Acne treatment

Originally Published: October 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 27, 2014
Share this

Dear Alice,

What is the best treatment for acne?

— Zit-city

Dear Zit-city,

The exact cause of acne continues to evade researchers. We do know that the sebaceous glands secrete an oil that changes to a solid white substance called sebum. This travels to the opening of a hair follicle and erupts on the skins surface. This process may be due to an infection of these glands or to excessive amounts of male hormones call androgens. Blackheads appear when sebum mixes with skin pigments in plugged pores. They are a mixture of sebum and skin scales that have closed off a hair follicle.

Since the exact source of acne is not known, it is often difficult to determine a treatment that will work. You may have to try a variety of the following suggestions and create a combination that works for you:

  • Wash your skin twice a day with warm water and a gentle pH balanced soap that does not contain sulfur, chemicals, or perfume. Touch your face only when your hands are clean — wash them frequently and avoid touching your nasal area and then your skin.
  • Steam your face a few times a week to open and cleanse your pores. Boil some water in a pot on the stove, turn off the heat, cover your head and face with a towel and hang your face over the pot. Take your face away from the heat whenever you need to, and when the steam is gone, rinse your face with cold water.
  • Check out your diet. Try eating a diet high in fiber — salads, bran, complex carbohydrates, and lots of water. This will keep your digestive tract moving so that your skin is not burdened by wastes your system can't handle.
  • Keep your diet low in fat and sugar. Eating healthier foods insures that your skin gets the nutrients it needs.
  • Food allergies may also contribute to acne. You might try eliminating dairy products, wheat, and/or food preservatives. You may be interested in visitig a health care provider to talk about allergy testing, which could help you determine which foods to eliminate from your diet.
  • Over the counter medication which contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can be helpful with mild to moderate acne. For more severe acne, consult a dermatologist who can help you come up with other suggestions particular to your situation.

If you are a Columbia student, you can contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment with a health care provider who can help you determine what may be causing your acne. You will be able to get a referral if your provider determines that you need allergy testing or a dermatologist.

Alice