Sing Along: "Have Yourself a Merry…ACNE-FREE Christmas…Let Your Skin Be Clear…"
Here we go! We are in the home stretch to my FAVORITE holiday of the year - CHRISTMAS!
The tree is covered with lights and your favorite ornaments, the gifts are piling up, the mistletoe is hanging in just the right spot for optimal amounts of smooching, the outdoor glow and decorations on your house bears a strong resemblance to the Griswold's, the pantry is stocked with marshmallows and several flavors of hot cocoa, and the people inside the house are peacefully listening to Christmas carols like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
If your household and family are anything like mine, we are usually running around every which way to Sunday. I forgot the marshmallows (again), and I think the hot cocoa packets are solidified and crusty since they have been in the cupboard since my cousin left them during Christmas of ‘07. And the gifts...yes they are piling up, but I haven't seen the tape lately, Bill! Better add that to the grocery list. When will I have time to get to the store? Bill!
Oh yeah, here's the best "news flash" thus far: Aunt Sue and Uncle Jimmy just decided (without asking!) to bring their newly adopted pet Llama (Larry) when they come to visit. They are both lactose intolerant, so no eggnog, and what do you feed a Llama anyways? Oh my. This year is DEFINITELY going to be a challenge to my sanity.
And to put the icing on the cake, that small blemish on my nose is now a raging beacon for all to see! I’ve got to get this thing under control before the Rotary Christmas party this week- holy cow, not now. Thanks a lot Christmas!
Does that sound more like your reality too? Ugh.
ACNE - THE UNFORTUNATE SIDE EFFECT OF THE HOLIDAYS
Why does it seem that, only when I know I'm going to be in a ton of pictures, do I get a huge honker of a pimple?
The Grinch knows. Actually, acne around the holidays affects quite a few and it does not discriminate. Adult men, women and teens can all be affected. Can anyone out there relate?
I will put on my Derm-Nerd Santa hat and give you a break down of what is going on with your skin and how to best keep the Grinch from stealing your beautiful skin this Christmas.
THREE REASONS YOUR SKIN MAY BE BREAKING OUT NOW
The weather outside may be frightful.
You are TOO STRESSED OUT.
Too many holiday eats and treats.
The weather conditions. If you are like me, then you know how much we all want a very white, deep powder-filled Christmas. (Please Santa, I have been SO GOOD this year!) Living in Summit County at over 9000 feet above sea level, the chances of this happening here are higher than for most other areas in Colorado. And, mercy, it can get cold. "Oh Yeah" for skiing, "Boo" for our skin.
That bitter cold dry air outside mixed with the warmer, dry, climate-controlled environment inside wreaks havoc on your skin. The moisture you have been hanging onto in the summer and fall is stolen from your cells. Then your skin tends to produce a bit more oil than usual to keep your skin supple.
The online Advanced Cosmetic Medicine site documents that "sometimes as the sebaceous oils move from the glands to the surface, they collect dead skin cells which become trapped in the follicular ducts. The result is the formation of pimples and the inevitable acne breakout." - Ugh, welcome to MY world.
The Holiday Stress can be, well, a real “B” word. Look, I get it, this is supposed to be the “Most Wonderful Time of The Year…” and I, more than most, really enjoy getting into the holiday spirit.
But I have to admit, the stress of family, travel, work, friends, parties, and your neighbors super duper bright LED lights left on until 4 am (are you kidding me with those things?) and all of the other “regular life” stuff I get to deal with creates a lot of extra stress, and "voila," BAM! Oh Hello acne...
Science doesn't have an explanation for sure, but research has indicated that there is definitely a correlation. Experts on Acne.org state "We know that both emotional and physical stress can aggravate acne, but exactly why remains a mystery."
According WEBMD- “In 2003, a Stanford University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students had acne flare-ups during exams, a period in which they reported more stress, compared to periods without testing. Acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress, the researchers concluded.
Still, scientists don’t know exactly how stress worsens acne. They do know that cells that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones, according to Garner. Sebum is the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog the hair follicles, leading to a pimple or acne cyst.
When a person with acne experiences a lot of stress, "somehow, they’re unregulated," Garner says of the sebum-producing cells. This means that more oil is produced which can lead to clogging the hair follicles to allow more acne to form -- and give the stressed individual more to pick at.”
Then, another study published in Pub Med in 2007 confirmed that "For the study population as a whole, we observed a statistically significant positive correlation between stress levels and severity of acne."
YES! It is time to enjoy those foods you only get once a year! Who else out there believes that the picture below displays a perfect meal? I need at least one new eggnog tasty something per meal and firmly believe that a meal of sugar cookies with frosting and mixed cheddar and caramel popcorn (Anyone else a fan of Garrett's heavenly popcorn out there?) constitutes a meal. Ummm, but let's keep this to ourselves...my family practice provider definitely DOES NOT need to know about my holiday "diet," ok?
