Acne or pimples can be quite detrimental to one’s personality and skin. It leaves behind scars and also makes one’s skin appear patchy, dull and unsightly. Though almost everyone has acne breakouts during puberty, by the time they reach their 20s, they usually stop. But in some cases, acne reappears even after their teenage years. This can be due to various factors. Here is a mega guide to help you understand and get rid of pimples with various home remedies and cosmetic treatments.
What is acne?
Acne, acne vulgaris or pimples as they are popularly known is a common skin infection which mostly occurs in adolescence (during puberty) on the skin due to increase in the production of the hormone testosterone in both males and females.
Causes of acne
When there is an excess secretion of sebum (an oily liquid that keeps the skin from drying), it can result in the formation of acne or pimples. The most common areas of acne appearance are the face, near the chest and the back as they have more sebaceous follicles (which are responsible for secreting sebum). The dirt, oil and dead skin cells clog the skin pores which give rise to acne.
Apart from these reasons, acne can also be due to the wrong diet, hormonal changes, and certain medications which contain corticosteroids, androgens or lithium, or can even be genetic. (Read: 10 reasons your acne might be getting worse)
Types of acne
Blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, zits, etc are all different grades of acne depending on the severity of the problem. Usually, when the bumps are tender and red, they are called pimples or zits and when they are small, congested pores they are known as comedones. The pus-filled, yellowish acne is pustules. Here is a classification based on the different grades of acne and acne vulgaris.
- Whiteheads which are closed non-inflammatory grade I type of acne. They are also referred to as closed comedonal acne. They develop as a result of accumulation of bacteria and sebum below the skin due to a closed or narrow pore.
- Blackheads which are open non-inflammatory grade I type of acne. Blackheads are also often referred to as open comedonal acne. They develop as a result of accumulation of bacteria and sebum in the follicles due to blockages. When the pore opens to the surface, sebum gradually gets exposed to air, oxidizes, hardens and turns black.
- Papule which is a grade II inflammatory type of acne. It occurs when there is a break in the follicular wall. This causes bacterial contamination. White blood cells rush in and the pore becomes inflamed.
- Pustule which forms several days later when white blood cells make their way to the surface of the skin in the form of pus. It is usually refer to as a zit or a pimple.
- Nodule which is a severe grade III type of acne. They are large, hard bumps under the skin’s surface. Scarring is common.
- Cyst is the most severe form. It is grade IV type of acne. It appears similar to a nodule, but is pus-filled. It can be painful. Scarring is common.
- Acne Conglobata which is another severe form of acne vulgaris and is more common in males. It is characterized by numerous large lesions, sometimes interconnected, along with widespread blackheads. It causes severe, irrevocable damage to the skin and disfiguring scarring.
Dos and don’ts for acne-prone skin
- Eat healthy.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
- Never pick or squeeze pimples.
- Playing with or popping pimples, no matter how careful and clean you are, nearly always makes them worse.
- Wash your hands before and after caring for skin lesions to reduce the chance of infection.
- Identify and avoid anything that aggravates acne including oily foods, lotions and make-up.
- Stress can add to your acne problem.
- Relax and reduce the stress in your life through yoga and meditation.
Home remedies for acne-free skin
Cinnamon and honey
Cinnamon is a common spice and flavouring agent but the essential oil it contains also has strong anti-microbial properties. The water activity of honey is very low and this means that it does not contain a lot of moisture which can promote the growth of microorganisms. Considering that pimples often arise from an infection within the pores of the skin, combining cinnamon with honey is an effective remedy.
Mix a little cinnamon powder with a little honey to make a paste; avoid adding water because it will destroy the action of honey. Dab a little of the paste on each pimple and allow to remain overnight; wash off with lukewarm water the next morning. Repeat for a few days if necessary. (Read: Home remedies and face packs to fight pimples)
Turmeric or haldi
Remember how your grandmother always insisted on sprinkling a little turmeric on your wounds saying it would help it heal? Well, medical researchers are now finding that turmeric contains ingredients that make it a powerful antimicrobial. No wonder then that women in India have always been using turmeric paste claiming it keeps their skin healthy and glowing. Although you can apply turmeric paste directly to skin, consuming it with a little warm milk is also said to be an effective remedy for flawless skin.
Mix a little turmeric powder with a little coconut oil and apply directly onto the pimples at night; next morning, wash your face with water to remove the paste.
