While not threatening to your general health, acne can be mentally distressing. Skin problems can be embarrassing and put a serious dent in our self-esteem. Numerous factors influence the formation of those unsightly pimples and a multi-pronged strategy that addresses all of these elements is your best chance for keeping this problem at bay. Here are some tips that can serve as powerful tools in your skin care arsenal.
Make Stress Management a Priority
Stress messes with our health in numerous ways, both mentally and physically. It produces all sorts of changes in our bodies that can compromise our health, from making us store more fat, to constricting our blood vessels and increasing our risk for heart disease. Research suggests that high levels of stress may also exacerbate acne. One study, for example, tracked the stress levels and skin conditions of Singapore teenagers and found that periods of greater stress resulted in significantly more acne, particularly in males. Stress does not appear to increase oil production, which is what was originally thought, but clearly causes other changes in the body that lead to skin breakouts.
For a long time, people thought that things like chocolate and greasy foods were bad for acne—this does not appear to be true, but research suggests that there may be links between eating certain types of foods and increased breakouts. A major review of studies in 2009 found clear links between milk consumption (skim milk in particular) and severity of acne; it appears that consuming milk can increase production of male hormones linked to acne breakouts. Other research suggests a link between acne and eating lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates—these foods cause a large spike in insulin, which appears to set off a cascade of chemical reactions that result in acne formation. Food allergies may also play a role—you might consider experimenting with an elimination diet where you cut out common allergens, such as gluten, and see if you notice any difference in the number of pimples.
There are a number of dermatological procedures that can help keep acne at bay. The best treatments will depend on the severity and type of acne. Phototherapy, such as blue light treatment, is good for killing the bacteria that cause acne. Chemical peels help get rid of the upper layers of damaged skin, so new, healthier skin can grow in its place; salicylic acid peels may be a particularly good choice if you have acne since this acid is oil-soluble and can get deep into your pores and clean them out—this is also a common ingredient in many acne medications. Dermatologists also have tools where they can extract whiteheads, blackheads and deeper cystic acne.
Topical treatments are also an important role; you want to choose products that support clear skin. The best products will depend on your skin type. If you have oily skin, for example, gel-based cleansers are a good choice. Treatments that help get rid of dead skin, unclog pores and increase cell turnover are also helpful—prescription creams that contain vitamin A are good for this, as are products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic or lactic acid. To make sure your skin is totally clean, using a toner after you wash your face may be a good idea. You may need to experiment with different topical treatments to see which ingredients your skin responds best to. No matter what, do not use too many things at once, or you may worsen your skin instead of making it better.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who has written extensively about a variety of health and beauty topics.