Many people may think acne is just a teenage problem.
However, the truth is that it can happen at any stage of life, from infancy to senior adulthood. According to the American College of Dermatology, acne is themost common facial skin problem among Americans. As many as 40 million to 50 million American adults have at least one acne outbreak in their lifetime.1 In fact, an entire industry of both over-the-counter and prescription medications has sprung up to help people treat acne outbreaks.
Causes of acne
Acne occurs when the skin’s sebaceous (oil) glands become blocked with dead skin cells, dirt, or sweat. This can result in a small plug that collects just under the surface of the skin, clogging the pore (or surface opening) of the sebaceous glands. If this plugged gland becomes infected, an acne breakout can occur.1
Acne is most prevalent in teens because this is the stage of growth in which androgen hormonal levels begin to rise, so more facial oil is produced. Androgen is responsible for the development of the sebaceous glands.2 A variety of other factors can cause acne, ranging from a diet high in carbohydrates, to greasy makeup, to oily hair, to stress. Some medications that increase androgen levels can also induce acne.3
Standard acne treatments only really address the symptoms of acne and often have very unpleasant side effects. Topical creams may result in skin rash, reddening, burning, blistering, or crusting of skin. Some oral treatments include antibiotics, which can induce diarrhea. Other, less common side effects can include dry skin and lips, aching joints, headaches, and thinning hair.2
Chemical peels can leave the skin reddened and sensitive, and may even cause further scarring in extreme cases, particularly in those patients prone to keloid, or excessively thick, scarring.4 Furthermore, there may be a noticeably lighter look to the skin in particularly dark-skinned patients.
Laser treatment for acne works by stimulating compounds called porphyrins, which are present inside the bacteria that cause acne. If these porphyrins are stimulated with a laser, they will damage the outer walls of the bacteria, thereby causing the breakdown and the eventual death of the acne bacteria.5 It may take a number of treatments over time to stop acne outbreaks, and lasers are not recommended for particularly severe cases, such as cysts that have formed under the skin.
A meta-analysis article combined the results of 19 studies of lasers for treating acne in order to determine the strength of evidence supporting the treatment. The authors concluded: “Based on the present best available evidence, we conclude that optical treatments possess the potential to improve inflammatory acne on a short-term basis.”6
While most patients who come to see a DC about laser treatment for acne will likely be teenagers, the truth is that patients of almost any age can suffer from this condition. Smart DCs will recognize this patient base and consider offering lasers for acne as part of their treatment options.
1 American Academy of Dermatology. “Acne.” AAD.org. https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a—d/acne. Accessed March 2015.
2 Jaliman D. “Your guide to teen acne: What helps, what hurts.” WebMD.com. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/teen-acne-13/teenage-acne?page=1. Reviewed February 2014. Accessed March 2015.
3 Mayo Clinic Staff. “Acne.” MayoClinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/basics/causes/con-20020580. Updated January 2015. Accessed March 2015.
4 Kern D. “Chemical peels for acne: Do they work to clear acne?” Acne.org. http://www.acne.org/chemical-peels.html. Accessed March 2015.
5 Kern D. “Lasers: Do they work to clear acne?” Acne.org. http://www.acne.org/laser-acne.html. Accessed March 2015.
6 Haedersdal M, Togsverd-Bo K, Wulf HC. Evidence-based review of lasers, light sources and photodynamic therapy in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2008:22(3);267–278.