As a guy living close to the 2020s, does it surprise you how big the skin care industry has grown? It seems that the trend of taking care of your skin has reached a new height of popularity. We say that its resurgence is somewhat well-deserved. Worldwide, we’ve expanded our idea of conventional handsomeness for hair, facial features, and skin color. In addition, the skin care industry has done well to market more aggressively to men using approaches that are distinct from how they would market to women.
Do you wish this trend took off when you’ve just hit puberty? Or are you looking to buck into the trend because you experience the same skin problems, even today?
Don’t worry, we get you. Acne can be very embarrassing; it’s a common killer of a guy’s self-esteem. Pimple problems can result in feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and shyness. Though the conversation on skin care is quite broad for women, it’s still in its fledgling stage for men who want to do more than the bare minimum. And so, we thought we’d come up with a guide on acne, what causes acne for men, when to consult a professional about recurring skin problems, how to heal properly from bad bouts of acne, and how to get to a good skin care routine going.
Let’s brush up on the topic of acne today. Hopefully, we’ll do more than skim the surface of our problems!
A “Surface” Definition of Acne
According to the Department of Health’s (DOH) Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, acne is defined as “a common chronic skin disease that occurs due to blockage and/or inflammation of pilosebaceous units (hair follicles and sebaceous glands). Acne can present as non-inflammatory lesions, inflammatory lesions or both, affecting mostly the face but may also involve the chest and back.” In layman’s terms, you develop acne when your skin’s natural oils and dead skin cells accumulate. The bacteria from these two will clog in your hair follicles and multiply. This sets off a reaction from your skin’s immune cells, which defend themselves from the onslaught of bacteria.
The said reaction on your skin manifests in the following ways:
- Closed clogged pores, also familiarly known as whiteheads;
- Open plugged pores, more commonly known as blackheads;
- Papules, or small red bumps, and,
- Pustules, better known as plain old pimples (papules with pus on the tips).
In very severe cases, the reaction may also cause:
- Nodules, or painful lumps under the skin’s surface, and;
- Cystic lesions, or pus-filled lumps under the skin’s surface.
The DOH is quick to dispel the myth that acne is caused by dirt or “dirty” blood. Thus, this definition of acne narrows down the common causes to: clogged pores, excess oil production, increased bacteria on the skin, and inflammation.
Both men and women tend to experience the highest level of acne when they are teenagers. However, acne can persist well into one’s adulthood, and individual adults suffer from acne for different reasons. It also follows that people heal from acne at different rates. Plus, acne treatments that work well for one person may not be as effective for others.
Acne: When It’s a Man’s Problem
Why, then, is it important for a guy like you to really care about acne? Should you treat acne as a minor problem in your physical appearance, or will acne affect your health in more ways than you can see?
We argue that acne shouldn’t be taken lightly. After all, your skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ. You can glean information about how all your other organs are doing, and what other health problems you might be experiencing, from what’s happening on your skin. Addressing your acne should be just one of many ways that you listen to and take care of your body—and that involves both the physical and psychological aspects of your health.
Acne is not a life-threatening condition, but if left untreated, it can result in bothersome scabs and permanent scarring on the affected area. There’s also the risk of incurring an infection if you wound yourself while popping a pimple. And, of course, acne can wreak significant psychological damage. Just a few of the negative feelings that men can associate with acne are:
- Loneliness – the feeling that acne is a burden one must endure on their own;
- Shame – stemming from a lack of control over acne;
- Unattractiveness – the feeling that acne takes away one’s appeal to the opposite sex;
- Self-consciousness – the feeling that acne is drawing negative attention to one’s appearance;
- Insecurity – resulting in further feelings of jealousy toward other men and lack of belief in one’s good qualities.
In very bad cases, acne can demoralize and depress a person. This is a cause for alarm if it hampers their daily interactions with people. And thus, when it comes to a man’s holistic health, acne should cease to be a “surface” issue. Once a man attains victory over acne, it should feel good for them both inside and out.
What Are Some of the Most Common Causes of Acne in Men?
One mistake that people are likely to commit is generalizing the cause for acne. In reality, there are myriad causes to an acne outbreak, and acne patterns differ between men and women. For example, men are likely to incur acne on their backs as well as their faces; in addition, though men do not experience bouts of acne as frequently as women, they are more susceptible to severe levels of it.
If we could narrow it down to the top 10 most common causes of acne in men, this is what the list would look like:
- Acne is typically attributed to hormone levels, as hormones cause the production of those natural oils that clog pores. Men who suffer from conditions that cause hormonal imbalance are vulnerable to breakouts.
- It’s in the blood. To some degree, acne can also be hereditary in nature. Men who have a strong family history of acne are likeliest to experience it to a severe degree.
- Intake of medication. Taking medication to treat another condition might also incite acne. Some types of medication that are known to cause acne as a side effect are oral corticosteroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and anti-psychotics. If you suffer from severe hormonal imbalance or are being treated for epilepsy, depression, or bipolar disorder, ask your doctor how you can mitigate drug-induced acne without compromising your prescribed dosages.
- Increased calorie intake. Weight gain instigates an increase in the production of androgen, the male hormone. If your current diet is causing you to gain weight in short periods of time, it may also be behind your increased levels of acne. But you should also watch out for pimples even if the weight gain is from muscle—i.e., when you’re bulking up at the gym.
- Bad eating habits. What’s worse for your skin than fluctuating body mass is bad eating habits in general. There’s a growing body of evidence that diets that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, thus hitting a high glycemic index, exacerbate acne.
- Stress. Stress shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if it seems like a staple of everyday living. Though scientists are yet to study exact linkages of stress to acne, it’s noted that the cells that produce sebum see a spike in activity when a high level of stress hormones are secreted.
