When we meet Toula Portokalos, the main character in the hit movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, she’s a 30-year old shrinking violet who blossoms after she meets her future husband, Ian. After coming to terms with her overwhelming Greek family, learning to understand her overwhelmed future in-laws, and planning the wedding of the century, she experiences her biggest set-back yet, a pimple on her wedding day. The ever resourceful Toula remembers her father’s cure-all for everything under the sun—Windex. A little spritz later and Toula is a flawless bride, and her big fat Greek wedding goes on without a hitch.
Of course, this is a movie where romance and dreams come true. If only a spritz of a household cleaner could solve our problems, life would imitate art. This, however, is not the case when it comes to acne. So then, why do we get acne and what can we do about it?
What is Acne?
Acne vulgaris, or acne, is a condition that occurs when our pores become clogged with dead skin or oil. Acne can take the form of pimples, blackheads or whiteheads. It can appear anywhere on the body, although it is most commonly found on the face, chest, shoulders, and back. While most common in tweens and teens, a break-out can occur at any age. If you have skin, you can get acne!
Signs and Symptoms
Usually you can feel the stirrings of an acne uprising days before they present on the skin, especially for deep painful cysts. Acne varies in severity. Here is what to look for:
- Whiteheads – also known as a closed comedone – is a pimple that is not yet inflamed. It is characterized by a white tip and caused when oil and dead skin cells build up and clog the pore.
- Blackheads – known as an open comedone – is characterized by a hard dark center that is filled with oil and dead skin cells. Like the whitehead, the blackhead is not inflamed.
- Pustule is an inflamed whitehead that is surrounded by a tender, red circle. Like the cyst, the pustule may be painful to the touch.
- Cysts are formed under the skin. Cysts can take days or weeks to develop. They usually become more painful with time and are filled with pus, fluid, or air.
Acne is caused by a variety of factors:
- As puberty kicks in, our sebaceous glands enlarge and secrete more oil (sebum), which can clog up the pore. Pregnancy too can impact the amount of sebum we produce.
- Corticosteroid steroids can treat conditions such as Cushing disease, but acne can be a side-effect.
- Oily build up. Your pores may become clogged if you live or work in an area that produces grimy build-up, such as in a garage or with a deep fryer. The same is true if you use oily lotions.
- Although not proven scientifically, your reactions to certain foods, such as chocolate, dairy, or carb-heavy foods such as breads and pasta, may have an effect on your skin.
- Stress makes everything worse, even acne.
- Family history. Sorry to say, if mom and dad have a history of acne, the odds are that you are more prone to break-outs.
Probable Causes and What to Do
Acne can occur for many reasons. Here are some ways to minimize, or prevent, break-outs:
- Wash your face. Cleansing and exfoliating are the first step and easiest way to remove dead skin, excess oil, make-up, and grime that can clog pores. Cleansers range from soap and water to prescription-strength. Exfoliation can be as gentle as a scrub to acid peels.
- Do more laundry. Oily build-up and dead skin cells remain on your pillow even after you get out of bed. Change your pillow cases, sheets, and towels with greater frequency if you are acne prone.
- Use over-the-counter treatments. Most acne can be overcome by using over-the-counter treatments. Look for active ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid and be sure to follow the directions.
- Prescription medications. With cysts and pustules, your doctor or dermatologist might prescribe antibiotics and other creams to treat the condition. Some women also find oral contraceptives effective to clear up their acne.
- Using anabolic steroids? Bodybuilders and athletes who use anabolic steroids are at risk of acne.
No matter your age, no one wants to experience the embarrassment of an acne break-out. When Windex doesn’t work, consider reaching out to the Children’s Skin Center, South Florida’s premier pediatric dermatology practice. With offices located in Miami (Nicklaus Children’s Hospital main campus), Coral Gables, Doral, Miami Lakes, Miramar, Kendall, Pinecrest , and Palm Beach Gardens, getting kid-friendly dermatology care with a board-certified dermatologist has never been easier or more convenient. Dr. Ana M. Duarte, FAAD and her staff look forward to welcoming you to their practice. To schedule your appointment, please call 305-669-6555 or use the secure online appointment request form.