Acne (acne vulgaris) is a skin condition that affects most people at some point in their lives to some extent. It can develop anywhere on the skin, but occurs most often on the face, back and chest. Although acne regularly affects teenagers, it is not uncommon to experience outbreaks during adulthood.
Statistically, women suffer from acne more than men, and this may be due to the fluctuation of hormone levels. There is also a hereditary element to acne, so if previous generations in your family have suffered, then you may also.
Acne affects around 85% of teenagers and 20% of adults in the UK, and it is thought that 3.5 million visits are made to the GP each year in the UK due to acne symptoms.
Types of acne:
- Blackheads – small black or yellow-toned spots that sit within the skin, and are not raised or inflamed. The colour is caused by sebum in combination with dead skin cells and bacteria. Blackheads commonly form around the nose and chin.
- Whiteheads – similar to blackheads, but the pores are closed so the spot forms the characteristic raised inflamed appearance with a white tip.
- Papules – small, painful, red lumps.
- Pustules – like papules but with a white, hardened, tip.
- Nodules – hard painful lumps that form in the deeper layers of the skin and do not have a clear opening at the skin’s surface.
- Cysts – these look similar to boils and are large, puss-filled, lumps.
If you think you suffer from nodules or cystic acne, consult your GP for advice to avoid long-term scarring.
The root cause of acne is hormonal change, which causes the sebaceous glands to produce an excessive amount of sebum.
Once on the skin’s surface, the excess sebum combined with dry skin cells, creates a thick substance that BLOCKS THE PORES and causes further build-up of sebum beneath the surface.
The growing blockage stimulates BACTERIAL GROWTH, which, in turn, attracts white blood cells to fight the infection.
The presence of white blood cells gives rise to INFLAMMATION, which then subsides once the infection has been dealt with.
Over-the-counter products from the chemist will often include ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide (a mild bleach) and salicylic acid (an organic acid). GP prescribed solutions for acne include antibiotics and, for women, the combined contraceptive pill. These treatments can be very harsh for sensitive skin, so you may choose to avoid them if your skin becomes dry, flaky or sensitive, and look for gentler, more natural alternatives.