Acne - Treatment

Acne treatment consists of reducing sebum production, removing dead skin cells, and killing bacteria. Treatment methods differ depending on how serious the acne is.

Topical Drugs

Topical drugs are applied directly to the affected areas of the skin. They are available in the form of creams, gels, lotions, or pads. They are used primarily to treat mild forms of acne in which there is little or no inflammation.

One group of topical drugs used for acne includes antibiotics. These drugs kill the bacteria that contribute to the disease. Another group of drugs is called comedolytics (pronounced KO-mee-do-LIE-tiks). These drugs loosen hard plugs and open pores. Still another group of drugs works by increasing the rate at which new skin cells form. These drugs prevent the formation of new comedos.

Topical drugs are applied once or twice a day after washing with mild soap. Treatment may have to continue anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a few years. Side effects such as mild redness, peeling, irritation, dryness, and an increased sensitivity to sunlight may occur.

Oral Drugs

Oral drugs are taken by mouth. Doctors sometimes prescribe oral antibiotics for moderate cases of acne. These antibiotics prevent the formation of new comedos and reduce inflammation. They are usually taken once a day

for two to four months. Side effects may include allergic reactions, stomach upset, vaginal yeast infections, dizziness, and tooth discoloration.

A drug that is used for severe cases of acne is isotretinoin (pronounced i-so-TRET-uh-no-un, trade name Accutane). This drug reduces the production of sebum and the stickiness of skin cells. It is used when cysts and nodules are present. The drug may be used alone or with other topical or oral antibiotics.

Isotretinoin treatment usually lasts for four or five months. It is effective in about 60 percent of all patients. If the acne reappears, another course of treatments may be necessary. Some side effects that may accompany the use of isotretinoin include nosebleeds, dry skin, a temporary worsening of the acne, vision disorders, and increased production of liver enzymes, blood fats, and cholesterol. It may also cause birth defects and cannot, therefore, be used by pregnant women.

Women who do not respond to any of these treatments may be given another type of oral drug, an anti-androgen. Anti-androgens reduce the production of androgen and therefore reduce the formation of comedos. Certain types of oral contraceptives are also effective as anti-androgens.

The most serious forms of acne require other types of drugs, including oral corticosteroids, or anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are often used for the treatment of a form of acne known as acne fulminans, which occurs mostly among adolescent males. They are also used with acne that produces numerous deep, inflamed nodules that heal with scarring.

Other Treatments

Several surgical or medical treatments may be used to reduce acne or the scars caused by the disease.

  • Chemical peel. A chemical known as glycolic acid is first applied to the skin. When it dries, it is peeled off, taking the top layer of skin with it. This treatment helps reduce scarring.
  • Collagen injection. Shallow scars are filled in by injecting collagen, a skin protein, beneath the scars.
  • Comedo extraction. A special tool is used to remove a comedo from a pore.
  • Dermabrasion. The affected skin is first frozen with a chemical spray. Then it is removed with a brush or sandpaper-like instrument.
  • Intralesional injection. Anti-inflammatory drugs are injected directly into inflamed pimples.
  • Punch grafting. Deep scars are removed and the area repaired with small skin grafts.

Alternative Treatment

Alternative treatments for acne focus on proper hygiene and diet. Patients are advised to keep their skin clean and oil-free. They are also encouraged to eat a well-balanced diet high in fiber, zinc, and raw fruits and vegetables. They should also avoid alcohol, dairy products, caffeine, sugar, smoking, processed foods, and foods high in iodine, such as table salt.

Some doctors recommend the use of herbs to supplement the diet. Some herbs that have been used in the treatment of acne include burdock root, red clover, and milk thistle. Additional nutrients that may help to control acne include B-complex vitamins and chromium. Chinese herbal treatments that are recommended include cnidium seed and honeysuckle flower. Another herbal treatment is tea tree oil. The proper dose of these substances can be recommended by physicians or nutritionists.

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