How to effectively treat acne
Though I care for people who suffer from many different illnesses, I’ve found no single health condition that causes more psychic trauma and feelings of inferiority than acne. Mixed messages regarding acne’s cause, duration and treatment abound. Some may dismiss acne as an adolescent rite of passage, but acne is a disease that causes real problems, including life-long skin scars, shunning of social events (an especially painful experience for teens who are already concerned about not fitting in) and even depression.
Dispelling the myth
Acne is a genetic disease that results from over-active oil production in the skin that combines with bacteria. This plugs and inflames the skin causing blackheads, whiteheads and deep cysts. Acne is not caused by foods or dirt — restrictive diets or over-washing do not help. The disease affects about 85 percent of men and 60 percent of women. It can last for years or decades, so controlling acne is a long-term effort.
Acne typically appears in the mid-teens, so it compounds the emotional travails of adolescence. This age group is least likely to be seen in health care centers, so it’s important for providers to ask about acne during wellness exams and sports physicals. One particularly troubling myth for women is that acne confines itself to the teen years. Acne is not so easily escaped. Twenty-five percent of women will experience their first skin eruption after childbirth and the disease may last well into their 30s or 40s.
Attack it from the beginning
By the time they seek medical help, most people have tried many remedies — some useless, others downright dangerous. Many patients already suffer from scars that require aesthetic treatments to reduce. To prevent this, it is best to begin treatment at acne’s onset. For some, acne is so intense and disfiguring that only oral isotretinoin (Acutane) can stop it or at least blunt its effects. Acutane therapy is complicated, and only a few doctors in the United States are credentialed to use it. I only prescribe isotretinoin with frequent medical monitoring. For those who qualify and tolerate it, Acutane provides remarkable results.
Reliable information about acne is available and effective therapies exist, but feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness still take their toll. It doesn’t have to be this way. With treatment, acne need not be secretly tolerated or grudgingly endured. Overcoming acne allows people to look and feel better, and more fully engage in life.