While the correlation between acne and food/overall diet is controversial, Acne.org expert researchers have recommended this based on evidence in recent studies: "it seems prudent to eat a relatively low-glycemic diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fats and to perhaps supplement with 30mg of zinc gluconate per day. However, due to our modern diets and Western style of living, achieving sustainable relief of acne from changes in diet alone remains an elusive goal."
A 2014 WebMD article quoted a California-based dermatologist who said "To curb flare-ups, you have to be a skin detective. Start incorporating healthy food choices and pay attention to your skin." But she goes on to warn those who are looking for a quick fix..."It will take time. You may need to stick to your new way of eating for 2 months before your skin improves."
In addition to the three reasons listed above, experts reveal other causes for acne breakouts can be a side effect when using certain medications such as topical steroids or taking oral medications like lithium or anti-seizure pills. And then there is the well-known connection of genetics. That's right, if your parents had acne at any time in their lives there is a good chance you will get it to some degree also.
And one more. Pregnancy. Yep, the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can cause or worsen acne breakouts.
ACNE CAN APPEAR ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE
Acne isn't limited to just your face either. It can break out on your scalp near the hairline, neck, chest, arms, and back.
Sometimes wearing hats, headbands, restrictive clothing or carrying around heavy backpacks on a regular basis can create pressure/friction on your skin and cause blockage in and around pores and hair follicles to create inflammation and a possible breakout. This is called acne mechanica.
Oh yeah, you can also blame that darned chin strap on your ski/snowboard helmet if you are prone to breakouts in that area during the winter months when you are on the mountain more than you are off.
And you know, a glaringly red pimple or large cyst may not only be painful or embarrassing on a short-term basis. Worse yet, it may leave skin pigment changes that last for several months after the acne lesion leaves (this is sometimes even worse and more noticeable than the actual acne was!) or can even cause permanent scarring.
TIPS TO DEAL WITH HOLIDAY (and any other time) ACNE BREAKOUTS
First, let me just say that, unfortunately, there is not one magic potion or solution that takes care of acne forever. Every body is different and the reasons behind why each individual is getting acne can be multi-factorial and complicated.
There are way too many variables to know which treatment is best and will work for you specifically in this blog without getting an adequate history and doing a thorough exam.
So let me again state, as I have for each and every one of my previous blogs, that this article is not meant to be used in place of a medical diagnosis once you have been evaluated by a trained professional. However, I can offer some general educational information of what may work for certain types of acne.
As always, my recommendation is that you seek proper diagnosis with a professional medical provider as soon as possible for optimal results.
According to the Mayo Clinic Website- “Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.”
These are over-the-counter cleansers or topical creams/ointments applied directly to the acne area. They can include such products as Benzoyl peroxide, Salicylic acid, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (such as lactic acid or glycolic acid) or Sulfur.
Antibiotics, Retinoids (known to many people as Accutane, even though this brand was taken off the market in 2009), Oral contraceptives and Anti-androgen agents (such as Spironolactone).
Note: Recent guidelines suggest that oral antibiotics should be used sparingly for limited periods of time and are not to be the only treatment for acne for any individual. Oral antibiotics are best used with topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide. Studies have found that using topical benzoyl peroxide along with oral antibiotics may reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
COMMON SENSE DIY TREATMENTS
Wash your skin twice a day (morning and evening) using gentle non-abrasive, non-irritating cleansers.
Avoid applying this list of comedogenic (Pore-clogging) ingredients to your skin. (https://www.acne.org/comedogenic-list.html)
Moisturize once or twice daily with a lotion or cream of your choice when skin gets dry.
Avoid resting your head in your hands repetitively, wearing thick, non-breathable clothing when working out, or any other potential set-up for acne mechanica.
Diet Therapy - Again, this topic is still controversial and needs more strong evidence. But hey, it won't hurt to strive for a controlled balanced diet during the holidays, right?
WATCH THIS VIDEO
WHY THIS ARTICLE IS IMPORTANT
Be preventative before the holidays or any potentially stressful upcoming event to decrease breakouts:
* This can mean concentrating on avoiding the ingredients in the list above and only using oil-free/”non-comedogenic” (which means does NOT cause acne) moisturizers.
* For those of you who notice your acne worsens after your diet goes off the rails, practice moderation with the yummy Christmas treats and increase your intake of produce/follow other clean eating habits.
* DE-STRESS in whatever way works best for you (yoga, exercise, meditation (I love to go to my HAPPY PLACE often!), skiing, hiking, biking, (all of Summit County’s readily available outdoor vices)
* Remember that even a small acne breakout can cause permanent scarring so seek treatment sooner rather than later.
Kelly Ballou, PA-CCo-Founder Renew DermatologyFrisco, Colorado (Summit County)
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