A leading dermatologist tells what can be done for acne, the most common of all skin problems. The quickest way to get rid of acne is through medical treatment. A tremendous amount of time, worry, and money can be saved by following this advice.
No attempt is being made in these articles to treat any individual with acne. This is impossible since each person with acne is a separate problem and the treatment must vary accordingly.
However, there are general principles about the care of the skin which everyone with acne should know. If properly followed, they should help.
Cleansing the skin
Since the oil glands are overactive it is necessary to remove the excess oil from the surface of the skin. The simplest way to do this is with ordinary soap and hot water.
By thorough washing with the aid of a washcloth or a soft brush, two or three times a day, you can do a great deal to help your skin.
Besides cleansing the skin, soap and water are of help in another way. Soap softens the horny layer and produces mild peeling of the skin. This peeling action helps to remove the dead cells from the surface of the skin and in so doing tends to free the plugged follicle openings.
Therefore, washing with soap and water is a way to start eliminating your blackheads.
It might be as well to remind you here that soap and water will remove the oil satisfactorily and really get your skin clean.
The proper removal of blackheads is an important step.
Blackheads can be removed with little difficulty and discomfort if done carefully. You can buy a blackhead remover at most chemists tor a small sum. It consists of a small metal rod about three inches long with a tiny hole at each end.
First, your skin must be made warm and soft. This can be done by washing with hot water and soap, or by steaming the skin.
To steam the skin, hold a heavy bath towel by both ends and place the middle of it in hot water. Wring out the excess water so that the towel is filled with moist heat.
Apply the steamy part of the towel as a pack or compress to the areas of the skin with blackheads. Fold the dry ends over the outside to keep the heat in. Leave the towel on as long as it remains hot.
Do this for 15 to 20 minutes every night, reheating the towel as often as necessary to keep it hot. Steaming opens the oil-gland ducts of the skin and softens the hardened oily plugs which form the blackheads.
After this has been done, place the hole of the blackhead remover over the blackhead. With moderate pressure against the skin, the blackhead can be pressed out through the hole. If you do this correctly, it will not pinch or damage the skin.
With a little practice, a large number of blackheads can be removed in about five minutes, using a remover.
Do this every night until all the blackheads are gone. Each night when you have finished using the blackhead remover, wash it with hot soap and water.
In many cases, blackheads are an important part of the acne eruption and in such instances, they should be removed promptly. Getting them out early may prevent the formation of many papules, pustules, and cysts.
Frequently large deep blackheads cannot be removed by these measures; in such instances, the dermatologist should take over.
When your skin has pustules, use the steam-towel compresses as described for removing blackheads. However, try to find time to apply them for thirty minutes once or twice a day.
The moist heat will help to bring some pustules to a head so that they will open and drain. Or they may just go away by themselves.
By following this procedure, you will not damage your skin or make the pustules worse, as you would by squeezing them.
If you want to do as much as possible to help your skin, a good rule to remember is, “Hands off.” Squeezing acne lesions is sure to make them worse.
We know it is very tempting at times to try to make a pustule disappear quickly by squeezing it, especially if there is some social event in the offing. But you will just have to practice self-control.
Picking your skin is just as bad as squeezing. Do not get into the habit of picking your acne lesions. It can be a habit that is hard to break.
Papules and pustules are irritated by picking and the inflammation is increased. What might have been a small papule can be made a large one by picking at it.
Resting your chin or the side of your face in your palm may stir up some acne lesions. The pressure of your hand rubs the oil and bacteria into the oil-gland openings and may start some papules or pustules going or aggravate those which are present.
The improvement of acne after exposure to sunlight has been known for a long time.
The sun’s rays are a strong source of energy. Some rays are visible and produce light, but of two rays which are invisible, one produces tanning of the skin, while the other, called ultraviolet, has a beneficial effect on health.
Unfortunately, these rays do not pass through glass or clothing, so to get the benefit from them the skin must be exposed directly to the sun. There is much to learn about sunlight and its importance to the body. One thing it does is to help manufacture Vitamin D in the system.
There are at least two ways in which sunlight helps your acne. First of all, it acts as a general tonic to the whole system.
Secondly, sunlight can make the skin peel. Peeling opens the blocked oil-gland ducts and allows the oil from the glands to flow freely. When the oil-gland openings are kept free, it is more difficult for acne lesions to get started.
However, before you do any sunbathing, you should know that it is never wise to expose yourself to the sun for long periods without first trying a small exposure. This will prevent you from getting sunburnt.
After a sunbath, the skin should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Cleaning like this removes the perspiration and excessive oil brought out onto the skin by the warmth of the sun.
Of course, it should be understood that sunbathing alone will not cure acne. Along with other treatments, however, the proper amount of sunning will be helpful.
