Acne – How it occurs and its treatments

November 12, 2012

Acne – How it occurs and its treatments

Acne is a skin condition which affects around 80% of people at sometime in their lives but it normally happens when the person reaches puberty. In general terms acne develops when there are hormonal factors at work. Acne is normally seen on the face but it is common on the back, buttocks and shoulders too. It normally presents itself as red bumps and spots and in severe cases it can cause scarring.

What causes acne?

There is an understanding of how acne develops but the reason why some people get it and other do not is still open to discussion. Genetic reasons seem plausible to many medical professionals.

When boys and girls reach puberty their bodies start to produce varying and increasing levels of hormones. This affects glands in the skin. A greasy substance called sebum is released from the sebaceous glands but the increased amount of testosterone being produced raises the amount of sebum being produced too. This excess sebum can obstruct hair follicles. If dead skin is present it can cause the skin to become inflamed and cause pain because bacteria underneath the blockage can multiply.

Acne can cause different types of spots and blemishes such as blackheads, these are small, blocked pores with a black centre. Whiteheads are small, hard bumps with a white centre. Pustules are spots where you can see the pus in them and nodules are hard and painful lumps beneath the skin.

When the skin is red and swollen it is known as inflammatory acne. If untreated this form of acne can lead to scarring. Another factor in the amount of scarring acne can produce is the amount of picking and squeezing the adolescent does. The skin recovers much better without picking or squeezing. Spots do go away but the redness may take a few weeks to disappear.

Stress can aggravate acne, as can the menstrual cycle. Pregnant women are sometimes shocked to find that they develop acne just because they are pregnant.

For everyday care it is best to wash your skin gently with a mild cleanser followed by an oil-free moisturiser. Scrubbing or exfoliating the skin of an acne sufferer can irritate the skin, leaving it red and sore looking.

Acne related myths

Myths about what causes acne abound but the bottom line is that no one really knows the answer to that yet. However there is a common misconception that eating chocolate or greasy food causes acne. This is not true. Acne being caused by a bad diet has never been proved. However, the benefits of eating a balanced diet have been well researched and confirmed. So you should always aim to eat as healthily as you can.

Others believe that acne is caused by being dirty. Again this is not true. The medical establishment now know that if you are going to get acne then you will get it irrespective of your cleanliness. Although doctors do know that too much cleaning can remove the protective oils in the skin making the condition worse.

Another myth says that wearing make-up can cause spots. Again there is no evidence to support this theory. What is known, however, is that the less you touch your skin, less bacteria will be spread to your skin. Always wash your hands before applying your make-up and always wash it off before going to bed.

Treatments

For the average acne sufferer the acne will go away without treatment, however it may take many years and may come and go a few times before finally disappearing. Some over the counter treatments can accelerate the acne’s disappearance if it is a mild case. Some treatments take a few weeks before any improvement is seen.

For more severe cases your GP may be able to help. Prescription treatments are available and your GP will give the most suitable medication after assessing your condition.

Treatments for mild non inflammatory acne include gels or lotions containing retinoids, antibiotics and antibacterials. A retinoid is made from vitamin A while the antibiotics will normally be applied in cream form. A common antibacterial is benzoyl peroxide.

These medications do not give a ‘quick fix’. It can take up to eight weeks before any noticeable improvement is seen. They are only useful on mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne, which has some pustules and nodules. Any treatment given may have to be followed for six months. In some women it has been found that contraceptive pills that contain oestrogen can help clear acne.

For severe acne a visit to your GP is a must. He or she can refer you to a dermatologist. This specialist may prescribe a stronger medication. A drug known as isotretinoin (Roaccutane) is now available for severe acne treatment. There are also benefits to using light and laser therapies to help get rid of acne. Presently these are not available on the NHS.

Treatments

For the average acne sufferer the acne will go away without treatment, however it may take many years and may come and go a few times before finally disappearing. Some over the counter treatments can accelerate the acne’s disappearance if it is a mild case. Some treatments take a few weeks before any improvement is seen.

For more severe cases your GP may be able to help. Prescription treatments are available and your GP will give the most suitable medication after assessing your condition.

Treatments for mild non inflammatory acne include gels or lotions containing retinoids, antibiotics and antibacterials. A retinoid is made from vitamin A while the antibiotics will normally be applied in cream form. A common antibacterial is benzoyl peroxide.

These medications do not give a ‘quick fix’. It can take up to eight weeks before any noticeable improvement is seen. They are only useful on mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne, which has some pustules and nodules. Any treatment given may have to be followed for six months. In some women it has been found that contraceptive pills that contain oestrogen can help clear acne.

For severe acne a visit to your GP is a must. He or she can refer you to a dermatologist. This specialist may prescribe a stronger medication. A drug known as isotretinoin (Roaccutane) is now available for severe acne treatment. There are also benefits to using light and laser therapies to help get rid of acne. Presently these are not available on the NHS.

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