Acne is a condition which causes spots to appear on the skin, especially the face, back and chest. Often the skin appears greasy.If left untreated, severe cases of acne can cause scarring.Acne usually first occurs during puberty although it can develop later on in life. The condition usually improves with time but in rare cases it can continue well into middle age. The most widespread form of acne is 'acne vulgaris' also known as 'common acne'. The condition can run in families. Acne can also cause emotional problems such as embarrassment, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.Causes
  • Hormones - During puberty, the human body experiences hormonal changes. These changes can increase the activity of the sebaceous glands which secrete oil (sebum) to lubricate the skin and hair. An increase in oil production can clog up the hair follicles of the skin causing a 'blackhead'. If the follicles become completely blocked, bacteria can begin to multiply causing redness, pain and a build up of pus beneath the surface. This is known as a 'whitehead', 'pustule' or 'zit'.
  • Medicines - Certain medicines can trigger acne. Possible side effects should be listed on the label, packaging or information leaflet of all medicines. If you think a medicine you are taking may be causing acne, mention it to your doctor.
  • Sweating - Sweat can accumulate in hair follicles which are already partially blocked by sebum. This causes a complete blockage making the inflammation worse. Spending lots of time in the sun or working in kitchens or places where there is lots of steam may therefore make acne worse. Wearing headbands, caps and tight straps can also make acne worse.
  • Stress - Acne can also get worse in times of stress or emotional trauma
Avoiding Acne
  • Cleanse your skin regularly
  • Avoid covering your face with cosmetics, particularly those which are oil-based. If possible, do not cover spots with concealer. Remove make-up, concealer or other cosmetics before going to bed
  • Avoid serum-containing, anti-frizz hair products and dandruff shampoos containing selenium. They are believed to aggravate acne around the hairline
  • Squeezing spots can make acne worse. Do not squeeze spots unless pus is visible close to the surface of the skin. If you do squeeze a spot, wash your hands before and after. Always squeeze gently, never squeeze until blood appears as this can cause scarring. Remove blackheads using a blackhead extractor or 'comedone spoon'. They are designed to remove them without damaging the surrounding skin. They are available from most pharmacies and beauty counters
  • Spending a few minutes each day in the sunshine can improve acne. However, remember that spending long periods of time in the sun without adequate sun protection can be harmful
Most acne treatments come in the form of creams, washes, gels and masks which are all applied directly to the skin. However, oral medicines are also used. Many treatments can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy but others are only available on prescription. Acne treatments usually fall into one of the following categories:
  • Antibacterials which fight bacterial infection
  • Antiproliferative medicines which reduce the production of sebum
  • Hormone treatments which interfere with the body's hormone levels reducing the production of sebum
  • Corticosteroids which suppress inflammation
  • Keratolytics and abrasives which have an exfoliating effect. This means that they loosen dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, unblocking pores
  • Vitamin B3 products which reduce inflammation
  • Retinoids contain a source of vitamin A. They reduce the production of sebum, have an anti-bacterial action and loosen dead skin cells
When To See A Doctor
If you are diabetic, over 40 years of age or if you have a child who develops acne before reaching puberty, go and seek help from your doctor.Additional InformationFor more information about acne, contact the Acne Support Group on 0181 561 6868, they also have a website at