Acne is a very common skin condition – in fact most people will be affected by it at some stage in their lives. It is most common in teenagers but can affect people well into their 20’s and beyond. While acne is not a life-threatening condition, it can dramatically affect people’s self-esteem and how they feel about themselves so it is important that the condition is treated from an early stage.
Acne can show up as white raised bumps (whiteheads), small dark spots (blackheads), pimples (often called ‘zits’) that can be red or angry-looking and sometimes pus-filled cysts. Some people have a combination of all of these. Skin areas that contain a lot of hair follicles are affected by acne, such as the face, chest and back but it can also appear on the arms, legs and buttocks.
Acne can cause scarring, but early treatment can help to prevent this. It is a persistent condition, requiring patience but there are many effective treatments available – it just may take a little time finding the one that works best for you.
Acne usually starts in teenagers as that is when hormonal changes occur. This increase in hormones means that the glands in hair follicles start producing too much oil. This oil becomes clogged in skin pores, forming whiteheads or blackheads. If bacteria starts to grow in the clogged pores people develop pimples or cysts. There seems to be a hereditary factor with acne, so if one or both your parents had it, you might also develop acne.
Certain things can make acne worse such as using oil-based hair and make-up products, and some oral medications like anti-epileptics and contraceptives. Pressure or friction on the skin caused by headbands, helmets or backpacks can aggravate the condition. Some women find that their acne is worse at the time they have their period.
Acne is often treated in a step-wise way, starting with milder treatments first and moving to something stronger if the first one hasn’t helped. The mild options are topical treatments which are applied to the skin, many of which are available from your local pharmacy without a prescription. For severe acne, it is best to visit your doctor who may prescribe a medicine or refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist). In both cases, the earlier that treatment is started, the less likely the skin will be scarred.
For mild acne, face washes and cleansers containing an antiseptic, antibacterial or salicylic acid are used. Creams, gels or washes that contain ingredients that help decrease the bacteria on your skin and peel the top layer of skin off to help unblock pores can be very helpful (benzoyl peroxide, azaleic acid, adapalene). Antibiotic liquids or lotions can help stop infection of spots.
In cases of severe acne, doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics that you have to take for several months. Oral retinoids (isotretinoin) are very effective but can have some unpleasant side effects and must be monitored closely. Hormone treatments such as certain types of contraceptive pill can actually make acne better, and blue light therapy can be recommended for some cases.
All of these treatments take time to work, sometimes months. They will not help the existing acne but they help to prevent the next bout of acne from occurring.
There are many things that you can do that can help improve your acne. It is important to clean your skin gently – don’t scrub too hard or wash too often, twice daily is enough. Don’t pop or pick pimples as this can lead to infection. Always remove make-up before bed, wash hair daily and keep it off the face. Try to avoid high humidity environments like saunas. Try and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, keeping processed foods to a minimum and stay out of the sun, as some treatments can make your skin sensitive to the sun.
Remember that if one acne treatment hasn’t worked for you after giving it a good amount of time – talk to your doctor or pharmacist as there will be another treatment to try.
This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked materials, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.