One of the first things that a dermatologist will tell you about treating acne is that not all solutions work the same because there are many types of acne and every person’s skin is different. There is no such thing as a miracle cure or, at least, a miracle cure that works overnight. Treating acne takes time, diligence, patience and it often involves trial and error until you find a skincare routine that really works for you. But, it’s not easy to be patient when you feel that persistent acne is undermining your lifestyle and affecting your self-esteem, which is why so many women try cure after cure, without knowing which one is tested and which is just a myth. The beauty industry can be very confusing and with all the ads promising smooth and even skin within days, it can be hard to know what works and what doesn’t. Here are the most popular acne treatments, separated into facts and fiction:
Acne treatments that work
One of the main causes behind acne are overactive sebaceous glands that produce excess oil and cause your pores to clog. Salicylic acid is beta-hydroxy acid that unclogs pores and reduces the production of excess oil. It’s also a chemical exfoliant – don’t let the term scare you, because it’s actually quite gentle, gentler, in fact, that physical scrubs, which we will talk about later – that gets rid of dead skin and reveals a fresh and youthful complexion. Used for long periods of time, salicylic acid rebalances skin and prevents pores and hair follicles from getting inflamed. It is particularly useful in the treatment of cystic acne.
It can be found in: face wash, toner, topical treatment, masks
Tip: salicylic acid can dry out your face, so make sure you apply a moisturizer with it or start off with a smaller concentration of the active ingredient until the skin builds up tolerance.
Acne is also caused by the P. acnes bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide is a potent ingredient that kills these bacteria and also gets rid of excess sebum. Drying and peeling are normal when using benzoyl peroxide and dermatologists recommend that you avoid the eye and lip area during application.
It can be found in: gels and lotions
Tip: don’t use treatments that have more than 2% benzoyl peroxide, because they will overly peel your skin without being more effective. Always apply sunscreen during the day when using benzoyl peroxide.
In the past years, retinol has emerged as the #1, jack of all trades skincare ingredient that does everything from slow down aging to treating acne. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that increases the skin turnover rate, encouraging cells to regenerate faster. This ingredient exfoliates away dead skin, helps fade acne scars and, because it’s anti-inflammatory, it prevents acne from reappearing.
It can be found it: lotions, gels, topical treatments
Tip: retinol is a very potent ingredient that can be quite harsh on sensitive skin and may take a while to get used to. Start with a lower concentration of retinol, apply it on a small area of the skin and wait for a couple of days to see how it reacts. Do not use retinol together with exfoliants and apply sunscreen during the day.
Laser treatments are a faster acne treatment that should only be done by a certified professional. Recommended for patients who display hypersensitivity to certain acne ingredients or simply desire faster results, laser acne treatments are very gentle and work on multiple issues: they get rid of acne-causing bacteria, fade out hyperpigmentation and reduce redness. Depending on the severity of your acne, the specialist may recommend between 4 and 6 sessions.
Birth control pills
Birth control pills are prescribed to patients with severe acne, only if the cause is hormonal. Sometimes, acne isn’t caused by the bacteria that builds up on the skin, but by hormonal imbalances that cause the body to produce more testosterone. No matter how many creams you apply to slow down sebum production, as long as there is a hormonal imbalance, you do not eliminate the root of the problem.
Acne treatments that don’t work
Scrubs & overcleansing
Having oily, acne prone skin may make you feel like your skin is always dirty, but don’t make the mistake of overcleansing, because you are doing more harm than good. Washing your face more than two times a day will dry out your skin and make oil glands produce even more sebum to compensate, throwing your skin in a vicious circle. Also, as satisfying as it might feel, stay away from physical exfoliators (scrubs) because they dry out your skin and cause microlesions.
Lemon, peppermint, lavender and other irritating “natural” ingredients
There is a marketing tactic called appeal to nature, where companies base a product’s promotion on the fact that it’s natural and therefore it has to be safe. This whole tactic tries to make consumers believe that natural is automatically good and anything that is unnatural or man-made is bad and toxic. While it may be true that many natural ingredients are good for acne (tea tree, chamomile, sulfur, willow bark, green tea), not everything that organic beauty brands try to sell is effective or safe. For example, some natural ingredients (lavender, lemon, peppermint) are irritants, meaning that they will further aggravate your skin and cause your acne to flare up. More often than not, natural extracts are combined with alcohol, which gives them a fresh scent and mattifies your skin for a short period of time, giving the illusion that they work. In the long run, however, they may harm your skin and make it more sensitive.
Miracle detox products
Detox is a buzz word in the modern beauty industry and the idea will sound miraculous until you hear that the skin has its own natural detox process and detox products are virtually useless. Apart from the fact that you are wasting money on something that your skin already does, you may be applying harsh ingredients that irritate your skin.
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