Our skin, the body’s largest, most visible, and most vulnerable organ, requires daily pampering and care in order to serve us effectively for the duration of our lives. Acne and wrinkles—two of our biggest skin concerns—are often separated by decades in an individual’s life, but these 2 conditions are more directly bound by a complicated web of factors. In order to combat acne and wrinkles, we must properly care for our skin long before either of them begin to appear.
The Nature of Acne
As we all are painfully aware, acne typically appears around puberty, making for some universally-embarrassing middle school moments and high school yearbook photographs, but acne tends to diminish or clear up completely in our early to mid-twenties. (In spite of these seemingly normal timelines, a few individuals may continue to suffer outbreaks of acne well into their middle age, especially during times of physical or emotional stress including pregnancy.)
In order to treat acne outbreaks and alleviate any contributing effects to future wrinkles, we need to understand how acne works and the lasting effects both acne and acne treatments have on our skin.
Acne develops when skin cells, oil, and hair, clog together in skin pores, become infected, and then swell. This inflammation accelerates the aging process because the swelling and underlying infection generate free radicals, trigger enzymes that break down the skin’s structural components like collagen and elastin, and promote excessive cell production; all of these reactions contribute to aging skin.
Acne Treatments with an Eye to Skin’s Future
Treating acne, at least to the degree of markedly reducing the number of inflammations, is arguably one of the best skin anti-aging steps one could take, apart from sun protection. Although a majority of acne sufferers only have to deal with mild outbreaks which can be effectively treated by over-the-counter, topical products, we need to be aware of the long-term effects of any skin treatments, over-the-counter or prescription.
Any treatments that cause skin irritation or excessive skin dryness should be used cautiously, since these states will damage the skin’s elasticity and its ability to heal its cells, resulting in premature aging. Acne sufferers should be especially mindful of the following common effective but skin-damaging treatments:
One of the most effective over-the-counter acne treatments is topical benzoyl peroxide because, as an oxidizer, it floods the pores with oxygen, loosens the dirt, oil, and dead cells, and kills acne-causing bacteria.
Additionally, many dermatologists prescribe benzoyl peroxide over antibiotics because bacteria do not develop resistance to benzoyl peroxide, unlike many other antibiotics used to fight infections.
In spite of the advantages of benzoyl peroxide, the oxygen-free radicals generated by the oxygenation process are damaging not only to bacteria but also to the skin itself. These free radicals cause irritation and dryness, damage skin cells, and otherwise accelerate the skin’s rate of aging. Even occasional, short-term use of benzoyl peroxide produces relatively long-term skin damage; long-term use of benzoyl peroxide, especially at high concentrations, is very likely to age skin prematurely.
Unfortunately, for many people, benzoyl peroxide is the only effective topical treatment for moderate to severe acne, so acne sufferers should beware of the side effects, opting for low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide in conjunction with other forms of treatment.
One of the most common prescription acne treatments, topical retinoids, causes a host of possible side effects that can contribute to premature aging. Most frequently, acne sufferers using topical retinoids report skin irritation and dryness, swelling and redness, and sensitivity to sunlight. Since chronic skin irritations have been connected to accelerated skin aging and neglecting thorough sun protection when using retinoids is likely to increase the irritation and compound the aging effect, topical retinoids may be best used for moderate to severe acne cases, and then only under a dermatologist’s careful supervision.
Yet, many dermatologists are still wondering about the long-term effects of topical retinoids which have become a panacea for many skin conditions. Retinoids are often prescribed for acne, wrinkles, warts, and psoriasis. When used prudently, retinoids will alleviate many skin conditions and can actually reduce many signs of skin aging.
Again, retinoids, like benzoyl peroxide, maybe a less-is-better situation. If an acne sufferer can benefit from small, short-term applications of topical retinoids, she may reap both the anti-acne and anti-aging benefits, but if you do not respond to lower concentrations, avoid the chronic irritation associated with retinoids and explore other topical alternatives.
One of the most common components of acne treatment is exfoliation with alpha or beta-hydroxy acids, though its effectiveness is debatable. Arguably, exfoliation may improve penetration of other treatments, and moderate exfoliation may also have some skin rejuvenation benefits. As with all other treatments, moderation and the smallest amount of treatment to be effective is the key to success. Like other acne treatments, excessive exfoliation can create premature aging by causing redness, irritation, dryness, and sensitivity.
Our skin protects us from the environment, and in turn, deserves our care and protection. Proper hydration, gentle cleansing, effective sun protection, and immediate yet least irritating treatment of acne will help our skin to age gracefully.