Treatment for acne

By Julie Fison

Remember the old Clearasil ad – a bunch of skegs deciding if seaweed or saltwater was the best treatment for pimples? Thanks to new developments in skin care – there’s a bit more choice on the market to treat acne these days. In fact, there’s a huge choice out there. So, where do you start when your teen breaks out?

Mothers who have been through this, complain that some of the over-the-counter products can do more harm than good. It’s tempting for teens to try to really scrub their blocked pores, but a harsh cleanser can actually spread bacteria. Common pimple creams tend to dry out the skin as they get rid of the spots. They also treat the symptom rather than the cause – so another pimple pops up where the previous one was.

To get some professional advice on the subject, we have asked Wickham Terrace Skin Clinic Founder, Madelaine Goakes, for some answers.  Madelaine is a therapist (and registered nurse), not a dermatologist, so her expertise is in improving the health of the skin, not prescribing medication for acne.

What is acne?

‘When the teenage years hit, hormones can cause the sebaceous (oil) gland to produce excess oil. This oil can become mixed with flakes of skin and form a plug over the hair follicle, which is from where the oil flows.

With the follicle blocked and the sebaceous gland still producing oil, the oil cannot escape the follicle becomes distended, forming a bump under the skin. This bump can become infected with bacteria that live on the skin resulting in sore inflamed pimples.

Sometimes the blocked follicle presents as a blackhead, the colour is not from dirt. As the oil (sebum) dries it darkens in colour. These blackheads can easily become infected either from attempts to remove them or from the bacteria infiltrating from the surface of the skin.’

What kind of acne conditions can a therapist treat?

‘Acne is given a grading from 1 to 5, 1 is a mild form and 5 (acne conglobata) the most severe but uncommon form. To what level the therapist can treat is probably dependant on the type of treatments they offer and the products they use. Typically a grade1-3 could be tackled by a therapist.

Many people choose to start treatment this way because they want to avoid medication. The best advice I can give is don’t wait until the acne has reached stage 3. Start treatment early. With the correct cleansers and topical Vitamin A, many acne cases can be treated easily.’

What are the treatments?

‘The principles of treating acne are:

  • Reduce the oil production from the sebaceous gland.
  • Reduce the possibility of follicle becoming blocked by removing excess dead skin cells.
  • Remove the blockage of the follicle.
  • Prevent infection by keeping the pH of the skin at the lower end of normal  (4.5- 6.5) this helps to prevent bacteria growth.’

So how do you do this? 

‘There are several options available:

  • Topical Vitamin A has been shown for many years to be effective in improving problem skin. Known as the great cell normaliser, Vitamin A can also help reduce oil flow. Mild forms such as Retinyl Palmitate are very effective in early stages and do not have the risks of sun sensitivity that the stronger forms do.
  • Vitamin A also has a pleasing effect on the dead cells helping them to form a compact and smooth layer on the skin, reducing the possibility of causing blockages.
  • Mild chemical peeling may also be of benefit; this should be undertaken very carefully by an experienced therapist
  • Appropriate cleansers that contain Salicylic Acid can help to dissolve blockages.
  • The cleanser should also have the correct pH towards the lower end of 4.5-6.5, to maintain the delicate layer of oils and bacteria on the skin, this layer is called the acid mantle.  A toner containing Lactic Acid is also helpful.’

What are the side effects of treatment?

‘Some forms of Vitamin A and peeling treatment to reduce blockages can make the skin sun sensitive, but as your teen would be wearing sunscreen and a hat anyway you will probably not need to make any other changes. Yes, I know… what sunscreen and what hat!!!’

Does diet affect acne?

‘I teach skincare at a modeling school and love to tell the models that I have found no conclusive proof that chocolate causes acne. We are at the moment in the clinic researching any papers that make any recommendations based on conclusive trials on nutritional support for acne. However, a healthy balanced diet should always be encouraged.’

Are there other factors that affect acne?

‘There are many triggers for acne: stress, hormones and some medication. Acne can occur at any time in our lives. In our clinic we see quite a few distressed women in their 30s who managed to get through teenage years without acne, suddenly to have their skin out of control.’

‘To sum up, I would say:

  • Treat acne early.
  • The key to effective acne treatment is consistency of application of recommended products.
  • Some popular products used by teenagers can be very damaging to the skin.
  • Moisturising and application of creams can seem counterintuitive, but they are the best way to reduce acne and achieve a well-balanced and nourished skin.

If your skin is not responding to treatment, see your GP who can offer you help or refer you to a Dermatologist.’

Madelaine Goakes is a registered nurse with experience in cosmetic and surgical medicine. Her Wickham Terrace Skin Clinic addresses both the health and appearance of the skin and provides treatment for skins of all ages. See more details here.

Visit Whatever! again soon for professional guidance on using medication for severe acne cases.

See also our recipes for glowing skin here. 


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