Acne is a common skin condition often first appearing in the teenage years. Acne will affects the majority of people at some point in their lives. It causes spots to occur on the face, and other parts of the body, such as the back and chest. Acne spots can vary in size and type. From surface blackheads and whiteheads, which are often mild, non obtrusive, and easily treated, to deep seated, inflamed, pus-filled pustules and cysts. These spots are much more difficult to treat, can sometimes be painful, and can sometimes lead to scarring.
Hygiene, and keeping your skin clean is important, however spots will still occur, so don’t be disheartened. You should wash the affected areas twice daily (over washing can aggravate your skin) with a mild, oil free, soap or cleanser. Rub gently, as scrubbing too hard, can again irritate the skin and cause flareups. For dry skin, use an oil free moisturiser . They are generally tested, so they won’t cause spots. Look for one that says it is non-comedogenic.
Causes of Acne
Acne is caused when hair follicles, which are tiny holes on the surface of your skin, become blocked. Sebaceous glands are tiny glands found near the surface of your skin. The glands are attached to hair follicles, which are small holes in your skin that an individual hair grows out of. Sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum to lubricate the hair and the skin to stop it drying out. When the glands produce too much sebum, it can mix with dead skin cells, and plug the follicle. This can also result in very oily skin (Clean and Clear have a wonderful oil blotting sheet to help with this!) If the plugged follicle is close to the surface of the skin, it will bulge outwards, creating a whitehead. Alternatively, the plugged follicle can be open to the skin, creating a blackhead. Sometimes harmless bacteria on the skin can then infect the plugged follicles, which can result in more angry and inflamed papules, pustules, nodules or cysts.
Prescription medications that can be used to treat acne include:
- topical retinoids
- topical antibiotics (such as Zineryt or Duac)
- azelaic acid
- antibiotic tablets (such as lymecycline)
- in women, the combined oral contraceptive pill
- isotretinoin tablets (Roaccutane)
In cases of severe acne, where you may have a large number of large papules / pustules on your chest and back as well as your face, your GP may refer you to a consultant dermatologist. In most acne cases, a course of antibiotic tablets combined with some topical treatments can often help the symptoms if acne. Sometimes these treatment can take 2-3 months before they start to work. It’s important to be patient and persist with a recommended treatment, even if there is no immediate effect.
Although Acne is one of the most widespread skin conditions, it is also one of the most poorly understood. This results is many misconceptions and myths about what causes it, or how best to treat it. Some common myths are listed below.
“Acne is caused by a poor diet.”
So far, research has not found any foods that cause acne.
“Acne is caused by having dirty skin and poor hygiene.”
Most of the biological reactions that trigger acne occur beneath the skin, not on the surface, so the cleanliness of your skin will have no effect on your acne. Washing your face more than twice a day could just aggravate your skin and can sometimes result in worsening the symptoms.
“Squeezing blackheads, whiteheads and spots is the best way to get rid of acne.”
This can often make symptoms worse. More importantly however, it can result in life long scarring. However tempting it is to pop a spot, (and we know it’s tempting!) it’s best not to.