Besides the actual care of the skin itself, there are other ways of combating acne. One of these is eating a variety of nourishing foods. Even so, it is much more important for your general health to have the necessary amounts of all foods than to be restricted because of your acne.
Therefore, it is difficult to recommend a diet for any individual without a personal knowledge of each case.
It can be said, however, that if your general health is good, if you are not underweight and if you have plenty of pep and energy, it is better from the standpoint of your acne not to eat excessive quantities of starches, sweets, and fats.
Actually, these restrictions would give you a good diet, for dietitians and physicians agree that everyone, young and old alike, would benefit from a diet moderate in starches, sweets, and fats.
By moderate is meant just enough to supply the fuel for the amount of energy you expend during the day.
If you eat starches and sweets (or carbohydrates, as they are called) and more fats than you need, you will gain weight. Too few carbohydrates and fats will cause you to lose weight.
The starches include potatoes, corn, cereals, bread, and other foods made with flour, such as spaghetti, macaroni, and pastries. The sugars are syrups, molasses, candies, and, of course, plain sugar. The fats are mainly butter, margarine, fatty meats, oils, lard, and cream.
There are some foods, known as proteins, which, as a rule, maybe eaten in unlimited quantities by those with acne.
Proteins do not supply as much fuel for energy as fats, but they have a much more important purpose of their own. All of the body’s tissues are composed of protein, including the skin and hair.
Proteins are needed to repair the tissues after the normal wear and tear of everyday living.
The hemoglobin of the blood, which carries oxygen and nourishment to the tissues, is composed of proteins. They are essential to the body in many more ways. The body can manufacture some of its own protein if necessary, but most of it must be supplied by the proteins in our diet.
Proteins are found in abundance in lean meat, fish, fowl, cottage cheese, milk, eggs, dried beans, and peas. The foods can be used in unlimited amounts to fill in the gap which will be left in your meals by cutting down on carbohydrates and fats.
A few words about whole milk versus skimmed milk.
Whole milk is very rich in protein, but it does have more fat than skimmed milk, which has had its fat content removed. However, it has been found that young people are accustomed to the taste of whole milk and they prefer it.
Since milk is such an essential food, by all means, do not stop drinking two glasses to a quart a day. If you happen to be one of those people who just cannot stand whole milk, you can switch to skimmed milk or even buttermilk.
Milk is not only a rich source of protein; it also contains calcium and phosphor which are two of the minerals that the body needs.
Iron and copper are important, too, especially for the blood. They can be found in a variety of foods such as leaf vegetables, fruits, and meat.
Vitamins are found in almost all foods. But to get the different vitamins that you need every day, your diet must be well balanced, because most foods contain only one or two vitamins.
For example, Vitamin A is found mainly in fish oils, yellow vegetables, and dairy products. Vitamin B Complex is present in a greater assortment of foods than most vitamins, but that is because it is really a group of vitamins.
To get a good supply of all the parts of Vitamin B Complex, you have to eat a mixture of foods from dairy products such as milk and cheese to meat and green vegetables.
Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons. It is also present in tomatoes and some other vegetables that are eaten raw.
Vitamin D is produced in the body by sunshine, but it is in some foods, too. Fish oils, liver, and eggs contain Vitamin D.
There are other vitamins which have not been mentioned because not too much is known about them as yet.
However, from what is known about Vitamin A, B Complex, C, and D, you can see why a great variety of food in a well-thought-out diet is so important for you.
But it is one thing to know what you should eat and quite another to figure out a way to get these foods organized into three meals a day. To help you plan your meals, a selection of food can be made from the seven basic foods, as outlined in the following table:
- Milk: 3 to 4 or more glasses daily.
- Vegetables: 2 or more servings daily, besides potatoes.
- Fruits: 2 or more servings daily.
- Eggs: 3 to 5 a week; 1 daily preferred.
- Meat, Cheese, Fish, Fowl: 1 or more servings daily (dried beans and peas occasionally).
- Cereal and Bread: 2 or more servings daily (wholegrain value or enriched).
- Butter or Enriched Margarine: 2 or more tablespoons daily.
The trick of following a diet consists of knowing how to prepare nourishing yet tasteful meals within the range of the foods prescribed.
To help you do this, the following meals are suggested.
- Fruit: All fruits or juices, such as baked apples, oranges, grapefruit, bananas, melons, berries.
- Cereal: Dry or cooked cereals in place of toast.
- Egg: One or two eggs in any form, such as boiled, poached, and occasionally fried or scrambled.
- Bread: Toast and butter in place of cereal.
- Beverage: Milk or coffee. Cream and sugar sparingly.
- Soup: Vegetable, consomme, or broth.
- Salads: Salads may be eaten as often as desired. Cottage cheese may be eaten with or without salads. Oil or mayonnaise dressings sparingly.
- Desserts: Fresh or stewed fruits.
- Beverage: Skimmed milk or buttermilk. Cream and sugar sparingly.
