For those of us that deal with acne, it can be hard to pin down a skin routine/treatment plan that is effective. There are a lot of options out there and figuring out what works for you and your skin issues may feel like a mammoth task. You may find yourself asking, is oil-free the way to go? Would a chemical exfoliant be too harsh? Is it my hormones? Fear not though, we are in this together. So, today we are going to break down some of the available acne-fighting options and how they may or may not be what you need to treat your own acne. Less conventional and other physical treatments such as chemical peels, lasers and in-clinic treatments are not discussed in this article.
Some of the main contributors to acne is our skin producing excess oils (sebum), dead skin clogging pores, inflammation caused by bacteria, and imbalanced hormones. Therefore, the ingredients used to treat acne help combat those risk factors. These treatments can be applied topically, meaning it goes directly on the surface of your body in a specific area, or orally, which means by mouth with ingestion. While the treatments in this article are mainly topical, know that there may be cases where oral acne treatment makes more sense. That decision will be something for you and your dermatologist to work out.
Acne treatments for oil production and exfoliation
When dealing with mild acne, looking for treatments that are aimed at reducing oil and banishing dead skin is a good first step. Below is a list of ingredients that do just that.
A beta hydroxy acid or BHA, as some may refer to it. This acid is a go-to ingredient commonly found in products that are used for treating acne because its main function is to dissolve excess oil and shed away dead skin layers aka exfoliate. It is very important to pay attention to the levels of this BHA that are being used; too low a concentration and can be ineffective used alone and too high a concentration can be damaging to our skin. Also, this ingredient can help decrease the inflammation that makes acne stand out so much on our skin.
An alpha hydroxy acid or AHA for short. This acid has similar functions to the beta form. You can think of glycolic acid as salicylic acid’s younger sibling who wants to be in all the same extracurriculars. Glycolic acid is considered a top tier ingredient for exfoliating skin. Not only will this ingredient shed skin layers, but it can help fade acne marks that pesky pimples have left behind. Be careful though, because this ingredient has been known to irritate skin more easily than BHAs.
If you can get past the strong rotten egg smell, sulfur has some great acne-fighting benefits. This chemical ingredient is mainly an exfoliant helping to remove dead skin layers – out with the old, in with the new. In addition, sulfur can kill bacteria and reduce the amount of oil in our skin. Best of all, sulfur is safe for daily use!
You may recognize this ingredient by its more common alias, Vitamin A. This ingredient can actually occur in our bodies naturally, but it is also used in a more concentrated form for skincare. Similar to the others listed, this ingredient encourages dead skin to not overstay its welcome. Retinol is great for reducing oil and helping pores stay unclogged as well.
When acne is more severe or cystic and leaving behind scars, stronger acne treatments may be required. Oral retinoids help reduce oil in our skin when some other acne-treating ingredients may not be as effective. These are prescribed by dermatologists only in certain cases.
Acne treatments for fighting bacteria
For those of us who may feel our oil levels are under control but continue to have acne breakouts, we may need to look into ingredients that target acne-causing bacteria as well. So, the treatments below speak to that.
Benzoyl Peroxide is a topical treatment that is great for targeted use on skin. While this ingredient does help minimise oil and shed skin cells, its main claim to fame is killing the bacteria that gets trapped in our pores.
People take antibiotics for a lot of reasons and sometimes bad acne is one of those reasons. Antibiotics are a type of medication specifically designed to go after bacteria by killing them or stopping their growth. You and your dermatologist may decide that this treatment is the best way to help your skin and that is perfectly okay.
Acne treatments for hormone control
Sorry men, this one is for the ladies. Sometimes, there is a clear hormonal pattern to acne which is well worth targeting. If you fall into this category it may be worthwhile discussing with your GP or dermatologist whether conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome needs to be considered. In either case, below are some treatments that may help with hormonal acne.
This acne treatment can be used when acne breakouts (mild or severe) are brought on by the hormone changes that happen around a woman’s period. The ingredients in birth control can help reduce androgens, which are the sex hormones your body produces that get you through puberty. These hormones can greatly increase the amount of oil your body produces, which can result in acne-prone skin. But beware, some birth control pills are ineffective for acne whilst others can make it worse!
You may not have known, but besides birth control pills, there are other types of anti-hormonal tablets that can be used to treat acne. Just another thing to have a chat to your dermatologist or GP about!
Other treatments that can help take care of our acne-prone skin include niacinamide (Vitamin B3) used topically (directly on your skin) and azelaic acid. Both these creams have the additional benefit of fighting against pigmentation that can occur in darker skin types once a pimple goes away. Talk about being multiskilled!
Seeking acne treatment
Although we addressed each of these treatments/ingredients in an isolated manner, a lot of the time these ingredients can be used alongside each other if you have multiple acne symptoms that you need to be addressed. That stated, you must be careful because some of these ingredients should never be used together because they can interact negatively within our bodies. Please always consult a pharmacist, dermatologist or GP before making any treatment decisions about acne.