Acne Education #7 - Treatments

26.11.14


Today's acne education post is about treatments. I think this is going to be my last post on acne - though probably not on skincare - to be honest. I've pretty much covered everything I wanted to cover on the subject, and I truly hope these posts have been helpful to some of you. Anyway, let's get into acne treatments.

There are many different treatments for acne but I'm only going to talk about the three I have personally used and know about for this post. With research, I could talk about ones I haven't used but I'd prefer not to do that because I don't want to misinform or mislead anyone and I don't know how they work on my skin.
BENZOYL PEROXIDE
WHAT IS IT?
The first acne treatment I ever used, benzoyl peroxide is a cream that comes in three strengths: 2.5%, 5% and 10%. I believe that it is prescription-only in some countries (not in Australia) so you will need to see your GP first. You'll want to begin using it at the 2.5% strength so you can ease your skin into it, allowing it to adjust to the product, and you can see how your skin reacts.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
As we've all learnt by now, bacteria on the skin contributes to acne - benzoyl peroxide eliminates bacteria on the skin. No bacteria means less pimples. Benzoyl peroxide also assists with absorbing excess sebum, or oil.

SIDE EFFECTS
The side effects will vary depending on your skin type. But some common side effects are dry or peeling skin and slight reddening of the skin. These side effects should subside the longer you use the product for. However, if they become worse or aren't ceasing, you should discontinue using the product as your skin has become irritated. That's why it is important to slowly introduce your skin to this product - doing this will keep side effects to a minimum.

OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Because benzoyl peroxide will make you photosensitive, you need to keep your sun exposure and exposure to any UV light very low. If you'd like to use a sunscreen product on your face, ensure that there aren't any comedogenic ingredients in it which will make your acne worse. Also, make sure you are keeping your skin as hydrated as possible by using a good moisturiser and drinking plenty of water. Lastly, sensitive and dry skinned people need to be extremely careful when using this product.

MY EXPERIENCE
I used benzoyl peroxide for about two years, while both on and off the pill. I think it does an incredible job of getting rid of and preventing whiteheads and blackheads, so if these are the types of pimples you are getting, I definitely recommend using it. Benzoyl peroxide ended up being way too harsh on my skin - my sensitive and prone-to-drying skin just couldn't handle it anymore. However, my sister - who has oily skin - has been using it for years and it has improved her skin substantially with the exception of a hormonal breakout here and there. We both use(d) Benzac AC by Galderma which is about $15.
DIFFERIN
WHAT IS IT?
Differin is a cream that consists of an ingredient called adapelene. It is available in two strengths: 0.1% and 0.3%. This is a prescription-only acne treatment. It also comes in gel form.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
In a nutshell, Differin assists the skin in renewing itself. It allows the pores on our skin to unblock, releasing sebum. No sebum on the skin means bacteria and dead skin cells have nothing to cling to which subsequently means a reduction in new whiteheads, blackheads or spots.

SIDE EFFECTS
Side effects that may occur while using Differin are quite similar to those of benzoyl peroxide. These include, dry skin, slight redness, tingling, and stinging. Additionally, you may also purge when you first begin treatment, which means your acne may worsen before it gets better. But look at it this way - these spots were going to come out eventually and it's better for them to come to the surface sooner rather than later because you will be on your way to clearer skin a lot quicker.

OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Like benzoyl peroxide, you need to limit your UV exposure and make sure you are using products with an SPF because you will burn at a faster rate than normal. Also, only use Differin at night time - cleanse your face, pat dry, wait at least 20 minutes before applying Differin, and do not apply a moisturiser before or after. Lastly, do not apply more than a pea size to your entire face and do not spot treat with it. Using more than is recommended will not make it work faster, you'll end up burning your face and you'll have use a cortisone cream for three weeks - trust me, I've been there and it ain't pretty.

