Acne is a common skin condition that usually occurs during puberty. It affects most people, in varying degrees, at some point during their lifetime (between 70% and 90% of teenagers).
It is characterised by reddish patches of skin and spots.
There are six main types of spot caused by acne:
- Blackheads are small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin
- Whiteheads have a similar appearance to blackheads but they can be firmer and have a white centre
- Papules are small red bumps that may feel tender or sore
- Pustules are similar to papules but have a white tip in the centre that is caused by a build-up of pus
- Nodules are large hard lumps that build up beneath the surface of the skin and are usually painful
- Cysts are the most serious type of spot caused by acne. They are large, pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils. Cysts carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring
Acne most commonly affects the face, the upper chest and back
Most treatment can take up to 3 months to properly work
Causes and triggers
Acne is believed to be hereditary. If a mother and father both had acne, it is likely that their children will also suffer from it when they reach puberty.
This genetic predisposition has been supported by twin studies and testing on close relatives.
The severity and longevity of acne is tied in with the sebaceous gland. These are tiny glands below the skin’s surface, attached to the hair follicles. They produce an oily, waxy substance called sebum which lubricates and hydrates the skin and hair of mammals, as well as supplying the top layers of skin with Vitamin E, antioxidants and other minerals.
In humans these glands usually start their active roles during puberty, stimulated by hormones released from the adrenal glands. This is why the skin condition usually manifests itself around this time.
Acne develops as result of blockages in the follicles. This is from plugs of keratin and sebum forming from overproduction of these substances in the sebaceous glands. When this happens, the bacterium, propionibacterium acnes, causes inflammation, redness and lesions. This can go on to result in scarring or hyperpigmentation.
The overproduction of sebum occurs naturally but can be intensified by the increasing presence of sex hormones called androgens or the use of anabolic steroids.
Due to hormones, acne can also occur in women during pregnancy or menopause.
Diet - There is no high-quality evidence that supports a clear relationship between acne and diet. It is widely believed, however, that foods high in unsaturated fats can exacerbate similar skin conditions. There is also evidence to suggest an association between a high glycemic load diet and acne.
Who is most at risk:
- Acne is very common and globally affects 650-million people
- It is slightly more common in females than males
- It affects 70-90% of teenagers
- Acne usually improves during the sufferer’s twenties but occasionally persists into adulthood, although this rare
- For the over-40s, 1% of males and 5% of females are still affected
- The disease does not appear to affect ethnicities differently
Acne itself is not dangerous, however, it can leave long-lasting, purple scars.
Severe acne can lead to social and anxiety problems. This is often worsened due to it most commonly appearing during adolescence, which is often already a time of body image insecurity for many.
Prevention and treatment
There are numerous methods which appear to help clear up the condition, however, they are not 100% guaranteed and it usually take a couple of months before the effects are noticed.
Some easy home remedies:
- Keeping yourself hydrated through water consumption.
- Moisturising and daily skin cleansing. Be careful to get rid of any dirt or oils.
- Avoid rubbing or squeezing spots, as doing so can irritate and worsen blemishes.
- Avoid using too much make-up on, cosmetic products as many can contribute towards clogging and blocking pores.
- After exercise, make sure you properly wash yourself afterwards as sweat can irritate acne.
- Having greasy hair can also be an issue so regularly wash your hair with shampoo and try and prevent yourself from sleeping with it over your face.
- Try to use mild soap, cleanser and shampoos. Using water that is either too hot or too cold can also make acne worse.
There are also, of course, many products available from your pharmacy over the counter. Some products however require a prescription from your GP
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Hormones – In females, acne can be improved with the use of certain oral contraceptives.
- Topical and oral retinoids
- Salicylic acid sulphur