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Acne: Not Just for Teenagers

Acne: Not Just for Teenagers

Acne, a common skin condition among teenagers, can affect people of all ages. It is the most common skin problem in the U.S., affecting 40 to 50 million Americans at any one time. While mostly confined to the face, acne can also occur on the neck, chest, and back.

The Skin

The skin's sebaceous glands, which are attached to hair follicles (where hair grows out of), secrete an oily substance called sebum that softens and lubricates our hair and skin. Acne appears when the follicles (pores) become plugged with sebum, dead skin cells, bacteria, and other debris. Inside the pore, bacteria multiply very quickly, causing the pore to become red and swollen. If the inflammation goes deep into the skin, an acne cyst or nodule appears. (see image below)


  • Excess oil production

  • Bacteria: normal skin bacteria can act upon sebum to produce irritating substances, resulting in inflammation when the substances are released into surrounding skin

  • Excess hormone activity: androgens are hormones that increase in boys and girls during puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. Because males produce more androgens than females, they tend to have more severe cases of acne

  • Heredity

About 20% of newborns have neonatal acne. You’ll usually see it at about 2 weeks of age. Neonatal acne is generally nothing to worry about. It rarely causes a scar and tends to go away on its own in a few weeks to months.

Up to 40% of women may have acne into their forties, which can continue beyond this age.

Other conditions that involve hormonal changes can cause acne:

  • Pregnancy or menstruation

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

  • Certain drugs, such as birth control pills

  • Certain products applied to the skin

  • High humidity and sweating

Treatment: Without treatment, dark spots and permanent scars can appear on the skin as acne clears.

Over-the-counter: Topicals (applied directly to the skin)

  • Benzoyl peroxide (and prescription)

  • Salicylic acid (and prescription)

  • Adapalene (Differin; and prescription)


  • Antibiotics (pill and topical): helps to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation

  • Birth control pills and other medications that work on hormones can be helpful for women

  • Retinoids: Unblock pores

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane): For severe acne unresponsive to other methods


  • Lasers and other light therapies

  • Chemical peels

  • Acne removal: Open and drain a large acne cyst

  • Cryotherapy: Freezing acne

  • Steroid injections


  • Wash face twice a day and after sweating

  • Use your fingertips to apply a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. Using a washcloth, mesh sponge, or anything else can irritate the skin

  • Use gentle products, such as those that are alcohol-free. Avoid scrubbing your skin

  • Rinse with lukewarm water

  • Shampoo regularly. If you have oily hair, shampoo daily. Thoroughly rinse any conditioner from your skin

  • Let your skin heal naturally. If you pick, pop, or squeeze your acne, your skin will take longer to clear up, and you increase the risk of getting acne scars

  • Keep your hands off your face. Touching your skin throughout the day can cause flare-ups

  • Stay out of the sun and tanning beds. Some acne medications make the skin very sensitive to ultraviolet light

  • Certain cosmetics may block pores. Check labels and choose products that are water-based, oil-free, and won't clog pores

  • Certain foods, such as chocolate and colas, do not cause acne as was once believed. However, if you feel certain foods aggravate your acne, avoid those foods

Consult with a Dermatologist (skin specialist) for any acne concerns.

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