- Soup: Same as luncheon.
- Fowl: Broiled, baked, or boiled chicken or turkey.
- Meat: Broiled, baked or boiled beef, lamb, veal, liver, or kidneys.
- Fish: Broiled, baked, or boiled fish, such as pike, perch, sole, haddock, fresh cod, or halibut.
- Vegetables: Almost all vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, beets, string beans, cauliflower, peas, celery, tomatoes, endive, eggplant, spinach, watercress, brussels sprouts, okra, boiled onions, carrots, cucumbers, squash, radish, chicory or beans. Potatoes and corn in moderation.
- Bread: With butter in moderation.
- Dessert: Fresh or stewed fruits, bland cheese, angel food cake, or simple sponge cake.
- Beverage: Milk or tea. Don’t forget to drink several glasses of water each day.
Foods to avoid
You can see from these suggested meals that you can eat very enjoyably and, at the same time, avoid the foods which are likely to aggravate your acne.
- All fatty foods and foods prepared in deep fat and heavy gravies, such as Swiss steak, stews, fried chicken, fried fish, fried potatoes, meat pies, ham, and pork.
- Starchy and sweet foods, such as pastries, cakes, puddings, syrups, and candies; also sweetened soft drinks.
- Excessively seasoned foods or sauces and dressings, such as curries, ravioli, and Italian meat sauces.
- Nuts, chocolate, iodized salt, sharp cheese, and peanut butter.
There is one other problem in connection with the diet. Sometimes acne is aggravated by one particular food. This may even apply to the foods rich in protein, which are usually considered the least likely to cause trouble.
You may find that if you drink a large amount of milk, you get many new acne lesions.
Chocolate seems to cause trouble with some people. Others cannot eat nuts without producing a new crop of acne lesions. This also happens to some after eating eggs, shellfish, sharp cheese, or drinking port.
The only way to attack this problem is by carefully observing the way your skin behaves after eating certain foods.
If your skin has been improving nicely and then begins to get worse, think back over the last few days and recall if you have been eating an unusual amount of one food. If such is the case, avoid this food for a few days and see if your acne improves.
This may help you decide if your acne is being affected by what you eat.
Don’t get the impression that this is simple to do. Other things may be making your acne worse. It is easy to come to false conclusions.
Sometimes it is helpful to keep a diary of the foods you eat for a few weeks. By so doing, it is much more likely that any offending food will be spotted and none will be falsely blamed.
When you visit your doctor, you can show him a list of exactly what YOU have eaten every day. From this information, he can advise you to avoid certain foods if he feels they are responsible for aggravating your acne.
One final word about your diet. Water is necessary to keep the body supplied with fluid. It is essential for the regular elimination of waste products, which is a very important part of one’s general health and acne care. Don’t neglect your thirst.
Rest and sleep
Another extremely important factor is adequate rest and sleep.
It is true that most of you are kept very busy with your activities. School or work keeps you on the go all day and at night there is always something to do.
Perhaps, if you stop and think of what you did during the past 24 hours, you will admit that there is room for some planning.
Was there an hour-long conversation on the phone which meant finishing a chore after midnight?
Was there a late date the night before the boss expected you for an important early morning job?
A little forethought about routine activities might be the means of getting some much needed additional rest each day.
It is equally important for your body to have adequate exercise.
Physical exercise does many different things for the body. A long walk, a game of tennis, or any one of the popular outdoor sports fills your lungs with oxygen and increases the circulation of your blood.
This speeds up the process by which your tissues get a fresh supply of nourishment and oxygen. The muscles you do not use in your usual activities have a chance to get into action.
The muscles of human beings, just as much as those of animals, must be exercised to remain strong and healthy.
Exercise makes your skin perspire freely. This gives the sweat-pores of your skin more chance to empty some of the waste products that the body accumulates.
In addition to these, there are many other benefits the body derives from exercise. The overall effect seems to be a general stimulation of the whole system.
You feel better, your appetite is increased, and when you go to bed you have a tired yet comfortable feeling which assures you a good night’s sleep.
There will be times when your acne will be worse, and as far as you can determine, nothing you have been doing can account for it.
Life may seem to be going along smoothly. Physically you feel well. You have been getting plenty of rest and an adequate amount of recreation.
You have been especially conscientious about your diet, you gave away a gift of a nice big box of chocolates without feeling any remorse! And last, but not least, you really have been taking care of your skin.
Despite all this, you awoke this morning with a new outbreak.
Acne has its ups and downs for reasons you cannot control. Perhaps the most important of these is the readjustment of your hormone balance.
In young women, acne is frequently worse at the time of their menstrual period. Usually a few days before their period begins, many new lesions will appear. After menstruation has stopped, the skin often improves.
Since the menstrual cycle is connected with hormone balance, this is a good example of the effect of hormones on acne. As time goes on, this balance will level off and your acne will stop.