Acne

Acne

What is acne?

Acne is a very common skin condition characterised by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and pus-filled spots (pustules). It usually starts at puberty and varies in severity from a few spots on the face, neck, back and chest, which most adolescents will have at some time, to a more significant problem that may cause scarring and impact on self-confidence. For the majority it tends to resolve by the late teens or early twenties, but it can persist for longer in some people.

Acne can develop for the first time in people in their late twenties or even the thirties. It occasionally occurs in young children as blackheads and/or pustules on the cheeks or nose.

Keep up to date with the latest research about acne and all things skin related with our newsletter.

More on this conditionintroduction

What does it look like

View larger
introduction

Main Body Location

Face

introduction

Can it appear anywhere?

Yes

introduction

Other skin conditions

EczemaPsoriasisRosaceaKeloids

What causes acne?

The sebaceous (oil-producing) glands of people who get acne are particularly sensitive to normal blood levels of certain hormones, which are present in both men and women. These cause the glands to produce an excess of oil. At the same time, the dead skin cells lining the pores are not shed properly and clog up the follicles. These two effects result in a build up of oil, producing blackheads (where a darkened plug of oil and dead skin is visible) and whiteheads.

The acne bacterium (known as Propionibacterium acnes) lives on everyone’s skin, usually causing no problems, but in those prone to acne, the build-up of oil creates an ideal environment in which these bacteria can multiply. This triggers inflammation and the formation of red or pus-filled spots.

Some acne can be caused by medication given for other conditions or by certain contraceptive injections or pills. Some tablets taken by body-builders contain hormones that trigger acne and other problems.

Acne can very rarely be caused by problems with hormones. If you develop unusual hair growth or hair loss, irregular periods or other changes to your body, then mention this to your doctor in case it is relevant.

Is acne hereditary?

Acne can run in families, but most cases are sporadic and occur for unknown reasons.

What does acne look like and what does it feel like?

The typical appearance of acne is a mixture of the following: oily skin, blackheads and whiteheads, red spots, yellow pus-filled pimples, and scars. Occasionally, large tender spots or cysts may develop that can eventually burst and discharge their contents or may heal up without bursting.

The affected skin may feel hot, painful and be tender to touch.

Not all spots are acne, so if there is something unusual about the rash it may be advisable to consult your doctor.

How is acne diagnosed?

Acne is easily recognised by the appearance of the spots and by their distribution on the face, neck, chest or back. However, there are several varieties of acne and your doctor will be able to tell you which type you have after examining your skin. The most common type is ‘acne vulgaris’.

Can acne be cured?

At present there is no ‘cure’ for acne, although the available treatments can be very effective in preventing the formation of new spots and scarring.

How can acne be treated?

If you have acne but have had no success with over-the-counter products then it is probably time for you to visit your doctor. In general, most treatments take two to four months to produce their maximum effect.

Acne treatments fall into the following categories:

  • Topical treatments, i.e. those that are applied directly to the skin
  • Oral antibiotics, i.e. tablets taken by mouth
  • Oral contraceptive pills
  • Isotretinoin capsules
  • Other treatments

Self care (What can I do?)

  • Try not to pick or squeeze your spots as this usually aggravates them and may cause scarring.
  • However your acne affects you, it is important to take action to control it as soon as it appears. This helps to avoid permanent scarring and reduces embarrassment. If your acne is mild it is worth trying over-the-counter preparations in the first instance. Your pharmacist will advise you.
  • Expect to use your treatments for at least two months before you see much improvement. Make sure that you understand how to use them correctly so you get the maximum benefit.
  • Some topical treatments may dry or irritate the skin when you start using them. If your face goes red and is irritated by a lotion or cream, stop treatment for a few days and try using the treatment less often and then building up gradually.
  • Make-up may help your confidence. Use products that are oil-free or water-based. Choose products that are labelled as being ‘non-comedogenic’ (should not cause blackheads or whiteheads) or non-acnegenic (should not cause acne).
  • Cleanse your skin and remove make-up with a mild soap or a gentle cleanser and water, or an oil-free soap substitute. Scrubbing too hard can irritate the skin and make your acne worse. Remember blackheads are not due to poor washing.
  • There is little evidence that any foods cause acne, such as chocolate and “fast foods”; however, your health will benefit overall from a balanced diet including fresh fruit and vegetables.

Image DermnetNZ

This information is provided by the British Association of Dermatologists.

Keep up to date with the latest research and all things skin related with our newsletter.

introduction
introduction

Sign up for the latest research

Discover more news and information about keloids

Enter your details below to get updates about this condition that may help you or read more on our website if you need further information right now.

introduction