Women and Acne

New treatments and tips for women dealing with acne.

We’ve all been there. A dreaded pimple shows up on the morning of the job interview or the day of the special dance. What many consider to be solely a bane of teenage years may follow many into adulthood. An occasional pimple, while unpleasant at an inopportune time, is generally not considered a serious health issue. However, many will experience acne which can have an adverse effect on their physical and mental well being well into adulthood.

Acne occurs when hair follicles on the face, neck, and body become blocked or plugged with oil and dead skin cells. These can be represented by whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, papules, and sometimes nodules or cysts. In most circumstances, particularly during puberty, it is the presence of androgens such as testosterone that triggers an overproduction of sebum in skin cells.

Both males and females have these androgens. Males have higher levels and consequently have higher rates of acne in the population. Acne in women often tends to be linked to hormone changes particularly during their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and even into menopause.

Acne can be a minor monthly annoyance for many women, but it can also be severe and cause great distress and affect mood, body image, and give rise to feelings of low self-esteem. Understanding that acne can be effectively treated can go a long way in reducing some of the stress associated with acne.

Some treatments may be limited to effective skin care products and developing good hygiene techniques to minimize outbreaks. More aggressive forms of acne may require either over-the-counter medications or prescribed medications. More severe cases of acne may require treatment from a dermatologist, a physician who specializes in diseases of the skin.

Mild acne can be often treated with OTC products like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid that can clear the skin after repeated use generally over several weeks. If acne is more prevalent on the skin and body, it may be time to see a dermatologist who may recommend additional medications that may include antibiotics and topical medications that may help to reduce oil production on the skin.

For instance, some providers may prescribe a stronger strength of benzoyl peroxide as well as a retinoid that is a Vitamin A derivative. These topical medications along with either topical and/or oral antibiotics may achieve the desired results. Hormone therapy, such as a low-dose estrogen and progesterone found in several brands of birth control pills, may be recommended for women with acne associated with hormone fluctuations.

Women with nodular or cystic acne that is the most acute type of acne may need to be treated with the oral retinoid isotretinoin, which is sold under several name brands including Absorica, Claravis, and Myorisan, among others. Isotretinoin chiefly works by shrinking the size of the oil glands and eliminates the disease process. However, this medication has side effects including dry skin, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and birth defects.

The challenges of taking this medication include arduous medical testing for various levels including cholesterol and triglyceride, liver function, and bone marrow functions. Women of childbearing age must undergo pregnancy testing and be on birth control for the entire medication protocol as isotretinoin has been associated with birth defects.

While onerous, this medication can give significant relief for the most severe acne patients. The rigors and side effects of isotretinoin mandate, particularly for women, that it is reserved for treatment after all other methods have been tried and failed.

Regardless of which treatment acne may require, the AAD offers several skin care tips that can help anyone with skin management. These include washing the affected area twice daily or any time after perspiration with a gentle, alcohol-free cleaner using just your fingertips. Materials like washcloths, sponges and scrubbers can irritate the skin. Avoid scrubbing and using astringents, toners, or exfoliants that can lead to dry red skin. Cosmetics and sunscreens should be oil-free products. Also avoid hot water and wash and rinse with lukewarm water.

Try to avoid popping, squeezing, or touching pimple or papules and let them heal naturally. Scarring can be minimized if you follow this advice. Excessive touching of the face with your hands can cause flare-ups, so try to minimize when possible. Many medications for acne make your skin very sensitive to UV light, so avoid sun exposure. Indoors tanning devices should never be used by anyone ever.

Acne, in all its forms: puberty, hormonal, or the most severe nodular form is treatable. Reach out to your health care provider and ask for his or her input on how you can obtain clearer and healthier skin.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association or AAD offers a comprehensive overview of acne and its causes, treatments and tips at www.add.org/public/diseases/acne-and-rosacea.

Dr. Hardy practices obstetrics and gynecology at Atlantic Ob/Gyn located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. Please visit www.atlanticobgyn.com.

Timothy J. Hardy, M.D.

Dr. Timothy Hardy, M.D. has been practicing medicine in the community for many years. He received his medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School and founded his own practice, Atlantic OB-GYN, in 1990, where he has been providing women with exceptional care ever since. Website: www.atlanticobgyn.com
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