What Causes Acne and Exactly How to Treat the Problem

Augusta Falletta
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They say if you work backwards you’ll find a solution, and while this may not work with every facet of life, it certainly may solve a few problems when it comes to skin care. Acne causes nothing but frustration, but finding out what causes acne can be a huge help in terms of finding a way to stop pimples from happening altogether. For help on this topic, we turned to Dr. Howard Murad, renowned dermatologist and creator of Murad skin care products, who explained exactly what causes acne and how to treat it.

Beauty High: What are some of the most common causes of acne?

Dr. Murad: Key factors in the formation of blemishes are the P. acnes bacteria (or the Propionibacterium acnes). They affect sebum by digesting it and producing free fatty acids and chemotactic factors, both of which can irritate and rupture the sebaceous glands, causing pimples and cysts. The acne cycle can also be triggered by internal hormones and individual susceptibility to things like medicine and foods. Blemishes begin below the surface of the skin in the sebaceous glands, which are connected to hair follicles. These glands are basically dormant until puberty, when increased hormone levels cause the production of oil or sebum. Stress causes the oil glands to work harder, leading to an overproduction that can clog pores. Hormones can have the same effect, prompting sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This excess oil, when combined with dead skin cells and bacteria, is what leads to blackheads and pimples. Most people assume that blemishes only occur within their teenage years. Yet, due to stress, hormonal changes, diet and environmental factors, blemishes are becoming more frequent in women in their 20s, 30s and even post-menopause. Teenagers tend to have breakouts on the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin, while adults tend to have breakouts around the mouth, chin, and jaw line.

MORE: How to Get Rid of Acne

Are there ways to arrest these causes before they erupt into full on acne?

Twice daily use of a cleansing, treatment, moisturizing regimen with quality topical products is key to healing your skin and maintaining your skin health, which is how to control acne and breakouts. To combat breakouts caused by stress and hormonal fluctuations, you should use exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid. Equally as important, but longer term and preventative is internal skincare. By giving your body what it needs to build the strong cells that are the foundation of healthy skin, you can make a big difference in preventing blemishes and inflammation. Unfortunately, there are some who struggle with acne on a daily basis. Murad’s new Acne Clearing Solution uses a powerful combination of ingredients, including salicylic acid, to treat and prevent breakouts and also fast-tracks the healing process by minimizing dryness, redness, and peeling. Additionally, I always say that I do not treat acne patients; I treat patients who happen to have acne. I always recommend taking an Inclusive Health approach to skin health and, while topical products and skin care are important, internal skincare as well as emotional care/stress reduction is critical to really address acne and help treat and prevent future blemishes. Because so many skin issues require physiological treatment at the levels where skin cells are formed, the right blends of nutrients can have powerful and positive results.

Is it ever too early to start treating a pimple?

It’s never too early to treat a pimple. At the first sight of a blemish, I recommend treating it immediately with a fast-acting treatment product that will zap it as quickly as possible. Murad recently launched Acne Spot Fast Fix that’s powerful, but gentle. Unlike other products with benzoyl peroxide, this uses a unique delivery system called Hydrophase to prevent the irritation commonly associated with benzoyl peroxide.

MORE: How to Get Rid of Acne on Your Backside

What are the signs that it’s time to start seeing a dermatologist for acne, as opposed to simply using OTC products?

If you don’t respond to standard treatments, I would recommend going to see a dermatologist who can help tailor a treatment specifically toward your skin issues and the underlying causes of the skin concerns that are unique to your lifestyle. Especially if you have severe cystic acne which are marked by pimples that are both deeper and longer lasting than regular acne. Cystic acne be very painful but should be left alone, as acne cysts are likely to swell and scar if picked at or popped. It’s possible your doctor can inject cortisone into the blemish as an anti-inflammatory agent. Your doctor may also be able to provide antibiotics to specifically target cystic acne if it is severe enough.

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