Acne is the medical term for pimples. Acne is a prevalent skin condition characterized by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and pus-filled spots (pustules). It usually starts at puberty (after the age of 12). It 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 management involves a medical line of control such as topical application, oral antibiotics, isotretinoin, and few particular forms of treatment such as chemical peeling, micro-needling, platelet-rich plasma therapy.
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 is known as Propionibacterium acnes lives on everyone’s skin, usually causing no problems. Still, in those prone to acne, the excess oil creates an ideal environment in which these bacteria can multiply. Consequently, it 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 be associated with hormonal changes. If you develop unusual hair growth or hair loss, irregular periods, or other changes to your body, then inform your doctor.
Is acne hereditary?
Acne can run in families, but most cases are sporadic and occur for unknown reasons.
What does acne look and 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 tender to touch.
How is acne diagnosed?
Acne is easily recognized by the appearance of the spots and 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 of acne you have after examining your skin.
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?
Acne treatments fall into the following categories:
- Topical treatments,
- Oral antibiotics,
- Oral contraceptive pills,
- Isotretinoin capsules
- +Topical treatments
- These are usually the first choice for those with mild to moderate acne. Various active anti-acne agents such as benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics (eg., erythromycin, tetracycline, and clindamycin), retinoids (e.g., tretinoin, isotretinoin, and adapalene), azelaic acid and nicotinamide are used.
These should be applied to the entire affected area of the skin (e.g., all of the face) and not just to individual spots, usually every night or twice daily, depending on the treatment.
Some topical treatments can be irritating to the skin, so it is advised that the treatment is used initially on a small area of affected skin for a few applications before being applied to the entire affected area.
It is recommended to slowly increase the use of the treatment, for example, using it once or twice weekly, and then gradually making to regular daily use. Consult your doctor if the treatment irritates the skin.+Oral
- +Oral antibiotic
Your doctor may recommend a course of antibiotic tablets, usually erythromycin or a type of tetracycline, which is sometimes taken in combination with a suitable topical treatment.
Antibiotics need to be taken for at least two months and are usually continued until there is no further improvement, for at least six months. Some should not be taken at the same time as food, so read the instructions carefully.
- +Oral contraceptive
Some types of oral contraceptive pills help females who have acne. The most effective contain a hormone blocker (for example, cyproterone) which reduces the amount of oil the skin produces. It usually takes at least three to four months for the benefits to show. Although they may not be taken, for this reason, the pills also help to prevent conception.
As they prevent ovulation, they may be less suitable for young teenage girls where ovulation is not well established. These tablets increase the risk of blood clots which can be dangerous. This is a greater risk for people who smoke, are overweight, or have others in the family who have had blood clots.
This is a powerful and highly effective treatment for acne which continues to benefit most patients for up to two years after a course of treatment. However, it has the potential to cause a number of serious side effects and can be prescribed only under the supervision of a consultant dermatologist.
Isotretinoin can harm an unborn child. Pregnancy tests will be repeated every month during treatment and five weeks after completing the course of treatment. Effective contraception must be used for at least four weeks before treatment, whilst on treatment, and for at least four weeks afterward.
Self-care (What can I do?)
- Try not to pick or squeeze your spots as this usually aggravates them and may cause scarring.
- However, if your acne affects you, it is crucial to take action to control it as soon as it appears. It will help you to avoid permanent scarring and reducing embarrassment.
- 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 aggravated by a lotion or cream, stop treatment for a few days and try using the medicine less often and then increasing gradually.
- Make-up may help your confidence. Use products that are oil-free or waterbased. Choose products that are labeled 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.