Pimples (acne, zits, spots) affect the skin of the majority of teenagers and a significant number of adults.
Some individuals are lucky and have occasional breakouts while others may experience ongoing (chronic) problems. The presence of pimples on the skin, especially the face, may cause anxiety and embarrassment.
Treating pimples promptly can also help overcome its emotional and psychological effects. Although pimples are not in themselves bad for overall health, living with them, especially if they are persistent and become a long-term problem can be as devastating emotionally as living with a chronic disease.
Studies have shown that people with regular breakouts of pimples are more likely to develop depression.
Experts say that acne should be treated promptly, especially if the individual is prone to getting pimples.
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You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.
Fast facts on pimples
Here are some key points about pimples. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Pimples are developed by the majority of teenagers and a significant number of adults.
- Pimples can cause anxiety and embarrassment, particularly when situated on the face.
- Prompt treatment of pimples often helps with overcoming their emotional and psychological effects.
- People with regular breakouts of pimples are more likely to experience depression.
- The risk of developing pimples is increased by a diet high in dairy products and high glycemic index foods.
- To reduce the risk of pimples, it is recommended that people wash their faces about twice each day - not more often.
- Popping (bursting) pimples can make the skin infection worse.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pimple treatments often contain active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and sulfur.
- Prescription medication for pimples includes topical treatment, antibiotics and laser and light therapy.
- Breakouts of pimples can be made worse by the stress and anxiety, makeup and greasy hair.
Self-help pimple treatments
Researchers from New York University reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that a diet high in dairy products and high glycemic index foods increases the risk of developing pimples. The scientists also suggest that using medical nutrition therapy may help reduce the number and severity of acne outbreaks.
There is a risk you may push the infection further down, causing more serious blockage and worse swelling and redness if you try to burst the pimple.
Washing your face
Wash your face about twice each day - not more often. Make sure you have a mild soap. Use warm water. Wash gently; do not scrub the skin. Experts advise the use of an OTC lotion which contains benzoyl peroxide.
Do not pop (burst) the pimple
There is a risk you may push the infection further down, causing more serious blockage and worse swelling and redness. Popping pimples also increases the risk of scarring.
If you need to get rid of the pimple
If you have an important event, such as a public-speaking engagement or wedding and it is important to get rid of a sightly pimple, get a specialist to treat it for you.
Touching your face
Even though this may require some willpower, try to refrain from touching your face with your hands. If you are using a telephone, do not let receiver touch the skin of your face - it may have skin residue or sebum on it. Before touching your face make sure you always wash your hands with soap.
Keep your hands and nails as clean as you can by washing them regularly with soap. Keep your nails short.
Glasses collect sebum and skin residue; clean them regularly.
If the pimples are on parts of your body covered by clothing, such as your back, shoulders or chest, wear loose clothing. Whenever possible, avoid wearing headbands, caps and scarves - if you have to wear them, wash them regularly. In short - allow your skin to breathe.
Make sure you have taken all your makeup off when you go to sleep. Only use makeup that is nonceomedogenic or nonacnegenic - you should be able to read this on the label.
Sebum and skin collects in hair. Keep your hair clean. Try to keep your hair away from your face.
Overexposure to sunlight may sometimes result in the production of more sebum. Some medications used by people with acne may make your skin more prone to sunburn.
Shaving your faceBe careful when you shave. Either use safety razors (make sure blade is sharp) or an electric shaver. Before shaving, soften the skin with warm, soapy water before applying the shaving cream - the skin is softer straight after a warm shower.
Over-the-counter treatments for pimples
The majority of OTC products for pimples or acne contain the following active ingredients:
- Resorcinol - Resorcinol helps break down blackheads and whiteheads. It is a crystalline phenol (carbolic acid, C6H5OH) and comes from various resins. This active ingredient is also used for the treatment of dandruff, eczema and psoriasis.
- Benzoyl Peroxide - (C6H5CO) 2O2 - this active ingredient attacks and kills bacteria and slows down the glands' production of oil. Benzoyl works as a peeling agent, accelerating skin turnover and clearing pores, which in turn reduces the bacterial count in the affected area.
- Salicylic Acid - C6H4 (OH)COOH - helps break down blackheads and whiteheads, also slows down the shedding of cells which line the follicles of the oil glands, effective in treating inflammation and swelling. Salicylic acid is a white crystalline substance which is also used as a fungicide, or in making aspirin or dyes or perfumes. It causes the epidermis to shed skin more easily, prevents pores from becoming blocked while at the same time allowing space for new cells to grow. Many dandruff shampoos contain salicylic acid.
- Sulfur - A chemical element which is denoted with the symbol S. It helps breakdown blackheads and whiteheads. Sulfur, in its native form, is a yellow crystalline solid. Sulfur has been used for centuries for treating acne, psoriasis and eczema. Scientists are not sure how sulfur works to help skin diseases. We do know that elemental sulfur does oxidize slowly to sulfurous acid which is a mild reducing and antibacterial agent.
- Retin-A - Retin-A helps unplug blocked pores. Retin-A contains Tretinoin, an acid form of vitamin A, also known as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). Tretinoin is also used for the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia. Retin-A has been used widely to combat aging of the skin, it also acts as a chemical peel. It was the first retinoid developed for acne use by applying it on the skin (retinoids are a class of chemical compounds that are related chemically to vitamin A).
- Azelaic Acid - HOOC(CH2)7CCOH - strengthens cells that line the follicles, stops oil eruptions, reduces bacteria growth. It is a saturated dicarboxylic acid found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. Azelaic acid also mops up free radicals, which reduces inflammation. It is useful for patients with darker skin who have dark patches on their face (melasma), or whose acne spots leave persistent brown marks.
Most of these active ingredients may be found in medications in the form of gels, pads, creams, lotions and soaps. OTC medications will have different concentrations of these active ingredients; it is advisable to start with the lowest strengths. At first you may experience skin irritation, redness, or burning - eventually, after continued use, these side effects go away.
People with sensitive skin are commonly advised to look at creams or lotions.
Gels tend to be better for people with oily skins. Gels are usually alcohol based and dry the skin.
On the next page we look at prescription medications for pimples, and some of the factors that may contribute to a worse than usual bout of pimples.