When you have acne, it’s tempting to try to scrub it away. But decades of acne research shows us that physical irritation will actually cause acne. This is such a generally accepted condition amongst dermatologists and medical researchers that it has its own name: acne mechanica.
A recent article in the journal Dermatology once again reports on this problem. Three female patients presented with what can only be described as horrible acne. It came on fast and was in the area where they were scrubbing their face with various skin care products. The authors of the article considered the products to be non-comedogenic and ruled out the products themselves as the cause of the acne. In fact, in a nod to cosmetic companies, the authors state, “…nowadays, cosmetic companies are carefully testing their compounds for comedogenicity before marketing, and cosmetics are an infrequent cause of acne.” They go on to conclude, “…repetitive physical trauma could act as a trigger for severe inflammatory acne.”
The cases in this article are severe, but millions of people suffer with acne caused by everyday physical irritation. You can’t eliminate physical irritation altogether, and you shouldn’t aim to do this since it will likely drive you pretty crazy. Instead, take a few minutes to become aware of sources of physical irritation and try to reduce or eliminate them when you can. Then get on The Acne.org Regimen and add in some glycolic acid when needed and you will be nice and clear.
Sources of physical irritation
The Acne.org Regimen Instructions
How to use glycolic acid to combat irritation
- Seneschal J, et al. “Exogenous inflammatory acne due to combined application of cosmetic and facial rubbing.” Dermatology. 2012; 224(3): 221-3.
I have written about niacinamide (AKA nicotinamide), the active component in vitamin B3, for a couple of years now. Evidence shows it can help significantly reduce acne through its anti-inflammatory effects. However, the more I look into this ingredient, the cooler it becomes. The latest double-blind study I found in the journal Dermatology Research and Practice has researchers administering 4% niacinamide to patients with melasma or dark patches of skin from sun exposure. Melasma is much more common in women and is an extremely prevalent condition experienced during pregnancy. The reason I find this particularly interesting is because people with acne often experience dark/red spots after acne lesions heal, also called hyperpigmentation.
The study pitted 4% Niacinamide against 4% hydroquinone for the treatment of melasma. Results were similar. “Good to excellent improvement was observed with niacinamide in 44% of patients, compared to 55% with HQ.” The lightening effect of niacinamide took a little longer to exhibit itself and was evident at 8 weeks versus 4 weeks for hydroquinone.
As far as side effects go, “Treatment with niacinamide showed no significant side effects and was well tolerated.” This is in contrast to “moderate adverse effects” in 18% of the hydroquinone patients.
I am in the process now of trying niacinamide in Acne.org products because of the breadth and depth of compelling research that exists now on this simple yet effective ingredient. I’ll let you know how that goes.
- Navarete-Solis J, et al. “A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial of Niacinamide 4% versus Hydroquinone 4% in the Treatment of Melasma.” Dermatology Research and Practice. 2011.
I remember back in middle school when I started getting acne and asking my mom to take me to the dermatologist. I always felt better after seeing the dermatologist. He or she always wrote me a prescription for a medication which was supposed to clear me up. I tried oral antibiotics, topical antibiotics, retinoids, sulfur, and a few other prescriptions. Inevitably, they didn’t work, and I’d come back for another prescription, this time hoping that this one would actually clear me up. What all of these dermatologists failed to tell me is that most prescriptions only work to clear up acne to a degree.
As the researcher for Acne.org, I read hundreds of clinical trials and studies on acne each year. The latest article I just read was to test the “…efficacy and tolerability of tazarotene foam, 0.1%, in the treatment of acne…” Like most other articles on prescriptions for acne, the conclusion to this study sounds familiar: “Tazarotene foam, 0.1% significantly reduced the number and severity of acne lesions after 12 weeks and had a safe and acceptable tolerability profile.” That sounds great, doesn’t it? But when you read the article, you find that the decrease in acne lesions hovers around 50%. Sure, results are scientifically significant, but is someone with 20 zits on their face going to be happy with 10? That is still full fledged acne if you ask me. In my opinion, dermatologists should communicate clearly that most prescriptions will help improve the skin, but will not clear you up.
1 exception: Accutane (isotreinoin) completely clears acne in most people who take an adequate dosage for a long enough period of time, but comes with side effects, some of which can be long-term and some of which can be severe.
1 other exception: When used within The Acne.org Regimen, 2.5% benzoyl peroxide will also completely clear the skin, and does so without any severe or long-term side effects. It’s refreshing to be able to tell people what dermatologists were never able to confidently tell me. The Acne.org Regimen will clear you up. Completely.
- Feldman SR, Werner CP, Alio Saenz AB. “The efficacy and tolerability of tazarotene foam, 0.1%, in the treatment of acne vulgaris in 2 multi center, randomized, vehicle-controlled, double-blind studies.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2013; 12(4): 438-46.
People around the web tend to refer to The Regimen as The Acne.org Regimen. For the sake of clear communication, I’ve updated how we refer to it on Acne.org to reflect this.
A long overdue page on the particularities of male acne is now live. Check it out!
A typical full dose of Accutane (isotretinoin) is 40-50mg per day and the typical length of treatment is 15-20 weeks in order to achieve the recommended cumulative dose of 120mg/kg of bodyweight over the course of a cycle. However, as the years go on, researchers have been conducting more studies on low-dose Accutane (isotreinoin) to see if they can get the same results with less side effects. Generally speaking, the research is showing that even at a low dose of 20mg per day, people see good results, albeit not as impressive as when the full dose is used, and also with a higher incidence of relapse.
