For something so common, acne is often misunderstood. Many consider it a “necessary evil.” Others regard it simply as a “part of growing up.” Since acne comes and eventually goes, there are some who believe that there is no need to treat it at all.
But the sad truth is that when acne is treated improperly or simply allowed to run its course, it results in permanent, long-term damage to the skin that is extremely difficult and expensive to repair.
Dr. Joy Gonzales-Mongcal, owner and medical director of Skin Trends and an active member of the Philippine Medical Association and the Philippine Society for Cosmetic Surgery, among others, said many myths and misconceptions about acne remain to this day.
Some say that acne is caused by trapped dirt. While dirt can aggravate acne, Mongcal said it is never the actual cause of the problem that is often hormonal in adolescents from 12 years to young adults in their early 20s. What happens is that the oil glands produce excessive amounts of sebum, a natural skin lubricant that accumulates beneath dead skin. This leads to whiteheads, blackheads and acne.
Diet is often blamed for an acne outbreak but Mongcal said there is no evidence linking acne to ingesting oily or fatty foods. She stressed that processed sugar is more detrimental to the skin.
Another myth is that you can burst or squeeze pimples at home. Mongcal said doing so with your fingernails or even with an extractor bought at a beauty store is bad. This is not only painful but it can leave visible, open wounds that are prone to infection and may become deep, permanent scars.
Mongcal said the key to minimizing the damaging effects of acne is to treat it early, right at its onset. She said conventional wisdom and the prevalent practice of acne sufferers to let pimples “ripen” before attempting any sort of intervention is another damaging misconception.
If you wait for more than 2 days before having cystic or pustular pimples treated, Mongcal said these will burst beneath the skin and lead to deep scars.
Not all acne scars are deep though. On the nose and chin, Mongcal explained that acne scars are raised lesions called hypertrophic scars or baby keloids. That is why in areas where pimples appear and eventually vanish, the skin remains raised after a long time even if it isn’t red and painful anymore.
The great thing about acne is that it is absolutely controllable. Mongcal said acne is, in fact, a disease. The only reason many do not seem to respond to acne treatments is because they do not comply with their prescribed regimens.
Acne is a slow responding disease that requires weeks or even months of religious treatment, said Mongcal, a practicing dermatologist since 1994. Those seemingly “hopeless cases” are simply people who began treatment but who did not see it through for one reason or another.
“We treat acne in a holistic manner. First, we rule out gynecological causes of acne in female patients. If there are findings that point to a hormonal cause, this is corrected. Patients are also advised of lifestyle changes with regard to their diet and sleeping patterns,” she concluded.