The basics of this skin condition including prevention, treatment and the cause of the red spots responsible for so much teenage trauma
WHAT IS IT?
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that mainly occurs in puberty, hence the name 'acne' which comes from the Greek word 'acme' meaning the prime of life. People tend to suffer between the age of 15 – 18, but can be affected in their twenties and thirties too.
A build up of excess grease and dead skin cells blocks the pores on the face, neck, chest, and upper back. It's skin pigment, not dirt, that creates the "black-head". Whiteheads are more common and more likely to become inflamed because the grease and dead skin cells and bacteria can't escape.
The result is the well-known red spot with a tense creamy white centre that sits there waiting to burst.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Hair follicles in the skin have sebaceous glands that produce an oily substance called sebum. This sebum makes the skin feel greasy. In acne, these glands over-react to normal levels of testosterone by making excessive amounts of sebum. Together with dead skin cells this excess sebum blocks the hair follicles (pores) allowing inflammation to develop and sometimes bacteria to set up home.
CAN I STOP IT?
Acne is not caused by poor hygiene, however, acne spots can be improved by gentle cleansing of the skin. Conversely, skin showing signs of acne will usually become worse if pores are left clogged with dirt and grease. Acne is not infectious – meaning it cannot be spread from one person to another.
Healthy skin needs a good supply of the vitamins A, C, and E, and also zinc. It also needs around eight glasses of water a day. Keeping the skin clean and free of excess grease will help prevent the pores becoming blocked. A medicated lotion or gel from the pharmacist can be used for this. Some people find that they get more spots after they've eaten certain foods or if they are under stress. If this is the case then avoiding these triggers may help.
SHOULD I SEE DOCTOR?
Although having a few spots every now and the is pretty much par for the course if the spots are in greater numbers, often full of pus, or covering large areas of the skin, then it's worth having a chat with the doctor.
Treating the acne properly will prevent the skin from becoming scarred and help prevent suffering from the emotional damage and embarrassment that spots can cause.
Don't squeeze spots. It may feel good but it will ultimately make things worse. In humid climates, you only need to use a moisturizer if you have very dry skin. If you spend most of your time in an air-conditioned environment, (which tends to have a drying effect on your skin) you might benefit from a light, oil-free moisturizer.
Mild acne: Gels, creams, or lotions containing benzoyl peroxide remove the excess grease, reduce the number of whiteheads, and have anti-bacterial action. Tea-tree oil products work in a similar way.
Moderate acne: When more than a handful of spots are present, and they will not disappear with the above treatment, then antibiotics may be prescribed – either as a cream or gel, or to be taken orally.
Severe acneL: Hospital skin specialists in dermatology clinics may recommend using powerful medicines under supervision.