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Acne: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Acne: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Acne is one of the most widespread skin conditions that exists. It causes spots and pimples, especially on your face, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms. There are different types of acne but the most common may include spots such as whiteheads and blackheads, or more severe spots like cysts and nodules. Acne is not dangerous, but it may leave skin scars.

It commonly starts appearing during puberty and, for the majority, it usually disappear by the late teens or early twenties. However, it can persist for longer in some people. Women are more likely than men to have mild to moderate acne into their 30s and beyond. If your skin tends to be oily, you may be more prone to have this condition.

WHAT CAUSES ACNE?

Although there are different factors that cause this common skin condition, most experts agree that acne is thought to be triggered mainly by increased levels of an androgen hormone called testosterone, which happens during puberty. Rising androgen levels cause the oil glands under your skin to grow. These enlarged glands produce more sebum, and the excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells and both substances form a plug in the follicle. When this plugged follicle is close to your skin’s surface, it creates the whitehead or blackhead that you are experiencing.  

Other factors may include:

  • Greasy cosmetics
  • Stress
  • Lack of good nutrition
  • Genetics
  • Some medications that contain androgen and lithium
  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking

ACNE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Acne can take varying forms. The following are the most common types of acne that you may have:

  • Whiteheads. Covered by a thin layer of your skin, appear as white bumps or spots.

  • Blackheads. Rise to your skin surface and appear as a dark bump (this is not due to dirt).

  • Papules. Appear on your skin as small tender pink lumps, visible on the surface of your skin, and can be sensitive and painful.

  • Pustules. May appear white or yellow on top and red at the bottom, generally pus-filled. Popping your pustules can lead to acne scarring.

  • Nodules. Large, painful pimples that are embedded deep in your skin. They don’t generally contain pus but are hard to the touch.

  • Cysts. Painful, filled with pus and can cause you scars, and require professional medical treatment.

THE NINE TYPES OF ACNE

There are many different types of acne, which makes a personalised treatment plan very important. We highly recommend you attend a sk:n acne consultation, where our expert practitioner will be able to diagnose the type of acne you have and grade its severity as either mild, moderate or severe.

Acne Vulgaris

This is a skin disease that can occur at various life stages and is mainly caused by sensitivity to a certain androgen, a male hormone that is naturally present in all males and females.

Teenage acne: This commonly occurs during puberty, when the skin's oil glands become overly stimulated by production of the hormone testosterone, which is normal in both males and females.

Adult acne or late-onset acne: We sometimes think of acne as being a teenage problem, but sk:n and lots of renowned dermatology clinics around the world treat many men and women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s.

How does adult acne differ from teenage acne? Adult acne differs markedly from the spots of your teenage years, both in how it appears and how it is treated.

Teenagers usually see hundreds or thousands of tiny bumps, blackheads or whiteheads on the skin of the face, especially the forehead, along with the occasional cyst on the chest and back. That's because teenage skin tends to be a little stickier so they are more likely than adults to get clogged pores. In adults, acne is more likely to appear on the lower part of the face, especially around the mouth and jawline. It's usually deeper nodules or red papules in those areas. The fine little bumps of teenage acne can still happen in adulthood, but are much less common.

Adult acne in women: Roughly 80 per cent of late-onset acne is found in women, due to the various hormonal changes that occur during a woman's life, such as menstrual periods, menopause and, for some, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and pregnancy. In fact, these changes account for almost three quarters of adult female acne cases. The majority of women with acne have normal androgen levels, but hormonal testing is recommended for those who have acne accompanied by excess facial or body hair, a deepening voice, or irregular or infrequent menstrual periods.

Adult acne in men: Almost 43 per cent of men in their 20s and 20 per cent of those in their 30s get acne. In fact, the average age for acne sufferers is now mid to late 20s. Hormones play the biggest part, but outbreaks can also be exacerbated by stress, tiredness and sudden changes in lifestyle.

Steroid Acne

Steroid medication can lead to acne development, particularly anabolic steroids.

Sometimes used by body builders, the drug can have the side effect of causing Nodular-Cystic Acne. It is recommended that you talk to one of our doctors if you suspect this is the cause of your acne.

Acne Cosmetica

This is caused by poor skincare or using pore-blocking cosmetic products, which causes congestion in the skin's pores.

The condition will show many black and whiteheads, but generally no inflammatory lesions. Our expert acne practitioners can help you with this condition and recommend a new skin routine.

Acne Conglobta or Nodulocystic Acne

This is a severe form of Acne Vulgaris (common acne), with infection deep under the surface of the skin and a high risk of severe scarring. Care should be taken to treat this acne as quickly as possible.

It tends to be more common in males than females and can be particularly distressing and painful. You would typically see a doctor for immediate treatment if you suffered from this.

Excoriated Acne

This form of acne occurs when the sufferer has picked at the spots, sometimes subconsciously as a nervous reflex. It leads to a longer healing period and carries a greater risk of scarring.

It is important to be honest with your practitioner about this habit as they will be able to help you much easier and get the results you need.

Acne Mechanica

Acne Mechanica sees the spots in an irregular pattern, very unlike Acne Vulgaris. This shows that the skin has been exposed to a specific substance.

Maybe a dirty phone handset for example, or the edge of a seat belt, which is unhygienic but comes into contact with the face. Removal of the aggravating substance of habit will clear the condition.

Acne Rosacea

Acne Rosacea is different from adult acne. It is another inflammatory condition, where the skin appears very red and often covered in broken blood vessels, especially across the nose, forehead and cheeks.

In severe cases there will be papules and pustules, but no blackheads will be present. You would typically see a doctor for treatment if you suffered from this.

Pyoderma Faciale

This rarer type of acne is characterised by sudden onset of pustules and nodules on red cheeks, chin and/or forehead, typically in young adult women.

