What is acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when the oil-secreting glands in the skin
are clogged and become inflamed or infected.
These glands occur mainly on the face, back and chest, so these areas are the
main sites for acne.
Acne is associated with increased grease production, therefore people with
acne often notice and complain of the greasiness of their skin.
How common is acne?
Many young people will have a few acne spots at some time but around 15% will
have more troublesome spots called acne.
Acne usually starts in the early teens and, if not treated, peaks between the
ages of 17 and 21 years. Most people are acne-free by the time they are 25,
although, in a few people, acne may persist to the age of 40 or older.
Acne is also common just before a womans monthly period.
What causes acne?
These are controlled by the sex hormones and this is why acne starts at puberty.
However acne is seldom due to an excess of these hormones but is usually due
to an excessive response of the grease glands to normal hormone levels.
It is not clear why and how blackheads and whiteheads develop, but the grease
secreted by the sebaceous glands (any of the simple or branched glands in the
skin that secrete an oily substance) probably plays a part in their formation.
After puberty, the skin of the face and upper trunk, with or without acne,
contains bacteria. These bacteria get into the ducts of the grease glands where
they make chemicals that eventually penetrate the deeper parts of the skin.
This does not mean acne is infectious. It is due to the action of normal skin
bacteria on the abnormal quantity and quality of grease produced by acne sufferers.
What are the symptoms of acne?
- Pimples (some filled with pus).
These skin eruptions can be painful and, in some cases, spots may become large
and tender. These are called nodules and may lead to scarring scars may
be raised from the skin surface (keloid scars) or depressed (atrophic scars).
How is acne treated?
Acne spots can usually be kept under control but continuous treatment may be
necessary for many years.
Treatment is aimed at cleaning out the pores, keeping oil and dirt out of the
pores, and reducing inflammation.
Your doctor or nurse will discuss your skin care and assess which products,
such as soaps, you should continue using and which you should stop using. They
will also discuss the various options for treatment.
Possible treatments for acne are:
can I do?
- Topical treatment: This is treatment that is applied to the skin. Some topical
treatments are also available from your chemist the most effective
topical treatments that can be bought over the counter contain benzoyl peroxide.
Topical treatment must be applied to the entire affected area and not just
to the spots and it should be continued to keep the spots under control.
- Oral antibiotics: These are the most frequent oral treatments. They reduce
the number of skin bacteria and also reduce inflammation.
- Hormonal treatment: Ordinary contraceptive pills have little or no effect
on acne, but there are other hormonal treatments that can reduce excessive
- There are other strong treatments related to vitamin A. These are only likely
to be prescribed by a specialist after your doctor has referred you for assessment
in the more serious cases where other treatments have failed.
- Follow the full treatment prescribed by your doctor and keep your follow-up
- Change your washcloth every day, as bacteria can grow on damp cloth.
- Wash your hands more frequently and avoid putting your fingers and hands
to your face unnecessarily.
- Don't squeeze, pick, scratch or rub your skin as scars may form if you squeeze
- Although diet probably has no role in acne, it might be useful to keep a
record of the foods you eat and try to figure out if any foods make your acne
- Sunshine may help acne but it is obviously important for everyone to avoid
sunburn. Sun beds have little benefit.
- Try to avoid extreme stress as this may aggravate acne. Stress reduction
strategies such as exercise or meditation may help to alleviate stress.
- Dont give up there are many alternatives for you and your doctor
What is the long-term outlook?
Acne is usually one of the most straightforward of the persistent skin conditions
to treat, but it must be treated sooner rather than later. Do not be embarrassed
to go to your doctor about this condition. Help is available.
Early treatment minimises the risk of scarring.
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