Acne: How to treat it

Acne affects the skin of most teenagers and a significant number of adults.

The condition involves the buildup of sebum in the pores of the skin. Sebum is an oily substance made by the sebaceous glands under the skin.

When this becomes trapped, it can form pimples on the surface of the skin. These are small, red, pus-filled spots or zits. Breakouts range from mild and occasional to severe and ongoing.

Prompt treatment can help individuals overcome the emotional and psychological effects.

Pimples are not in themselves bad for overall health, although they can occasionally become infected or develop into cysts.

The major impact of acne is on quality of life. A person with acne can experience anxiety, embarrassment, and a loss of confidence.

Fast facts on pimples

Here are some key points about pimples. More information is in the main article.

Most teenagers and a significant number of adults experience pimples.

Prompt treatment of pimples can help to overcome the emotional and psychological effects.

Stress, anxiety, greasy hair, and a high-fat, high-sugar diet may increase the risk in some people.

Doctors recommend gently washing the face no more than twice daily.

Popping pimples increases the risk of infection.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pimple treatments often contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur.

Prescription medication for pimples includes topical treatment, antibiotics, isotretinoin, and laser and light therapy.

What makes pimples worse?

Acne can cause embarrassment and a loss of confidence but can be managed at home.

It is unknown exactly why acne flares up for some people at certain points in their lives, but hormonal activity appears to play a role by causing an increase in sebum production.

Pimples are more common during puberty and adolescence, and women often find they break out just before menstruation.

Other factors include stress and anxiety, which can increase the levels of adrenaline and cortisol.

A hot, humid climate with an increased risk of sweating can also make it worse.

Some studies suggest that carbohydrate-rich foods or chocolate may trigger acne, but the link has not been confirmed.

Cooking greasy food may worsen symptoms due to the grease blocking pores. Eating greasy food, however,
has not shown the same signs of directly affecting acne.

Acne face wash
Gently wash the face no more than twice a day to alleviate any escalating symptoms of acne.

Washing the face no more than twice each day can help.

Face-washing tips include:

using a mild soap and lukewarm water

wash gently and do not scrub the skin

gently apply an OTC lotion containing benzoyl peroxide with the fingertips


Sebum and skin residue collect in hair, so keep the hair clean and away from the face. Some hair products, such as those with cocoa or coconut butter, may worsen acne.

Sun exposure

Use of tanning beds or overexposure to sunlight may result in the production of more sebum, as well as increasing the risk of skin cancer.

Some medications for acne may also make the skin more prone to sunburn, so caution is advised.

Over-the-counter treatment

A range of OTC preparations is available from pharmacies and drugstores, usually in the form of gels, pads, creams, lotions, and soaps. Most of these are topical treatments, for applying directly onto the skin.

One popular suggestion is to put toothpaste on pimples to dry them out, but the ingredients in toothpaste may further irritate the skin. It is better to use an appropriate cream.

Most OTC products for pimples or acne contain the following active ingredients:

Resorcinol: This helps the breakdown of blackheads and whiteheads. The same active ingredient is used to treat dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis.

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