Deal With Acne when You Have Sensitive Skin
Acne is a very common skin condition.It occurs when hair follicles in your skin become clogged with sebum (a natural oil produced by your body). Acne can be challenging to treat, particularly for those with sensitive skin. Here are some ways to treat your acne while not exacerbating your sensitive skin.
Getting a Handle on Your Sensitive Skin
- Understand that sensitive skin is very common. In medical studies, nearly half of the population has been shown to have characteristics of sensitive skin.
These include redness and/or abnormal stinging, tingling, or burning sensations that occur in response to certain triggers (which can vary from person to person).
- If you have very sensitive skin with redness and bumps, particularly if you are a woman over 20, you may have a common skin condition called rosacea. This skin condition is also common in people who have had acne. There are several subtypes of rosacea, so it’s best to see a dermatologist if your skin is very sensitive and prone to redness.
- Identify what triggers your sensitive skin, and avoid these whenever whenever possible.
Triggers are highly variable between people, and it takes experience to find out what causes your skin to become irritated (it will be different for each person). Triggers may include:
- particular weather (such as sun, heat, wind, and/or cold)
- certain cosmetics
- certain soaps
- your menstrual cycle (for females), although this one cannot be avoided.
- Select appropriate cosmetics and skin care agents for your skin.
Using the wrong products can worsen your sensitive skin, so it is best to get a handle on what works for you before attempting to add acne treatments. Avoid products that contain alcohol, menthol, or “exfoliating” agents. These can irritate skin and make acne worse.
- In general, using fewer products on your skin is better.
- Look for products that are labeled "hypoallergenic" at the drug store or pharmacy. Or, ones with fewer ingredients (and more natural ingredients) tend to be a better bet.
- Always observe the response of your skin to various cosmetics and soaps. Go by trial and error and eliminate those that cause you trouble.
Trying Non-Medical Treatments for Acne
- Start by washing your face (and any other areas with acne) twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
Use something mild like Dove Unscented Soap, or a specific mild acne cleansing agent from the pharmacy or that your doctor recommends.
- Washing your face (and any other areas with acne) is important to diminish the oil on the skin. However, you want to be careful to use mild cleansing agents to not dry out your skin too much, since you already have sensitive skin.
- If you are choosing an acne product from the pharmacy, look for something where the label says "hypoallergenic," or ask the pharmacist there for recommendations for sensitive skin.
- Use warm water (not hot) for washing as this tends to be less irritating to the skin.
- Also do not pick or pop pimples as this can lead to scarring, infection, and/or worsening of your acne.
- Use separate face cloths each time. You want to be sure that the face cloth you use is clean each time, as re-using old ones reintroduces bacteria to the face.
- Be sure also to rub gently (and not scrub hard) to minimize irritation to your skin upon washing.
- Try a moisturizing cream. Many acne treatments can result in drier skin, so especially for those with sensitive skin, regular moisturizing is an important preventative measure to avoid your skin becoming overly irritated with acne treatments.
- When picking a moisturizing cream from the drug store or pharmacy, look for one that is labeled "hypoallergenic" (for sensitive skin) and "non-comedogenic" (suitable for people with acne, meaning that it won't contribute to worsening your acne).
- Be conscientious with your diet. Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, pasta, and white rice) as these contribute to worse acne.
- The American Journal of Nutrition published a study showing that whole grains, beans, and veggies are better food choices for people with acne.
- Also, drinking plenty of water throughout the day to stay well-hydrated (at least 8 cups per day, and more with exercise) can help to improve acne.
Trying Medical Treatments for Acne
- Be persistent. Most acne treatments take at least 2-3 months to make a noticeable difference.
So it is important to be determined and willing to put in the effort to see results!
- Also, for people such as you with sensitive skin, it can take even longer to notice a difference...so hang in there! Consistent efforts do pay off.
- Ask your doctor about topical creams and/or ointments. There are a variety that can be applied directly to the areas of skin with acne and can help to reduce or eliminate the acne.
- Let your doctor know that you have sensitive skin, and he or she will likely recommend that you start with a smaller amount at less frequent intervals (perhaps every other day, rather than every day). Then, if you have trouble due to your sensitive skin, you can stop the treatment without having caused too much irritation to your skin. Or, if it is going well, you can increase the amount and/or frequency to what your doctor recommends.
- Try the birth control pill if you are a female who struggles with acne and sensitive skin. Any birth control pill that contains estrogen and progesterone will reduce and improve acne,
although certain pills may work better for some women than others. Also, given that it is taken as a pill (rather than applied directly to the skin), it is an excellent choice for girls and women with sensitive skin.
- The birth control pill provides the added benefit of contraception and reducing menstrual cramping and bleeding, if this is something you are looking for as well.
- Pills with more estrogen (each type of pill has varying amounts of estrogen and progesterone) tend to be more effective with acne, but they also carry more risk, so talk to your doctor about these options.
- Always talk to your doctor first as certain pills and IUDs can actually worsen acne (those with less estrogen). All birth control pills have some level of risk, which is higher if you are a woman who smokes, is overweight, or has certain other medical problems.
- Learn about antibiotics that can help with acne. Antibiotics such as doxycycline or minocycline are often taken in pill form as a treatment for acne. Since acne is related to bacteria on the skin, diminishing the amount of bacteria can in turn improve acne. It can also help reduce inflammation, which causes the red bumps and pimples associated with acne.
- Since antibiotics are taken in pill form, they are also an easier option for those with sensitive skin (as they will not irritate your skin).
- Some antibiotics such as the ones commonly used for acne treatments can result in skin sensitivity to the sun. Always wear sunscreen if you are taking these antibiotics during summer or in a warm sunny climate.
- Be aware of side effects that may occur when taking these antibiotics, including vaginal yeast infections in women and/or an upset stomach.
- Inquire about other medical options with your doctor. If the above suggestions have not worked for you, there are some more treatment options available via a dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in skin care). However, most of these other options are more challenging to tolerate with sensitive skin, particularly due to the drying effects they can have on skin. If in doubt, it is always best to get the professional opinion of a dermatologist as to how best to proceed in your particular case.
- One newer and emerging option is something called "light therapy." There have been many successes shown, although more studies are needed in this area. Talk to your dermatologist to see if this might be an option for you.
- Another treatment option is laser therapy. While it may not be a good choice for people with extremely sensitive skin, it can be helpful in reducing acne and acne scars. You should discuss this option with your dermatologist to see if it is right for you.
- Remember that most treatments and strategies for acne take at least 2-3 months to show a noticeable difference. Be persistent in your efforts, and watch them pay off!
- Don't hesitate to seek professional help from a dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in skin care). They are specifically trained to handle challenging cases of acne, including those with sensitive skin, and can be a valuable resource for you.
- Always be cautious when trying a product or treatment for the first time, especially with your sensitive skin. Start with a small amount and see how it works for you. If it seems to be okay for your skin, you may gradually increase the amount until you reach the recommendations on the label or from your doctor.
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