- This one is a very likely culprit, considering how much men sweat on a daily basis and how hot it is in a country like the Philippines. Sweat clogs pores, so excessive sweating can cause significant flare-ups. It won’t help if you wear clothing that doesn’t breathe well or don’t wipe your skin enough when you wear a hat.
- Excessively dry skin. On the flip side, very dry skin also makes a guy vulnerable to breakouts. Your skin still needs to produce a healthy amount of natural oil to look full and healthy. Either way, it won’t be in your best interest to have your skin on the edge of the extremes.
- Sensitivity to certain skin products. As it is with almost everything, no two skin care products are alike. The formulation for one product may work on your friend’s skin just fine, but might irritate yours. It’s best to start becoming aware of those differences.
- Carelessness while shaving. Well, this one’s exclusively a guy’s problem since we’re the ones who have facial hair. If you’re not careful when you’re shaving, you might incur ingrown hairs, which just invite further buildup of oil.
When Should You Seek Further Treatment for Your Acne
You can probably take care of most of the items in the previous section’s “top 10” yourself, but more severe cases of acne are best left to the professionals. A bout of acne may be deemed “severe” and in need of additional treatment if:
- There’s a sudden difference in acne levels. Not that you should be counting each one of your pimples by hand, but you’re the best judge of how your skin is behaving on a day-to-day basis. If your acne seems more pronounced, widespread, or more aggressive than usual, then you should consider going to a dermatologist.
- Over-the-counter anti-acne products aren’t doing anything for you. If what’s on the market at your local supermarket or drugstore doesn’t seem to be taking any effect, then you might need to be prescribed something stronger. Again, you should turn to your dermatologist for this.
- Your acne is starting to leave scars. Scars, blemishes, dark spots, and other forms of damage to your skin risk becoming permanent. If your bouts of acne have started to leave these kinds of traces, then you’re probably due to visit the dermatologist. You might also want to explore a treatment like laser therapy.
Your dermatologist will be able to assess the true situation of your skin, determine what’s behind the irregularities, and prescribe you the necessary medication. For men, common prescriptions are retinoids (medication in cream, gel, or lotion form that can unclog pilosebaceous follicles) and antibiotics (oral or topical medicines that will kill off excess skin bacteria and alleviate redness).
You also have the option to visit a reputable skin clinic for treatments like the following:
- Laser therapy – outpatient treatments that use focused light therapy to remove scars on the outer layer of the skin’s surface or to stimulate the production of new skin cells to cover damaged ones;
- Chemical peeling – repeated treatments using chemical solutions like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or retinoic acid to remove scarred skin cells, or;
- Whitehead/blackhead extraction – in which the dermatologist may excise whiteheads or blackheads that are deeply embedded in your skin and cannot be removed without the right tools.
We understand the initial hesitation to go to a doctor or skin clinic. It’s true that consultations, medicine, and skin treatments can get pretty expensive—and there’s this unspoken fear that they’ll be painful and invasive. But trust us, these treatments could spell a permanent difference in your skin’s overall health. If you know that you can’t deal with your acne problems by yourself, then don’t wait until they start getting worse before you seek an intervention.
Some Quick Tips on Preventing Acne
Your best bet to countering acne for good is preventing it from happening. Try to ride off the momentum of a good skin day, and do the following quick things to keep acne from recurring.
- Be conscientious about your roster of skin care products. Trial, error, or doctor’s advice might influence what you have on your shelf. But in any case, take note of product formulations that work for your skin profile and stick to them. Product types that all guys should have on their roster are: cleaner, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen.
- Wash your skin properly. This isn’t just about washing or lathering your skin as often as possible, but doing these things in the right way. If you know for a fact that you’re prone to oily skin, take care to wash your face in the middle of the day, in addition to when you wake up and before you sleep. You can opt to bring a small bottle of face wash with you to the office or to the gym. Avoid washing your face with very hot or very cold water, and use only a fresh, clean towel to wipe yourself off.
- Do NOT pop your pimples. Under no circumstances should you attempt to burst even a ripe-looking pimple with your fingernails, lest you risk rupturing its follicle wall, letting the pus spill into the lower layer of your skin, and ultimately worsening your acne. Treat your skin gently and only let a trained professional do difficult popping/removal for you.
- Put some extra care into your shaving and trimming routine. This is the routine that sets men’s and women’s skin care essentials apart. Lessen any opportunity for oil to build up in ingrown hairs by lubricating your face properly; using only clean, rust-free razors; and being careful and accurate in your technique. Don’t forget to soothe your skin post-shave with some moisturizer.
- Eat healthier, sleep better, and work smarter. This should be the pinnacle of taking care of your skin properly: being in good health in general. With regard to your diet, cut out excessive junk food, sweets, caffeine, and alcohol; keep your skin (and the rest of your organs) hydrated with lots of water. Get some regular shut-eye every night, and veer your work or study habits away from all-nighters and cramming sessions. Lastly, find ways to relax and stay on top of your worries, acne-related and otherwise. One bad outbreak is not the end of the world—you’re not alone in dealing with these issues, and it’s never too late to start a recovery.
Conclusion: Surviving Acne, Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin
That caps off this chapter of Men’s Skin Care 101, a class on all things acne-related and how to overcome this common problem.
Some aspects of this conversation may not have been easy to broach; acne really does have that tendency to make a person feel shy, grossed out, or uncomfortable. However, we hope that talking about acne in a way that’s closer to a guy’s perspective hews as close to physically removing it. We hope we’ve cleared the air, exposed what’s under the surface of an acne problem, and helped other guys feel a little more comfortable in their own skin.