5 min|Dr. Maya Kuczma
5 Quick Tips to Treating AcneSkin Health
An External Approach to Treating AcneAcne typically develops due to a complex ‘perfect storm’ of multiple factors, such as increased sebum (skin oil) production, obstruction of pores, inflammation, and microbial imbalances. While we never advocate solely treating the skin externally, there are many healthy habits that can begin to target these factors from the outside in.
1. Limit IrritationRupturing the skin, via picking and squeezing, damages the integrity of the stratum corneum - the outermost layer of the skin - and can induce an infection, increase inflammation, and increase the likelihood of hyperpigmentation and/or scarring. Intense exfoliation, particularly with microbeads or an exfoliating brush, can have the same effect as picking due to abrasive damage to the stratum corneum. Irritation can result if make-up, bacteria, and environmental pollutants are not washed off before bed, or if we sleep on a dirty pillowcase, or neglect to wipe down devices and accessories that touch our face. Alternatively, over-washing can strip the skin of natural oils, leading to an overproduction of oil, increased inflammation and irritation.
- Wipe down your phone screen, glasses, headsets
- Change your pillowcase at least a couple times per week
- Cleanse once a day, before bed, with a gentle cleanser that does not leave your skin feeling tight or overly dry
2. Utilize Non-Comedogenic ProductsIngredients are rated on a comedogenicity scale from zero - least likely to clog pores - to five - most likely to clog pores.(1) Comedogenic products will not necessarily cause breakouts, but may be aggravating for those that are acne-prone. (2) Non-comedogenic products are formulated to limit pore blockages and breakouts, and are a preferred option for acneic skin. Many products that rank low on the comedogenicity scale will advertise this quality, via a ‘noncomedogenic’ or ‘nonacnegenic’ label. The comedogenic scale may also explain why certain ‘natural’ products are not ideal for acneic skin; for example, coconut oil ranks as highly comedogenic, and is typically listed as either a 4 or 5, depending on the source.
- Look for ‘noncomedogenic’ or ‘nonacnegenic’ on skincare products
- Beware comedogenic ingredients such as coconut oil, soybean oil, D&C red, wheat germ oil, and PEG 2,16,200, 8, among many others (2)
3. Consider an Active Topical IngredientThere are many active ingredients that can be used topically to address the various factors that contribute to breakouts:
Topical retinoids increase cell turnover, decrease inflammation, lighten hyperpigmentation, and reduce acne scarring (3)
Topical salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, decreases sebum production and reduces inflammation (4)
Topical azelaic acid decreases overproduction of keratin, has a degree of antibacterial activity, and acts as a free radical scavenger, which may lend to its anti-inflammatory properties (5,6)
Benzoyl peroxide inhibits growth of microorganisms on the skin (7)
Niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, has a stabilizing effect on the skin barrier, and decreases sebum production (8)
- Start small: begin using only one new active ingredient at a time
- Start slow: begin using an active ingredient only once or twice a week to see how your skin responds
- Prevention is key: treat the whole face, in anticipation of breakouts, rather than using active ingredients as ‘spot treatments’ when breakouts arise
- Moisturize: even if the skin appears oily, moisturizing after an active ingredient is necessary to maintain a healthy skin barrier.
4. Let there Be LightPhototherapy utilizes specific wavelengths of light to treat skin conditions. Specifically, treatment with blue light appears to be beneficial in the treatment of acne, particularly in reducing inflammation. (9) However, this treatment is not an instant fix; improvements were observed following multiple treatments over time, such as twice a week over four to twelve weeks.(10) Although blue light appears to be a well-tolerated treatment that could be combined with various other topical skin treatments, accessibility can be an issue. (11) However, recent developments in handheld devices are enabling consistent home treatments of phototherapy. Additionally, many dermatologists and facialists are providing blue phototherapy within in-office treatments.
- Blue light may be a helpful addition but cannot replace a gentle, targeted skincare regimen
- Don’t break the bank seeking expensive skin care devices or treatments, especially if you haven’t addressed internal factors contributing to skin health
- If you try phototherapy, be consistent and give it time
Switching products too frequently can muddy results, and waste your money. Eagerly introducing many active ingredients at once can irritate the skin, further exacerbating the inflammation-acne cycle. Many active ingredients take upwards of 8-12 weeks to reach their peak efficacy; trying a product for a few weeks will not provide adequate insight into how your skin may respond over time. Skin treatment - both internally and externally - requires consistency and patience.
5. Most importantly, patience is key
Many of our Naturopathic Doctors at Integrative can work with you to develop a treatment plan that combines individualized internal and external recommendations to balance the tone, texture, and clarity of your skin over time. Contact us today - we’re ready when you are.
Dr. Maya Kuczma
Maya Kuczma, ND, is a freelance medical writer and Naturopathic Doctor at Integrative. The central focus to her writing and medical practice is identifying biochemical, environmental, and emotional triggers of illness. Her treatment plans are rooted in evolutionary biology and ancestral nutrition, and aim to utilize ancient wisdom to alleviate the stressors of our modern way of life.