Dry a few neem leaves in the sun and grind to a fine powder. Mix equal quantities of this powder, turmeric powder and a little rose water to form a paste. Apply this to the pimples, leave it on for around 20 minutes or so and then wash your face. You could also substitute sandalwood powder for neem powder – this remedy works equally well for acne.
Lemons contain vitamin C and phytonutrients called flavonoids that have a strong antioxidant as well as antibiotic action. Free radicals generated during the metabolic reactions within the body can damage the healthy cells of the body, causing inflammation and swelling. The antioxidants in lemon restrict the action of these free radicals and this makes lemon juice an excellent remedy for pimples.
Squeeze out the juice from a freshly-cut lemon and dab a little directly on to the pimple. Leave on overnight and wash the next morning.
Mix a tablespoon of groundnut oil into an equal quantity of freshly squeezed lime juice and apply over the entire face; this provides long-term preventive action against blackheads that may later turn into pimples.
A word of caution regarding lime juice – it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and therefore, do not venture out in the sun when you have applied it to your face. (Read: Herbal remedies to get rid of pimples)
Medications to beat acne
- Topical antibiotics: These include erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc), clindamycin (BenzaClin, Duac), sulfacetamide (Klaron) and azelaic acid (Azelex).
- Retinoids: Retinoid cream or gel such as tretinoin and adapalene, are usually applied to the skin once a day. If you use a retinoid, you must avoid the sun or use a strong sunscreen because it increases your risk of getting sunburn.
- Oral antibiotics: Doctors may start treatment with tetracycline (Sumycin) or one of the related doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea) and minocycline (Minocin). Other oral antibiotics that are useful for treating acne are cefadroxil, amoxicillin (Trimox) and the sulfa drugs.
- Oral contraceptives: Some contraceptive pills like Estrostep have been shown to have modest effectiveness in treating acne.
- Spironolactone (Aldactone): This drug blocks androgen (hormone) receptors. It can help some women with resistant acne. However, it can cause breast tenderness, menstrual irregularities and increased potassium levels in the bloodstream.
- Cortisone injections: Doctors inject large pimples and cysts with a form of cortisone to make them flatten out fast.
- Isotretinoin: Original brand name was Accutane (current generation e.g. Sotret, Claravis). It should be used for people with severe acne, mainly the cystic variety, which has been unresponsive to conventional therapies. The drug has many serious side effects and requires a number of unique controls before it is prescribed. Before taking isotretinoin, tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has a history of diabetes, asthma, liver disease, heart disease or depression. Isotretinoin must not be taken if you are pregnant because it causes severe birth defects, including malformation of the head and face, mental retardation and severe internal defects of the brain, heart, glands and nervous system. It can also cause miscarriage, premature birth or death of the foetus.
Treatment for acne scars
A pimple arises due to some sort of skin damage; during the healing process, the body creates new skin cells and collagen fibres – this repair process leads to the formation of the acne scars. Here are some ways you can treat these scars.
Microdermabrasion is a mechanical exfoliation done by a dermatologist using either a diamond tip or aluminum oxide crystals along with suction. It acts by removing the top layer of dead skin cells, but with varying levels of suction, you can get a deeper level of exfoliation. This procedure can really help get rid of shallow scars, but you will need at least 10-12 sessions to really get the full results.
Fractional ablative lasers are the most effective option available. They essentially act by delivering a laser beam that is divided into tiny columns and goes deep into the skin. In each of these columns, old skin cells are removed, while new skin cells and collagen synthesis is increased. So, the skin is stimulated to naturally heal itself, revealing less marked, tighter and fresher skin. These treatments are typically given once a month, for one to four sessions, depending on the severity and depth of the scars. (Read: Effective ways to get rid of acne scars)
Home remedies for acne scars
The gel-like substance obtained from the leaves of the aloe plant has an almost magical ability to heal the skin of problems. Take a leaf from the aloe plant, wash it, and peel out the outermost layer of green to reach the innermost jelly-like substance. Scoop this out with a spoon and apply a little quantity to the scarred tissue. Do this twice a day, leave on for about half an hour and then wash off with plain water. Repeat for a few days and you will notice that not only does the acne scar become undetectable; your skin also feels tighter and gets a distinct glow.
Neem contains alkaloids that give it distinct antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. This makes it effective against a wide range of skin problems right from acne and eczema to ringworm because it also has the property of cleansing the body of toxins. For action against acne scars, place a neem leaf directly on the affected area for some time; do this regularly to see good results. (Read: Get rid of acne scars with home remedies)
We hope this exhaustive guide will help free you from your acne problem giving you clear and flawless skin.
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