However, one recent study published in Advanced Biomedical Research is particularly interesting. In this study, they gave patients a low dose of 20mg per day but kept the patients on this low dose for quite a long time (10-22 months) in order to achieve the usual recommended cumulative dose of 120mg/kg of bodyweight. 96.4% of patients “demonstrated complete clearing of their acne, defined as no acne or occasional isolated lesions.” Relapse was low as well. “In a 5-year follow-up, relapse accrued in…7.9% of patients.” Side effects were, “…mild, and only 6 patients (out of 146) discontinued study medication because of severe adverse events.”
This is the first study where patients receive a low dose of isotretinoin, but are kept on this dose until the cumulative dose reaches the full 120mg/kg. Results from this study look impressive, and relapse rates are low. The authors admit, however, “The only pitfall is it is longer than 10 months duration of treatment period.”
Perhaps it is time to take a second look at how Accutane (isotretinoin) is administered.
- Rasi A, et al. “Efficacy of fixed daily 20mg of isotretinoin in moderate to severe scar prone acne.” Advanced Biomedical Research. 2014; 3: 103.
Traditional at-home light therapy, which must be performed daily with tabletop red and/or blue light, produces very few side effects but also tends to produce disappointing results. However, dermatologists are now using light therapy on patients in their offices in a different way with better results but with more pronounced side effects. The procedure is called photodynamic therapy (PDT). The first step is what makes PDT different from at-home light therapy. A photosensitizing agent is applied to the skin. This primes the skin to react to the light that is applied. Next, red and/or blue light is shone on the skin for 15-20 minutes. Due to the power of photosensitizing agents, the reaction with the light creates more side effects and can include severe pain during the procedure and a full week of downtime afterward. The entire procedure is repeated 3-5 times at 2-4 week intervals, and is normally reserved for moderate to severe acne.
Results tend to be far better and longer lasting than light therapy alone when the procedure is done correctly. What is “correct” is up for debate, but science is pointing us more toward red light, which penetrates the skin more deeply. Other considerations are also important. Check out the new Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) page of acne.org for the full story on this new therapy.
I read three studies recently on Sodium L-Ascorbyl-2-Phosphate (SAP), which is a topically applied vitamin C derivative. It is an antioxidant which is showing statistically significant acne clearing over time. It seems to clear the skin about as much as other topical prescriptions. This sounds impressive, but keep in mind that most topical prescriptions only clear the skin 40-50%. This is why The Regimen is so important because it completely clears the skin, which is what people really want. But I digress…
The three studies I read were in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Cosmetic Dermatology, and the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. They all used 5% SAP and show around 40-50% clearing of acne after 8-12 weeks with very few side effects. SAP has a good safety profile. Only a very small percentage of participants in the studies withdrew because of adverse effects even at a relatively high 5% titration.
Why might it work? Squalene is the most abundant fatty substance in the skin. Some scientists hypothesize that acne may be partly due to squalene oxidation. SAP is an antioxidant. Next, it may help reduce inflammation, which can not only help calm acne, but may also help prevent scarring to some degree and also help clear hyperpigmentation a bit faster.
I am always trying new ingredients in Acne.org products, and this is on my list to also try. I’ll let you know if and when it makes it into one of our products.
- Ikeno H, Ohmori K. “Open Study Comparing Sodium L-Ascorbyl-2-Phosphate 5% Lotion Versus Adapalene 0.1% Gel for Acne Vulgaris.” Cosmetic Dermatology. 2007; 20(6): 368-372.
- Ruamrak C, Lourith N, Natakankitkul S. “Comparison of clinical efficacies of sodium ascorbyl phosphate, retinol and their combination in acne treatment.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2009; 31: 41-46.
- Woolery-Lloyd H, Baumann L, Ikeno H. “Sodium L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate 5% lotion for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial.” Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2010; 9: 22-27.
I recently found out about a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh who wanted to work on acne bacteria in an attempt to get it to the point where we can experiment with genetic engineering on these bacteria that have a hand in acne.
When I first pledged money they were only about half way there. As of yesterday I found out they are fully funded! Fantastic guys. Rock it out!
You can view more about this research here.
The question, “Is acne an autoimmune disease?” has always lingered in the back of my mind. An article in Swiss Medical Weekly recently looked into how an over-active immune response could be the culprit in chronic skin inflammation. Since we know that acne is largely an inflammatory disease, could this play a part? The authors state, “The skin is our largest organ, which is exposed to and protects the body from microbes, pathogens and several irritants. However, the skin can…be a site of excessive immune responses resulting in chronic inflammation, autoimmunity or autoinflammation.”
Our skin, like other organs of our body, is pretty amazing. It provides defense against a multitude of pathogens. However, in the case of acne, might it be overreacting to perceived pathogens and creating an unjustified inflammatory response in the form of excess oil and/or hyper-proliferation of skin cells? The key may be in researching inflammasomes that detect pathogens and the cytokines that these inflammasomes activate, specifically interleukin 1 (IL-1).
I have not come across much research on acne and autoimmunity, but if any of you come across some good hard science on this topic, please send it my way.
Also, have any of you gone on immune suppressing medications (i.e. Humira) and seen your acne symptoms change? I’d be curious to hear from you.
I noticed there is also a thread on the forum discussing this as well. Feel free to add your comments there as well.
- Contassot E, Beer HD, French LE. “Interleukin-1, inflammasomes, autoinflammation and the skin.” Swiss Medical Weekly. 2012; 142:w13590.