Acne is a disease of the skin that affects the tiny pores found on the face, back, arms and chest.
It is caused by an abnormal response to the hormone testosterone. Both men and women have testosterone in their blood stream and sometimes it can have a profound effect on the skin. The abnormal response is normally self-limiting (in other words, acne does eventually get better by itself) but it may take several years.
Causes of acne
Acne pimples form when oil glands make too much sebum, an oily substance. A spot forms when a pore through which a hair emerges is blocked by dead skin cells, and the sebaceous or oil gland found at the base of the pore produces too much oil.
The oil gets trapped in the hair channel and solidifies forming a blackhead. The oil gradually builds up around the hair and its root, and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
These bacteria break down the oil into very irritating chemicals that cause redness, swelling, pain and pus formation, in other words, a spot.
If the inflammation is deep and/or severe, or if a spot is squeezed, the pus can get into the healthy skin which will spread the swelling. It can result in scarring and the formation of something called a cyst (a ‘well’ of pus that has no connection to the skin surface).
Acne is most common from puberty to the late teens and usually clears up as you get older. Occasionally it is known to persist into the mid twenties or later however, and may even continue into your 40s or 50s. There are a number of common misconceptions about acne – for example it is often said that it is caused by a ‘poor diet’ or by ‘less than adequate personal hygiene’.
In fact there is no proof that either of these alleged causes plays any role in the development of acne.
On the other hand it is now known that acne symptoms can worsen if you squeeze blackheads or spots as this forces the contents of the spot deep into the skin, (For blackheads you should ideally use a tool called a comedone spoon which you can get at your pharmacy). In fact you should never squeeze a spot unless it has a definite “head”.
Excessive sweating is also known to make acne worse in some cases, as can a humid atmosphere, and surprisingly you are actually more likely to suffer with acne if you wash too frequently.
There is a wide array of preparations available to treat spots and acne from your local Pharmacy. We recommend that you ask for advice before you purchase a product for the first time to ensure you get the right product for you. Other precautionary steps you can take to help prevent or alleviate the condition include:
- Washing the affected area regularly, but do not over wash as this will dry out the skin and may make the condition worse
- Using an antibacterial wash or cleansing lotion, again being careful not to over wash
- Trying to keep to a healthy diet not because it will directly help your acne but because it will keep your skin healthy, which in turn will allow it to heal quicker
- Avoiding touching the affected are as much as possible. ‘Messing’ with spots can make them worse
Lastly, do not get disheartened. Remember that acne will eventually clear up and there are many products that will help it on its way.
If your acne persists despite treatment there are a number of products available on prescription from your GP that can help.
If you have concerns about acne ask your Pharmacist for advice.
The information provided on this website does not replace medical advice.
If you want to find out more, or are worried about any medical issue or symptoms that you may be experiencing, please contact our pharmacist or see your doctor.