While there is no cure for acne, there are treatments available to help control breakouts. Treatment of acne is divided into three categories: topical, systemic and procedural. The course of treatment used for someone's acne is determined by the type and severity of the acne.
Knowing your grade of acne can aide in choosing the most beneficial treatment plan. Grade I and Grade II - mild to moderate acne - is most often treated with over-the-counter products. Grade III and Grade IV acne, considered moderately severe to severe, or cystic acne, must be treated by a dermatologist.
Individuals suffering with acne should not be discouraged if it takes several different types of treatments before finding the one that works best for them. As with treatment of anything, consistency is the key to a successful outcome.
The first step in fighting acne is to see a dermatologist, or a medical doctor who specializes in the science of skin, its treatment and diseases. A dermatologist can offer many suggestions for treatment of your acne, as well as advice and support. Dermatologists work with patients to develop a treatment plan that can include topical and systemic medications. For those who suffer from Grade III or Grade IV, a dermatologist is a must in treating your acne. Severe acne of this type does not respond to over-the-counter drugs.
Topical Acne Treatments
Creams, ointments or mineral essential lotions fall into the category of topical acne treatments. These are used in the treatment of mild to severe acne and are available over the counter and by prescription depending on the type and strength. Over-the-counter topical treatments include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, and resorcinol. Patients with severe acne typically receive a prescription for treatments including azelaic acid, topical retinoids and topical antibiotics.
Systemic Acne Treatments
Working internally, systemic treatments may be taken orally, as in a pill or injected into the skin. Systemic treatments are used in the case of moderate acne, when topical treatments aren't enough, as well as for severe and cystic acne. Systemic treatments are available by prescription only and are often used in conjunction with topical treatments. Systemic acne treatments include oral antibiotics, hormonal treatments, and isotretinoin (sold in brand names such as Accutane).
Procedural Acne Treatments
In the treatment of mild to severe acne, a dermatologist, health care practitioner, or esthetician may choose to use procedural treatments that are meant to be supportive and used in conjunction with topical and/or systemic treatments.
- Comedo extractions - Comedo extractions involve gently coaxing plugs of sebum and cellular debris from the pore and are often performed by estheticians during a facial. Removing blackheads, milia, and soft closed comedones can help decrease the overall number of breakouts. Cysts or serious lesions may only be extracted by a dermatologist through surgical methods.
- Light chemical peels - Despite the name, light chemical peels do not "peel" the skin. Instead, they deeply exfoliate the skin using an alpha-hydroxy, beta-hydroxy, or glycolic acid. Light chemical peels improve acne by removing dead skin cells and helping to clear pores of debris. Estheticians may incorporate chemical peels into a facial for those with mild to moderate acne. Those with more serious acne should have their dermatologist perform the chemical peel.
- Microdermabrasion - This treatment may be performed at a skin spa or your dermatologist's office. A machine is used to rapidly discharge super-fine crystals over the skin's surface, blasting away dead skin cells. It is not painful. A microdermabrasion treatment deeply exfoliates the skin, loosening debris from within the pore. It is best for those who have non-inflamed acne, with many blackheads and/or whiteheads.
- Phototherapy - Phototherapy is the term used to describe any treatment utilizing laser or light. They work by killing P. acnes, reducing inflammation, or shrinking the sebaceous glands, depending on what therapy is used. Phototherapy can be used to treat all stages of acne, from mild to very severe. A dermatologist can help you decide which treatment, if any, would be most effective for you.
- Corticosteroid injections - Cysts are serious lesions that damage skin tissue. Dermatologists can inject a cyst with corticosteroid, reducing inflammation and the chance of scarring. Corticosteroid injections speed healing of the lesion to just a few short days.
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