skin care tips for women
• Use a cream based moisturizer if you have a dry skin type. For oily to normal skin type use a lotion based moisturizer.
• Always use sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply it after every 2-3 hours.
• Add a Vitamin C serum to your daily skin care routine as it hydrates your skin and helps in preventing skin pigmentation. Also add a hyaluronic acid infused face serum if you are above 30 as it helps in preventing and reducing skin wrinkles.
• Take oral anti- oxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E to prevent premature skin ageing and maintain healthy skin.
• Drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres of water every day. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy and balanced diet and try to avoid stress as much as possible.
• Wash your face twice a day with a gentle oil free cleanser containing alpha-hydroxyacids such as glycolic acid or beta-hydroxyacids such as salicylic acid. So always check the label of products that you use on your face.
• Avoid using hot water for washing your face as it can make your face dry causing overproduction of oil leading to more breakouts.
• Use a lightweight lotion based moisturizer to hydrate your skin.
• Do not over exfoliate your skin as it may cause irritation to already inflamed skin causing more breakouts. Using an exfoliator once a week is enough. Avoid physical exfoliators.
• Use a sunscreen which is non oily often labelled as non-comedogenic, non- greasy and preferably mineral based.
• You should avoid using heavy makeup on your face as it can clog your skin pores and increase breakouts and always make sure you remove your make up before going to sleep.
• Avoid using hair oils and hair gels as it may increase your acne especially on your forehead. You should avoid picking or popping out your pimples as this can leave pigmentation and scars behind. Also this may transfer the infection from your hands to face causing your pimples to become pus filled.