Acne is a very common skin disorder that we see in adolescence and young adulthood. It can present as comedones (blackheads, whiteheads), papules, pustules or nodules. Acne occurs when your hair follicles are clogged with oil and dead skin cells, leading to inflammation. By understanding how acne occurs, we can formulate a simple and effective way of fighting acne through our daily skincare regime.
Types of acne
A fragrance-free cleanser, fragrance-free moisturiser and a non-comedogenic sunblock will usually be enough to combat mild acne. The cleanser will help to remove dead skin cells, excess oil and bacteria. The moisturiser will help to keep the skin hydrated and reduces skin irritation. The sunblock will protect the skin from harmful UV rays.
If these are not enough to control your acne, you may want to add on certain active products to achieve better control. However it is important to start slow and not use too many different products at the same time as they can dry and irritate your skin, leading to more acne.
- Niacinamide (vitamin B3) – It helps to repair damage to the skin and also neutralises free radicals that are harmful to the skin. It also helps to reduce oil production and has anti-inflammatory properties. Niacinamide also boosts the production of ceramides which helps to protect your skin barrier.
- Green tea – It is shown to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. This will help to reduce the number of comedones and inflamed acne nodules. It will also help to protect and repair your skin from UV damage.
- Tea tree oil – It is shown to have antimicrobial properties in many studies and is beneficial to patients with mild to moderate acne. It can be used as a gel or as a wash.
- Salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid (BHAs))– It will help to cleanse the skin of oil, dirt and dead skin cells to prevent them from clogging your pores. It penetrates the oil glands better compared to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and is very effective against comedones. It can be found in over-the-counter acne related products or done as a chemical peel treatment.
- Retinols and retinoids (Tretinoin, Adapalene) – These are vitamin A derivatives that are effective in fighting acne and repairs photoaging by increasing skin cell turnover. They help to exfoliate the skin and control the formation of comedones. They also help to reduce oil production and are shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. however, they should be used gradually as they can cause skin irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin.
- Antibiotics – Topical antibiotics help to kill the acne bacteria and reduce their activity on the skin surface. However they do not reduce the oil production of the skin. Thus they are best used together with topical retinoids.
- Benzoyl peroxide – This product has both antimicrobial and exfoliating properties. It helps to kill the acne bacteria and also unclog pores. It is very effective in fighting comedones and acne papules. It can be used as a cream or as a wash. This product can bleach your clothes and towels so do use with caution.
Most people will see improvement in their acne after using these products for a few months. Improvement can be slow at the start so you need to have some patience. If the problem persists, do consult a doctor for proper advice and treatment. More severe and stubborn acne will require combining topical products with other forms of treatment such as oral medication, chemical peel, LED light and laser. It is always better to treat and control acne as soon as possible to reduce the risk of acne scarring. Keep a lookout on our upcoming article on the different types of lasers for acne treatment.
Written By Dr. Wu Jiwei
MBBS, PG Dip (Clinical Derm) (UK)