Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 07th Jan 2021

Acne Vulgaris: a common skin condition and how to treat it the right way.

Acne Vulgaris and how to treat it

You may have woken up to a surprise bump at some point in your life. A pimple has gained its reputation by showing up at the worst moments possible. Date, festival, party, weddings every occasion that has you excited has some or the other downfall, one of them being a huge pimple that showed up just a day before. Pimples, blackheads, and breakouts have long been our sworn enemies for ruining the most important moments of our lives.

Acne vulgaris is the scientific term for the inflammatory condition of pimples and blackheads. And you know it simply as acne. It is very common among people, but its causes differ. While one may have oily skin, another one might be suffering from acne due to puberty. Acne doesn't confine itself to a certain race or age as people of ages can suffer from acne.

The condition does not only affect a person aesthetically but also their self-esteem. Acne doesn't come alone but brings with it a pandora's box of scarring and disfigurement, leading to psychological implications. An acne patient may suffer from social anxiety too.  

Did you know:

Acne doesn't occur only in teenagers. Neither are they a direct consequence of oily foods. These are myths that have existed for a long time.  

The most common skin disorder is acne, and while it mostly affects adolescents, it can affect any person at any age. Papules, pustules, nodules, cysts, comedones, etc., are common acne types that are inflammatory.

There are many reasons for a breakout or just a pimple to occur, like overproduction of sebum and acne bacteria. Identifying all the reasons that cause acne has brought forward many treatment options and therapies proven effective.

To successfully treat acne, it is necessary to identify your individual needs and careful analysis of anti-acne agents. And so we will understand acne vulgaris in-depth and the ways you could treat them.  

What is acne vulgaris? 

Acne vulgaris, also referred to as acne, is the most common skin condition caused due to a blockage in hair follicles caused by an accumulation of dead skin cells, bacteria, and oil. This blockage gives rise to pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts. Acne mostly occurs on the face, chest, back, and shoulders. While acne's main reason is hormones during the puberty stage, acne has many other reasons to haunt you. 

Acne can also be classified based on the severity of the condition.  

Mild acne means less than 20 blackheads or whiteheads, which might lead you to pimples.

Whiteheads are small bumps that have the same color as your skin and have closed clogged pores, while blackheads have a black center to them with open clogged pores.

Moderate acne
is identified by a large number of blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Pimples are round formations that are inflamed. Papules are red, tender bumps, while pustules contain pus.

Severe acne covers nodules and cysts, which are the most painful type of acne and also the ones that are most likely to leave behind scars and marks. The widespread blemishes that come under severe acne require utmost care and targeted treatment. Nodules, cysts are lumps beneath the skin that are severely painful.  

What causes acne?  

How much ever torturous your acne is, you mustn't curse yourself for all the chocolates and fast foods you gorged on, as these myths hold no real ground.

It isn't just your diet that's responsible, as many biological reactions could also contribute to this condition.

Acne vulgaris that has you worried has several reasons; mostly because it shows up uninvited on your skin is caused mainly by hormones, oil, and bacteria. Your hair follicles have a direct connection to your overactive sebaceous glands, depending on your hormonal changes. The sebum escapes through our hair follicles and then through the pores, but when they cannot escape and clog the follicles with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria accumulate, giving rise to acne.

This clogging happens majorly during puberty as the androgen hormone increases, and so does the sebum production. This imbalance of hormones gives rise to acne, which may subside as the hormone production decreases. Another instance where hormones cause acne is when women pass through pregnancy, menstrual cycle, etc.

Some other causes of acne being humid weather and excessive sweating, some cosmetics and lotions, certain medications cause acne.  

Treating Acne Vulgaris  

There have been significant developments in treating acne vulgaris, and now there are many over-the-counter treatment options that can help you keep acne at bay. There are specific steps that you should take to help you control breakouts, and treating it becomes necessary to avoid scarring or damage when it comes to nodules like severe acne. Treatment goals include treating the existing acne, preventing future bouts and scarring.

Medications meant for acne work in different manners. While some target the oil, others may target the bacteria that cause acne. Mostly these medications work their way by reducing the swelling and treating the bacterial infection. Clearing up acne completely takes time, patience, and care.  

Topical OTC treatment options for acne vulgaris 

Acne can be treated at home by using over-the-counter remedies for mild forms of acne.  

Benzoyl peroxide 

Benzoyl peroxide has been around for a while, and that's what makes it reliable. It targets acne-causing bacteria and has been included in many OTC acne products. Antibiotic therapy has incorporated benzoyl peroxide to reduce the risk of bacterial resistance. Many products like washes, gels, cleansers, and spot treatments have added benzoyl peroxide in different concentrations to target acne based on its severity.

Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria under the skin and unclogs the pores and hence is an apt option for treating inflammatory acne.

Benzoyl peroxide is anti-inflammatory, oxidizing, comedolytic, antimicrobial, and also an exfoliant. 