If you suspect you have Pyoderma Faciale you should be referred to a dermatologist, who will most likely prescribe medication as treatment.

Acne Fulminans

This is an uncommon yet severe, cystic form of acne that mostly affects males, and may by accompanied by fever and joint pain.

It is also known as Acute Febrile Ulcerative Acne, and would need to be assessed by a dermatologist.

HOW CAN I PREVENT ACNE

There are some tips you can follow to treat effectively your unwanted acne and minimise it:

  • Wash your face regularly - Use an alcohol-free cleanser to remove excess oil, dirt, and sweat that you generate daily on your skin. Do it regularly, but no more than twice a day as, otherwise, it may make your acne worse.

  • Don’t pick or squeeze your spots - This can leave scars and spread spots. We touch our face up to 3000 times in one day, so even if you are not a picker then make sure you keep your hands clean at all times.

  • Limit your make-up. It’s tempting to use cosmetics to cover up your pimples, however, doing so may clog your pores and trigger outbreaks. Wear as little make-up as possible or wear mineral cosmetics instead. Avoid greasy, heavy foundation, and use products that are non-comedogenic, sheer, and fragrance-free.

  • Change your diet - Eating unhealthy food regularly can have a negative impact on your skin. For a more skin spot-free, avoid eating fast or junk food, dairy, white bread, processed breakfast cereals and white rice.

  • Limit sun exposure - Drying out your skin can lead to an excess of oil production to compensate the lack of hydration and this means you may end up with another breakout.

  • Exercise daily - Exercise regulates your hormone levels, delivers oxygen to your skin cells and carries your cellular waste away.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are acne scars permanent?

Usually, your reddish or brownish acne marks that are left behind after pimples clear up, and will fade with no need for treatment. However, picking or squeezing acne can increase the risk for scarring.

What food is good to eat to prevent acne?

Some skin-friendly food choices include:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Unprocessed fruits like apricots, blueberries, tomatoes and red grapes.
  • Unprocessed vegetables like carrots, avocado, sweet potato, beetroot, spinach and other dark green and leafy vegetables.
  • Food containing mineral zinc, vitamins A and E and chemicals called antioxidants.
  • Quinoa
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Oat milk
  • Pumpkin seeds

Is acne caused by poor hygiene?

Poor hygiene doesn't cause acne, however cleansing your skin daily and exfoliating weekly can help prevent pores from becoming clogged.

NATURAL REMEDIES FOR ACNE

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a fantastic natural moisturizer with healing properties. Scoop about a quarter of a teaspoon of coconut oil into the palm of your hand and let it melt. With your fingertips, massage oil directly onto scarred skin and let it soak in. There is no need to wash coconut oil away, however, if the oil is too heavy for your skin, leave it for thirty minutes and then remove it with a natural cleanser. Repeat this treatment once every two or three days.

Lemon

Lemon juice is a natural acid that can be used to fade scars, promote healing, and revitalise skin. Simply squeeze the juice from one lemon into a bowl and dab juice over scars with a cotton ball and let it dry completely. Then rinse your face and follow up with a natural moisturizer. Repeat this treatment once every two or three days.

Aloe vera gel

Aloe has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help to treat your pimples, scars and skin damage. Also, because aloe is a wonderful natural moisturizer, it will leave your skin looking and feeling softer and healthier. You may find aloe vera gel in any drug store, pharmacy or online.  Apply it generously and regularly to your skin.

TREATMENTS FOR ACNE

Although there is no cure for acne, there are a number of specialised treatments available to help significantly reduce it. It is important for you to receive the correct diagnosis for your very individual acne so that you are best equipped to treat and control it.

Skin Peels

This treatment involves applying a non-toxic chemical solution to the skin to encourage skin cell turnover, allowing fresh, soft skin to replace it.

Pyruvic Peel

This type of peel exfoliates gently your skin to make it appear tighter and clearer and stimulates the collagen and elastin production. A pyruvic peel can be used to tackle photoaging and acne and is ideal if you desire firmer, more evenly toned looking skin.

Salicylic Peel

A Salicylic peel is specially formulated to treat your acne, with active ingredients to reduce the oil production and inflammation associated with this skin condition. The peel exfoliates gently your skin, encouraging the removal of dead cells, dirt and sebum from the pores.

Isolaz

This double action blue-light and vacuum technology targets gently both the upper and lower layers of your skin to help get rid of your unwanted acne. Isolaz uses a broadband light to heat up the dermal layer of skin, removing acne as well as reducing inflammation. Simultaneously, the safe pore-cleansing vacuum helps to loosen and extract blackheads and excess oil from deep within your pores.

Find out more about skin peels

TYPES OF ACNE SCARRING

There are four main types of acne scarring and this will determine the type of treatment you need. You may discuss this with your doctor to find out which best corresponds to your particular type of acne and they will then discuss all potential treatments with you.

HYPERTROPHIC SCARRING (KELOID SCARS) - These scars are raised from your skin’s surface and are firm in texture. Keloid scars are commonly found on your back or your chest area, although it can also appear on your face and your neck.  These scars usually reduce in size over time.

BOXCAR SCARRING. These scars are usually rounded or oval-shaped holes in your skin with steep vertical edges. Boxcar scarring looks like the scars left after you have chickenpox and they are usually found on your cheek area.

ROLLING SCARRING. These have rounded, sloping edges, hence the name.  You may see rolling scarrings often have a rough texture and a wavy or rippling appearance and they are the result of damage under your skin.

ICE PICK SCARRING. These common type of scars is usually deep and very narrow. Your skin’s surface looks as though it has been pierced by an ice pick, hence the name. Some pick scars are large in size and often look similar to an open pore.

Find out more about acne scar treatments

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