Today's advice was requested by a woman from Europe who we'll refer to henceforth as R. R asks:
"I never really had acne as a teenager, thank the heavens being a teenager was crappy enough without it. But when I turned 20 I started getting spots here and there. I wouldn't say severe acne but definitely moderate at times. Enough to make me self conscious about it. I tried various acne washes and lotions from the super market but those seemed to mostly just dry out my skin rather than really help the acne. Then when the skin got dry I had to use lotion to prevent flaking, which aggravated my spots and made them bigger. My dermatologist gave me some pills but they seemed more hardcore than for what I had and upset my stomach. Is there anything I can do? Washing my face more seemed to also make it worse and cutting out greasy/fatty foods like chips and chocolate helped not at all. Do you have any advice?
First things first: acne is a medical condition and should be approached as one. Often it is not, viewed instead as some arbitrary issue that'll go away in time on its own. This is seldom the case. If you comprehend the causes of acne you will be better prepared to deal with them. So let's start there.
Acne is caused by clogged pores and/or bacteria. This is why simply washing your face helps some people, but not others. You may not have the same type of acne. If your pores are clogged, washing them out will solve the problem. If you have bacterial acne, washing your face with basic cleanser isn't going to do anything. You need a special sort of cleanser for this. Sometimes you may suffer from both types of acne, in which case you'll need to go with the ol' 1-2 punch.
The idea that acne is caused by poor hygiene is a myth. Over-washing your face can actually be the cause of your problems as many soaps are abrasive or caustic, causing invisible cracks in the surface of your skin which let bacteria in. Even mild soaps, over-used, kill off the good bacteria on your skin, letting the bad bacteria take over.Unless you get something on your face and need to wash it off, you should only be washing your face twice a day: first thing when you get up and just before you go to sleep at night.
The idea that certain sorts of food cause acne is also a myth. So long as you eat a balanced diet, getting all your daily vitamins and minerals, you can really eat whatever you want. Including greasy and fatty foods. The reason this myth exists is because often those with acne eat these sorts of foods and little else. The little else part is the problem, not the junk food! Not eating right causes all sorts of problems internally, which inevitably make you more prone to infection. Acne is usually an infection.
If you eat poorly, I recommend starting a daily multivitamin immediately. Do not expect results over night though. You need to restore depleted reserves before you start feeling and seeing the effort pay off. This could take about four weeks.
The biggest thing you can do to help your skin, no matter what the problem is, is to drink water. Not soda or juice, just plain water. Dehydration opens you up to infection as well, and water helps purify your body. If you aren't getting enough, you're going to be prone to blemishes. Amongst other things. As with vitamins, if you've been terribly without, it might take a few weeks for you to see the benefits.
As for cleansers, for hormonal acne and clogged pores you'll want a wash with Salicylic acid like Neutrogena's oil free acne wash. For infectious bacteria something with Benzoyl peroxide, such as Proactive. If you've both, a combination of Neutrogena's wash and Proactive's lotion will likely cure what ails you. Or better yet, just as effective for less money Neutrogena's own acne fighting system which contains both a cleanser with Salicylic acid and a lotion with Benzoyl peroxide as well as an oil-free moisturizer.
All acne washes and lotions will dry out your skin. To combat this use a lightweight moisturizer such as Aveeno's facial lotion with feverfew for sensitive skin. It's lightweight so less likely to clog pores and contains feverfew which naturally reduces redness. People often overlook the importance of not letting their skin dry out when they have a problem such as acne. Dry skin produces far more oils in an effort to correct itself than it would were it healthy. Which, obviously, will clog your pores. If you find light lotions like the Aveeno for sensitive skin aren't moisturizing certain areas enough (around the eyes or lips where skin is more delicate), you may need something a little heavier such as Neutrogena's oil-free daily lotion also, for these areas exclusively.
While correcting the problem I advise laying a clean towel over your pillow at night and changing it out every 3-4 days. Pillow cases are thin and not very absorbent so all the oil from your face and hair just sit there, accumulating. Then when you go to bed, you mash your face into these stale oils all night. Once you've got control of the problem, you don't need to worry about your pillow case, but in the mean time not taking that extra step may sabotage progress towards getting better.
Also important is exercise. Now, don't misunderstand. You do not need to jog miles or lift weights. Simply taking a walk around the block once or twice a day will more than suffice. People today lead exceptionally sedimentary lifestyles. Think of your body like a pool of water: without movement it will stagnate.
Applying a combination of these tactics should see you on the road to recovery within a month. If not, in rare cases the underlying cause will require medical intervention. Such as a hormone imbalance or an unusually resistant strain of bacteria.