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Daily self-care aids skin for all ages, expert says

The Herald News

September 10, 2008

At some point in our lives, we all have experienced a mass of pimples sprouting out on our face - usually it occurs the day of school pictures or the afternoon of a job interview.

Although acne typically occurs during puberty, many adults continue to be irritated by acne into their forties and sometimes longer.

"It is important to practice some daily self-care steps to manage skin problems before they become more serious and lead to potential scarring," said Dr. Paula Lapinski, a dermatologist on staff at Silver Cross Hospital. "To do so, it is important to fully understand potential causes of these annoying blemishes."

What causes acne?

No one factor causes acne. Acne occurs when oil glands become active around puberty, stimulated by male hormones from the adrenal glands of both boys and girls.

Oil is a natural substance produced by the body, which lubricates and protects the skin; under certain circumstances, dead skin cells at the surface block the openings of sebaceous glands and cause a buildup of oil underneath.

This oil stimulates bacteria to multiply and causes surrounding tissues to become inflamed and form "pimples."

10 tips to prevent acne

  1. Keep your face clean. Whether or not you have pimples, it's important to wash your face daily to remove surface impurities, dead skin cells and excess oil from the skin surface. Use warm (not hot) water and a mild facial cleanser. Using a harsh soap (like deodorant body soap) can injure the already inflamed skin and cause more irritation. Gently wash your skin with clean hands or a very soft cloth. Always rinse well, and then pat your face with a clean towel.
  2. Moisturize. Many topical acne products contain ingredients that dry the skin. Using a moisturizer that minimizes dryness and skin peeling can be beneficial to your skin. A gel-based moisturizer usually works well for oily skin. If you have dry skin, try a moisturizing cream or lotion. Combination skin may need two products. The best time to moisturize your skin is after it has been well hydrated (after showering or cleansing).
  3. Try an over-the-counter acne product. Most topical acne products contain ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, an antibacterial agent with a drying effect, or salicylic acid, an agent that removes dead skin cells and minimizes bacteria. Minimize the amount of peeling or drying you have by controlling the amount of product used and how often you apply it. Use these ointments with caution if you have sensitive skin. Benzoyl peroxide can cause redness and scaling of the skin, and some people are actually allergic to certain products. If over-the-counter products are not helping, or if irritation becomes an issue, stop the products and check with a dermatologist to see if a prescription medication is necessary.
  4. Use makeup sparingly. During severe breakouts, minimize the application of heavy foundation, powders, or blush. If you do wear makeup, select oil-free, or "non-comedogenic" cosmetics, without added dyes and chemicals. Water-based cosmetics are available.
  5. Watch what you put on your hair. Avoid using fragrances, oils, and thick, harsh chemicals or gels on your hair or forehead. These ingredients can be transferred onto the face, blocking the skin pores and irritating the skin. Hats and helmets on the forehead, especially seen in young men, can irritate acne-prone skin. Use a gentle shampoo and conditioner.
  6. Avoid playing with or picking your skin. Avoid touching your face or propping your cheek or chin on your hands. Not only can you spread bacteria, you can also irritate the already inflamed facial skin. Resist the temptation to pick or pop pimples with your fingers as it can result in infection and scarring.
  7. Protect yourself from the sun. The sun's ultraviolet rays can increase inflammation and redness of the skin. Further, both oral and topical acne medications may increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight. Always apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Look for a nonacnegenic/non comedogenic sunscreen to decrease the chance of promoting new pimples.
  8. Nourish your skin. The relationship between acne and diet is still controversial; however, most experts agree that foods do not trigger pimple outbreaks. Still, it makes sense to minimize unhealthy food options by adding more water, fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet. Eating foods high in vitamin A and beta-carotene may boost your skin health and immunity. Carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots and spinach are examples of foods high in beta-carotene, the type of vitamin A produced by plants.
  9. Exercise daily. Routine exercise is good for your mind and your body, including your skin -- the body's largest organ. Working out reduces anxiety and boosts blood flow throughout the body. Try to rinse, shower, or bathe right after exercise.
  10. Relax! Some studies link stress with the severity of pimples or acne. Take time to understand your stress reactions. Also, try to determine what's causing you to feel stressed. Find effective ways to deal with stress, like exercising, before it builds up and causes a breakout.

If in doubt, consider seeing a physician comfortable treating skin conditions.

"There are many options available to help control acne for people of all age groups: from topical prescription products, oral antibiotics, and hormonal therapies, to chemical peels and more. Healthy skin is happy skin," Lapinski said.

Dr. Paula Lapinski is on staff at Silver Cross Hospital. Visit www.silvercross.org or call (888) 660-4325.

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