Acne Treatments Vary With Age - - June 10, 2002
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Acne Treatments Vary With Age

Maybe you know them as papules or pustules. Or maybe they're simply zits to you. Whatever the name, acne isn't just for kids anymore.

According to experts, one of the fastest growing group of acne patients is women from 25 to 40. Ridiculous as it may sound, some studies have even suggested that acne occurs in about 50% of upwardly mobile women.

“Acne is distressing at any age, but in adult females it can create a level of self-consciousness that interferes with personal and professional relationships,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Barney Kenet, author of the skin care book How to Wash Your Face (Simon and Schuster.)

No-one seems to know why a number of women continue to have acne into their 40s, says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett, adding that the emphasis is usually on teens and 20-somethings. “It hasn’t been well recognized at all.” Hormones can play a role in flare-ups,” she says: “A lot of women can break out just before their periods.”

The root of acne lies in the skin’s pilosebaceous glands which house both hair follicles and oil-making glands. When oil is blocked in these glands, bacteria proliferates and the resulting inflammation caused by so many dead trapped skin cells causes the surrounding skin to erupt. The result, as any acne sufferer knows, is unattractive to say the least.

“People tend to laugh at acne,” says Dr. Kellett. “Those who don’t have it, minimize it. They say, ‘It’s only acne, not life-threatening.’ But when someone has the condition, they can be devastated by it. They may not want to go to school if they’re teens. But I also see mature women who don’t want to go to work when their face breaks out.”

For young acne sufferers, there are several over-the-counter remedies that can work; adult women, however, are advised to stay away from the kid stuff because it’s too strong for aging skin. Mature adults can find success with prescription oral or topical antibiotics. And a range of natural products, from evening primrose oil to flaxseed, claim to benefit those who have the condition in its mild or moderate form.

Severe cases may be treated by Accutane or Isotretinoin, a very powerful Vitamin A derivative that works by interfering with the functioning of the sebaceous glands. But these Vitamin A derivatives are shunned by many who fear the drug’s possible side effects (everything from rashes to severe headache). Accutane cannot be taken during pregnancy, even for a short time. Dr. Kellett adds that treating the condition in mature women can be tricky: Some antibiotics cause yeast infections, some drugs can’t be taken when women are trying to become pregnant, and, while some birth control pills appear to clear up one’s skin, others make it worse.

The fact that adult women complained of the lack of available treatment is what prompted Dr. Kellett to join forces with Toronto cosmetic surgeon Dr. Steve Mulholland, owner of SpaMedica, a clinic offering a full range of cosmetic surgery and laser services. Kellett runs the clinic’s new Cosmetic Laser Dermatology program which offers acne patients eight twice weekly treatments; the process utilizing a new laser technology is followed by an ultrasonic peel which uses ultrasonic energy to vibrate epidermal cells away and liquefy plugged sebaceous glands ducts.

SpaMedica’s new technology is called a ClearLight laser and, as Kellett points out, it looks like something out of a bad Star Trek movie. It works not unlike a tanning bed in that you lie down, put on some protective eyeglasses, and relax while the laser emits a UV-free blue light directed at the acne on your face. Apparently the specific wavelength in the blue light targets the bacteria-causing substance in your pores, thus improving your condition.

“It’s not like you take the treatment and are completely acne free,” Kellett warns. “It’s a slow process. However, people start to see the results very quickly and by three or four treatments, the acne starts to dry up.” The treatment is quick (just 15 minutes), painless and stress-free. If there’s a down side, it’s the cost: At $999 for 10 treatments, you’d have to be an upwardly mobile woman in order to afford it.

Kellett is careful to educate her patients on all aspects of their condition. She talks about diet. It’s true your skin reflects your inner health, she says, but it’s a myth that food causes acne: “If you have a regular diet and the occasional chocolate bar, that isn’t going to cause acne. If all you ate were chocolate bars, however, you’d have a very poor diet and your skin would reflect that.”

She also cautions patients to check all alternative treatments before committing to them: “Find a treatment that has been proven to work, that had good double blind clinical trials to demonstrate that the treatment has worked. If somebody’s uncle suggests a treatment, that’s not a study, that’s an anecdote.” Before spending too much on makeup, she suggests making sure the product you choose is water-based rather than oil-based.

The advantages of her particular treatment, she says, is that results are seen quickly. “But I want people to know that even if they end up not coming here they needn’t look in the mirror and cry or not go to work or school because of their condition. There may be no cure for acne, but there are definitely treatments available that can help.”

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