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Acne: Causes & Treatments

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Acne, or acne vulgaris, is something that most people experience at some point in their lives. But despite it being so common, many sufferers still feel insecure about their condition; often resulting in not wanting to take pictures or for people to see them without makeup.

If you or someone you love suffers from acne and is struggling with it, it’s important to know the goal in this article is to help you deal with the discomfort acne can bring, and to help you feel more comfortable in your own skin. But remember that there is nothing wrong with having acne.

Here you can read about ways you may be able to treat or manage the condition.

First let’s start with the definition of acnea skin condition characterised by red pimples on the skin, especially on the face, due to inflamed or infected sebaceous glands and prevalent chiefly among adolescents. – Oxford Dictionary

Continue reading to find answers to your most frequently asked questions.

Having Acne

Where do you get acne?

You can technically get acne anywhere. But it’s most commonly on your face, chest and back. Most people with acne get it on their face, about half get it on their back, and only 15% get it on their chest.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Acne generally appears as oily skin and red spots that can be painful. With each type of acne, there are different types of spots in terms of appearance, potential discomfort, ability to scar, and more.

Are there different types of acne?

There are 6 main types of spots that you can get from acne:

  • blackheads: small black or yellowish bumps – blocked follicles at the skin’s surface react with the oxygen in the air and turn black
  • whiteheads: similar to blackheads, but firmer – blocked follicles just beneath the skin’s surface
  • papules: small red bumps, sometimes tender – bacteria within the hair follicle multiplies and oil and dead skin cells build up, causing pus that tries to fight of the bacteria
  • pustules: similar to papules, but with a white tip – the papule comes to the surface of the skin
  • nodules: large hard lumps under the skin, can be painful – common term for large papules
  • cysts: cystic acne is the most severe type and causes large, pus-filled lumps, most likely type of spot to cause scarring

Getting Acne

What causes acne?

There is a misconception that acne is caused by poor hygiene or dirty skin, often supported by face washes / cleansers being used as a cure, but there is actually no evidence to support this.

The most common cause of acne is hormone changes, especially during puberty. You can also experience periods of acne from hormonal changes in your menstrual cycle or during pregnancy.

Acne can also be hereditary and run in the family. Therefore, while it isn’t guaranteed, you’re more likely to get acne if your parents also had it.

Can I prevent acne?

Doctors haven’t yet figured out how to definitely prevent acne. There are however techniques that you can follow to try and reduce your acne outbreaks in both frequency and severity. Some techniques you can try:

  • Drink a lot of water / stay hydrated
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Cleanse your skin daily to remove excess oil, dirt and sweat
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Protect your skin from sun exposure
  • Don’t use abrasive materials on your skin
  • Try to reduce your stress levels

Leaving Acne

Can I clear my acne?

Similar to preventing acne, we don’t yet know how to completely and permanently clear acne. There are methods you can try to treat your acne, and it also happens for many that their acne disappears. But it’s not guaranteed that it will never return, or that the techniques they tried would work for you as there could’ve been other factors including genetics and leaving puberty.

Can I improve my acne?

Absolutely. How you do it depends on a number of factors, such as your skin type, the cause of your acne, and the spots you have. In most cases, there is an element of trial and error. Acne treatments can consist of at-home treatments, over the counter medication from your pharmacist, prescription medication (usually for adults) from your GP, and more. These include:

From your pharmacy

  • Topical treatments – there are different types. Topical retinoids exfoliate the skin, while those containing benzoyl peroxide works as an antiseptic, reducing the bacteria
  • Azelaic acid – helps the skin renew itself quickly, making the spots occur less often, and can also even out the skin tone

From your doctor/GP:

  • Antibiotics; tablets or a topical treatment – they kill the acne-causing bacteria, therefore improving the appearance of the skin
  • Combined oral contraceptive pill – the birth control pill can give users side effects that include reducing acne, especially if caused by hormones
  • Isotretinoin capsules (roaccutane) – an effective treatment for severe acne, but can come with serious side effects so should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor

At-home remedies:

  • Apple cider vinegar – it is wiped across the skin in a water mixture. The vinegar and organic acids can kill certain bacteria and fungus. Some dermatologists advise against this as it can cause skin irritation.
  • Honey and cinnamon mask – honey and cinnamon can fight bacteria and reduce inflammation.

What can I do about my acne scars?

There are treatments for acne scars. Generally the goal is to improve the appearance of the scars, rather than to completely remove them. Some of the best treatments, depending on the severity of the scars, include:

  • Chemical peels – removing the outer layer of the skin
  • Microdermabrasion – removing dead skin cells
  • Sunscreen – prevent scars from darkening
  • Topical treatments

Is it safe to use a pimple popper tool?

Pimple popping, or acne extraction, is a good way to get rid of some stops when done by a dermatologist. But attempting it at home can result in scarring or worsening the appearance of the spot.

Some tools available, such as pimple vacuums, are controversial because of this. When done correctly; loosening the blackheads first for example, can make it effective. But it is generally recommended that you use gentler methods when clearing out your pores.

While it is not always seen as a health issue, you can of course speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns about your skin and would like any advice on your skincare.

Please note that in many cases, strong acne medication or treatments can come with harmful side effects, so be sure before you try any.


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