Most of us are happy to move past the teenage years of acne, angst and awkwardness. But for many, this “teenage problem” never goes away and continues into their adult lives. Nodules or cysts, blackheads or whiteheads—no matter their color, acne can be embarrassing.

Acne is like a rash on your face that just won’t quit and is almost impossible to hide, describes Dr. Jeffrey Zwerner, Senior Medical Director of Dermatology at Teladoc, who says that both men and women are affected by it. In 2016, the burden of acne was thought to be about $3 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity in the U.S.*

So what can adults who want to put their best face forward do about this problem? On your journey to clear skin, let’s first take a look at how this inflammatory condition can start.

Causes of acne

When a pore gets blocked, sebum gets trapped in the skin and can burst. Bacteria on the skin can cause the blockages. Sweat or sunscreen can clog pores, too. Just what we need in the summertime, right? Excess oils produced by the skin lead to clogs, and both hormones and stress impact the amount of oil our body creates. In many cases, women have oily skin right around the time of their menstrual periods.

Love fries? Some research has shown that greasy or sugary foods boost oil production, so if you notice a direct impact on your skin, be mindful of what you eat. A low glycemic diet could help improve pimply skin. Unprocessed, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables help the body combat inflammation. Staying hydrated can also help achieve and maintain healthy skin.

Beyond your diet, certain medications and even oil-based hair products can cause acne. Dirt, grease, and bacteria on unclean towels or pillowcases can also contribute to breakouts. Or you may have our family to thank. Studies have found that acne can run in families.

Pimples: now what?

To treat your acne, Dr. Zwerner says, start with methods that unclog pores. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends topical retinoids, creams, lotions and gels derived from Vitamin A. These treatments can be very drying and aren’t always well tolerated by patients. They are sometimes prescribed along with topical or oral antibiotics. In severe cases, patients may consider a few months of hormone therapy such as birth control pools or isotretinoin, known as Accutane. The mix of therapy recommended on your journey to clearer skin will depend on your skin type and appearance.

Dr. Zwerner says that patients with acne may wash their faces often to try to dry the oils and stay clean, but explains this is a big mistake. Extreme washing will only irritate the skin more and make breakouts worse. “You really want to use gentle skin care when you’re dealing with acne,” he says. Once you establish a solid skin care routine, stay on top of those doctor’s orders.

Getting help

While it may be tempting to pop pimples yourself, this can be bad for your skin and can even cause scarring. Poking and prodding often leads to more inflammation, and dirty hands can cause infection. If you don’t like that pimple now, you really don’t want to savor that spot forever.

If bothersome breakouts persist and you find yourself hiding out instead of getting out, it’s time to see a doctor. You can upload images of your acne through the Teladoc website, and one of our U.S. board certified dermatologists will diagnose your condition and create a treatment plan that’s tailored to you within two business days. With the help of a dermatologist, take control back and put your best face forward.

Upload your images

Need more information? Check out DIY treatments for acne breakouts.


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