Refuting the myth that eating chocolate or greasy foods causes acne, the experts at the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases do note that hormones can play a significant role in acne outbreaks. It most commonly affects adolescents whose hormonal fluctuations are a natural but temporary part of aging, but hormonal acne can occur well into adulthood. Effective treatments do exist, however, and your physician might recommend topical or oral medications, or both.
Puberty and Acne
Sebaceous glands beneath the skin produce an oily substance called sebum, which normally empties onto the surface of your skin through your pores. Whiteheads, blackheads, pustules and cysts are types of acne lesions that form when pores become blocked, causing an excessive buildup of sebum and bacteria. During puberty, hormones called androgens increase in both girls and boys. Higher levels of androgens cause sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce excessive amounts of the oily sebum. Other factors that might influence acne include hormonal changes during pregnancy, menstruation and use of some oral contraceptives.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that women with persistently elevated androgen levels might have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Signs associated with PCOS include persistent acne, irregular menstrual periods, excessive body and facial hair, and obviously, increased androgen levels on blood tests. Writing for Mayo Clinic, Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson warns, however, that such hormonal imbalances are not the cause of acne for most adult women. He therefore advises caution when considering so-called natural acne treatments that promise to balance your hormones, since these unregulated products hold no guarantee for safety or effectiveness.
Physicians use a combination of topical and oral treatments to reduce the severity and frequency of acne outbreaks. Topical treatments might include over-the-counter or prescription medications. Some work at reducing oil on the skin while others, like clindamycin, contain antibiotics that help fight bacterial growth. Oral medicines include antibiotics like amoxicillin. For the most severe cases, skin specialists might prescribe isotretinoin, or Accutane. Some types of birth control pills might help clear acne by altering hormone levels, but others can worsen outbreaks, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Physicians sometimes prescribe spironolactone, an anti-androgen medication, for acne related to PCOS.
Possible side effects of topical treatments include skin sensitivity, irritation, dryness and rash. Some medications, especially those including retinoids, may increase sun sensitivity. Possible side effects from Accutane include high triglyceride levels, liver damage and severe birth defects in an unborn baby. The experts at UMMC warn that pregnant women must not use Accutane and recommend that sexually active adolescent females not use the drug. Otherwise, women considering using Accutane for severe acne must use at least two forms of birth control.
Even though acne outbreaks associated with hormonal fluctuations during adolescence typically decrease or subside in early adulthood, UMMC notes that teenagers especially might develop significant depression due to the psychological affects of acne. In addition, severe untreated acne can cause significant facial scarring. Experts thus recommend you seek medical treatment for your own or your adolescent's moderate to severe acne.
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