The ingredient is anti-inflammatory, and its activities help treat mild to moderate acne vulgaris.

The oxidizing activity of benzoyl peroxide helps benzoyl peroxide kill the bacteria in the pores.

Benzoyl peroxide is also comedolytic, meaning it works on opening up the pores.

The antimicrobial nature of benzoyl peroxide helps in killing the bacteria.

Being an exfoliant, it also helps unclog pores.

All these factors together make it an all-powerful acne fighter. Benzoyl peroxide is efficient for all acne types, being visibly effective with black and whiteheads and those red bumps that are inflamed. While it can help with severe acne kinds, it is best if you consult a derm first.

Benzoyl peroxide is not advised for sensitive skin types as it may irritate with redness and drying the skin. You should avoid the ingredient if you are pregnant or planning it very shortly.   

Salicylic acid 

The Beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, works by easing acne's inflammation caused by acne and unclogging the pores. Salicylic acid is optimal for mild acne and helps reduce acne effectively. SA is oil-soluble and hence effectively penetrates through the skin's lipid layers. This penetration allows it to work deeply and unclog pores.

The BHA is a very potent option for comedonal acne due to its pore unclogging ability. It dissolves dead skin cells and dirt that have led the pores to clog. This helps with the red, inflamed pimples and blemishes.

The unclogging of pores promote supreme exfoliation as SA is also considered a keratolytic medication, which causes softening and sloughing of the skin's uppermost layers. This action aids in dissolving the blackheads as the skin cells are being removed and loosened considerably.

But what makes SA less of an option is that it can irritate and dry your skin if you have very sensitive skin or overuse it. SA may also lead to dryness, redness, peeling, and skin irritation depending on the number of times you have applied it and the concentration of the acid. So, consider avoiding SA altogether if you have extremely dry or sensitive skin.

Salicylic acid has been incorporated in many products, including the leave-on and wash-off kinds, from serums to cleansers. Salicylic acid 2% by beminimalist is gets rid of your blackheads and keeps the oils regulated to give you blemish-free skin. 

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Retinoids have long been on top in the acne treatment industry. From OTC to prescription lengths, retinoids have helped many people get rid of their acne lesions, be it whiteheads, blackheads, or even the moderate acne kinds.

Retinoids form the core of the topical therapy for acne due to their comedolytic, meaning the inhibitor of comedones and anti-inflammatory nature.

The Vitamin A derivatives clear up acne by regulating cellular turnover and working its way inside out rather than just exfoliating or killing the bacteria. The cellular turnover gets rid of dead skin cells and opens up the pores to other medications you may want your skin to benefit from.

Many products like creams, gels, and lotions include retinoic acids or tretinoin and any of the number of types of retinoids. Adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin are common types used for evening treatments as retinoids make your skin susceptible to sun damage.

Another downfall of retinoids is that it causes dry skin and redness.  

Azelaic acid 

Produced by yeast, azelaic acid has not enjoyed much fame, and it also works uniquely, unlike the usual. Azelaic acid has antibacterial properties, and the OTC version continues to remain an option for you even during pregnancy and breast-feeding. The naturally occurring acid can manage the discoloration that acne comes with.

OTC azelaic acid improves blackheads, clears out the pores, evens out the skin tone, and brightens your appearance.

Azelaic is comedolytic; this means clear pores, which leads you right to fewer pimples.

It is keratolytic, and it dissolves old, flaky, dead skin cells gently.

Kills p.acne, azelaic acid kills Propionibacteria acnes, the acne-causing bacteria that forms inflame acne breakouts. The killing of bacteria also helps with redness and inflammation.

Azelaic acid helps with the PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), or the discolored marks pimple leaves behind.

Side effects of azelaic acid include skin redness and minor skin irritation.
Dapsone gel

Also referred to as Aczone, the brand name for acne-fighting medication, dapsone is useful for mild to moderate inflammatory acne vulgaris. Dapsone gels are applied directly to the skin to treat facial and body acne.

Dapsone is an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and this helps with the big, red zits. 

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has shown antimicrobial activities and hence is a popular natural remedy for acne treatment. It kills the acne-causing bacteria, but more research on this is underway.

There are many other treatment options, including systemic treatment, which means oral medications for acne. You should consult your dermatologist if your acne is not improving even after efforts and if you opt for prescription-length treatments and antibiotics. 

BeMinimalist's Advice

Treating acne may take time, and not all medications are for everyone. You should be religious with the treatment for it to work.

Do not even think of picking on the pimple, no matter how tempting it is. Giving up on the temptation will result in scarring.

Do not ever forget to protect yourself from the sun, as certain medications increase your skin's susceptibility to the sun.

Eat healthily and exercise.  

Wrapping it up 

Acne vulgaris is often temporary but consult a derm when things go out of hand. Acne vulgaris sure is stressful, but it is not untreatable. It may take weeks or even months, but it will improve.