MY EXPERIENCE
I first used Differin 0.1% (also by Galderma) in cream form about two years ago. I was on it for about six months and I loved how my skin looked - apart from when the above incident occurred. I have recently started using it again because my skin was breaking out due to some of the products I was using on my face. I am loving my skin right now and I've only been on it for a couple weeks. I've had a small purge and my skin is the tiniest bit dryer than usual. But apart from that, my sensitive skin has taken to it quite well. So, I'm a happy girl! Differin costs around $45 in Australia.
THE PILL (YASMIN)
WHAT IS IT?
Birth Control Pills/Combined Oral Contrceptive Pills are taken as a form of contraception to prevent women from becoming pregnant. But they are also used for a number of different reasons. These include the treatment and prevention of acne; however, the use of the pill for this reason should be a last resort once topical methods have failed.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
Basically the hormones in the tablet will take over your natural hormones. Your usual cycle and hormones still run in the background but the pill overtakes these. Please note that the pill will only help clear your acne if it is related to hormones, and only if the pill is formulated to assist with acne - some will simply make it worse.

SIDE EFFECTS
There are a number of different side effects to watch out for but they will usually subside as your body adjusts to the hormones. You can read about Yasmin's side effects here. Now, I'd just like to quickly address the blood clot issue - refer to this article if you have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm a little bit tired of people and the media scaring people into not taking Yasmin (or Yaz) and a number of other COCPs because of this issue. I'm not saying we shouldn't be cautious or aware but I've consulted my doctor and I feel completely comfortable with my decision to continue on it. I've been on Yasmin for just over two years, so my risk of a blood clot has significantly decreased and will continue to do so the longer I am on it. Plus, there is no history of blood clots in my family, I'm not a smoker and I'm not over the age of 35 - all of which increase the chance of blood clots. Just like all medications, there are benefits and potential risks, and the pill is no different.

OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
This is a prescription medication, so you will need to visit your doctor first. Have a good discussion with your doctor about the pill and don't hesitate to raise any questions or concerns you have. Also, you may have to try a few before you find the right one that agrees with you and your body. But do your research and read the pamphlet in the box when you get it. And just get ready for judgement, from the pharmacist, from friends, anyone you tell - no matter how many times you say "I'm just on it for my skin" they'll still give you weird looks and think you're on it for other reasons... Lastly, you can go as long as nine weeks (three satchels) before you have a period if you so choose. Oh, and the pill option is obviously only for females.

MY EXPERIENCE
The first pill I went on (Valette) was not the right one for me and made my skin worse. But when I found Yasmin, I saw an improvement within a month. I'm so thankful that I went on it because not only has my skin cleared up a ridiculous amount, it has also helped to reduce PMS, I get less headaches, period cramps have eased, and I'm certainly not as moody as I used to be. Yasmin costs approximately $75 in Australia.

Other treatments for acne are antibiotics (both oral and topical), Retin-a and Accutane. Antibiotics can be effective in some cases but they are only a short-term solution. I also do not recommend Accutane under any circumstances. I have not personally tried it but from stories I've heard and research I've done, the side effects are absolutely terrible and it is also not a long-term treatment. I can, however, vouch for Retin-a. I used it many, many years ago. It works similarly to Differin but it can be a little harsher on the skin. So, if you have sensitive skin, I would definitely suggest Differin.

I hope this post has been helpful. I can only talk about these products from a personal point of view - everyone is different, everyone reacts differently to medications.  I've only covered the basics of these products so I really do urge you to do your own research and find out more as well as consult a GP or dermatologist. And always follow the instructions given by your doctor or provided with the medication.

Part 1 - My Acne Journey
Part 2 - What Is Acne and Why Do We Get It?
Part 3 - What Is Your Skin Type?
Part 4 - My Top 10 Tips for Helping Acne
Part 5 - Skincare Routine For Oily Skin
Part 6 - Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

NB: I am not a dermatologist or skin specialist. I do not claim to know everything about acne. This information is derived from websites, books and my own knowledge/experience with acne.