Medical science has come ahead in leaps and bounds over the past hundred years. Discoveries like antibiotics and anaesthetics have increased our life span to over 80 years, but more than that, they have also radically improved our quality of life. We no longer have to put up with painful and embarrassing conditions like acne – your GP has quite an arsenal of treatments available to help people suffering with acne at any stage of life. Today we take an overview of some common treatments for acne prescribed and recommended by doctors.
What Causes Acne? The Medical View
There are hundreds of scam sites on the net that will tell you acne is caused by any number of things … which they are inevitably selling the acne treatment for!. Medical opinion, though, recognizes four main factors in the development of acne:
• Overactive sebum glands
• Blocked pores (which create an anaerobic environment)
• Bacteria in the skin (which occur naturally in both people who need acne treatment, and people who don’t)
• Inflammation due to the combination of the above ingredients
So, doctor-prescribed acne treatments will target any of these four factors.
Antibiotics are one of the simplest anti-acne medications available from your doctor. They work by killing off the population of propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) living in your pores, meaning that any excess oil in an anaerobic environment doesn’t get infected. You will often still develop blackheads, though.
Antibiotics as acne treatment are well-tolerated by some people, but others experience side effects like:
• Liver function impairment
• Sensitivity to the sun
• Oral/vaginal thrush
Doctors don’t recommend antibiotic acne treatments be taken during pregnancy, either.
Hormonal treatments for acne usually consist of taking the combined oral contraceptive pill. The rationale behind the treatment is that androgens, male hormones, can create excess sebum. The estrogen and progesterone in The Pill counteract an excess of androgens in the body.
You should consider that:
• Obviously you can’t become pregnant while taking The Pill for acne treatment, nor can you start taking it if your are already pregnant
• For some people, hormonal treatments make acne worse
• There can be other side effects, including an increased risk of stroke and DVT in women who smoke, weight gain, headaches and mood changes
Roaccutane is often considered a last resort in doctor-prescribed acne treatments, and both of the above treatments, as well as the lifestyle and cosmetic options we look at below, would be explored before starting a course.
Roaccutane involves taking a mega-dose of vitamin A via one or two tablets daily for six months. It works by greatly reducing sebaceous gland action (hence some of the side effects we’ll look at), and can actually permanently reduce or get rid of acne by shrinking the natural size of the sebaceous glands over the course.
However, side effects are significant!
• Dry eyes, lips and skin
• The need to completely stay away form sunlight
• Risk of scarring
• Increased risk of depression
• Increased risk of Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis
Roaccutane is a very effective acne treatment – but only for cases of sever acne where patients are ready for significant side effects.
Doctor-recommended cosmetic and lifestyle treatments
Of course, doctors also frequently recommend (rather than prescribe) cosmetic and lifestyle treatments for acne. These usually have minimal (or beneficial!) side effects, and can be much cheaper than prescription meds. They might include:
• Laser therapy for acne to destroy the populations of P. acnes in the skin
• Eating plenty of fresh fruit and veges
• Regular exercise to the point of sweating
• Experimenting with staying away from wheat or milk, as low-level allergies can contribute to acne formation.
Whatever your choice of acne treatment, there really is no reason to live with bumps, blackheads and zits!