A Field Guide to Acne Treatment

by Jen


By Kristin Naff 

Acne can be a beast. There are hundreds of acne treatments on the market, and not all of them work for everyone. Here are some tips to help navigate your treatment, regardless of what method you’re using. As with any medical condition, when in doubt, consult your physician.

Tips for Females Only:

Track your cycles.
Some women have acne breakouts shortly before they menstruate. If you’re one of these women, be especially careful about maintaining your acne treatment around this time.

Be careful about your makeup.
Makeup pads can harbor bacteria (like the bacteria that cause acne), and should be changed regularly. Be sure that your makeup is labeled non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic. This means that the makeup won’t clog your pores. Most cheap makeup is not non-comedogenic. Some women find that even non-comedogenic makeup aggravates their acne.

Tips for Everyone:

Take a picture, or several.
Having your picture taken can be uncomfortable if you have acne, but it’s the best way to track your progress. Date your photographs, and write down what you’re currently doing to take care of your face. Be sure to take later photos under the same lighting conditions. Be wary of photographing under yellowish tungsten lights: you’ll need accurate color to tell whether redness is clearing up. If you’re seeing a dermatologist, photographs can be a valuable tool for him or her as well.

Think back.
There are many factors that influence your skin, and not all of them are related to what you’re using to treat acne. If you’ve got a breakout, think back, and consider any changes in your routine that might be responsible for it.

Don’t give up.
Zits can cause permanent scarring. If your acne bothers you, treat it! There’s no reason to wait until you “grow out of it.” Acne is common in adolescents, but many people find that their acne doesn’t clear up with age. There are many remedies available: home remedies, over-the-counter treatments, and prescription treatments. If you are unsure of where to start, talk to your local pharmacist or family doctor, or make an appointment with a dermatologist. If you have severe acne, don’t hesitate to get it professionally treated.

Be skeptical.
The Internet is the world’s biggest platform for snake-oil salesmen. A legitimate treatment will have been tested in published trials or studies. When in doubt, contact your pharmacist or doctor. Use common sense as a measuring stick for alternative treatments: if it sounds dangerous, implausible, or strange, stay away.

Be consistent.
There is no cure for acne, although a few prescription treatments have long-lasting benefits. Most treatments require regular use to continue to be effective. Zits can take a while to form. Treating acne requires some patience and persistence.

Ask questions.
Your pharmacist can tell you a lot about your treatment: what side effects it causes, how to tell if you’re allergic, and how long you can expect to wait before seeing results. Other sources of information are doctors, drug manufacturers, and fellow acne sufferers.

Mind the side effects.
Some acne treatments can make you more prone to sunburns, or can cause dry skin. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on how to cope with the side effects.

Don’t pick.
A popped zit can act like a miniature open wound on your face, and a potential entrance for harmful bacteria—and not just the bacteria that cause acne.

Don’t overdo it.
Combining treatments, or using larger than the recommended dose, should be done only at a dermatologist’s recommendation.

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