The term ‘spots’ can refer to a number of different skin conditions, including blemishes and pimples, acne, milia, age spots, freckles, red spots and rashes.
WHAT CAUSES SPOTS?
There is no single cause for spots as it is a generic term which applies to a variety of skin conditions. Some spots might be caused by excess oil or hormonal factors, others - such as milia - have no known cause. Some spots and dark marks (such as age spots and freckles) can be caused by sun exposure or ageing skin.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPOTS
What causes spots and acne?
Acne and spots occur when hair follicles become blocked and inflamed. This is usually caused by excess oil (sebum) in the skin which leads to an increase in a type of bacteria known as the ‘p. acnes’ bacteria. This bacteria is normally harmless, but excess levels can cause inflammation and spots. The changes in the skin which lead to acne and spots are most often triggered by hormones, which is why acne is usually associated with puberty, a woman’s menstrual cycle, menopause and pregnancy. People undergoing hormonal treatment, in particular, female-to-male transgender people, might also experience acne due to the effect hormonal changes can have on sebum production. Acne also runs in families, so if one or both of your parents has suffered from acne, you are more likely to develop it.
Acne can vary widely in severity, so its symptoms may be very different from one person to the next. Mild acne might only appear as blackheads, whiteheads and smallish pimples. More severe cases of acne can involve large nodules and cysts, which can be painful and swollen, and may lead to scarring.
Types of acne
- Blackheads: dark-coloured plugs visible inside the hair follicle (mild acne)
- Whiteheads: similar to blackheads in appearance, but whitish in colour (mild acne)
- Papules: small red spots which may be tender to the touch (mild-to-moderate acne)
- Pustules: small red spots with a buildup of pus in the centre (moderate-to-severe acne)
- Nodules: large, firm lumps beneath the skin’s surface which can be painful (severe acne)
- Cysts: painful, inflamed, pus-filled
Unlike a blemish, pimple, or acne-related spot, milia feel firm to the touch; a bit like a grain of sand under the surface of the skin. They are not usually red or inflamed and are whitish in colour. Milia are harmless, but can sometimes take many months to disappear.
Types of milia spots:
- Neonatal milia: Found on newborn babies, neonatal milia are thought to be a result of underdeveloped sweat glands.
- Primary milia: Both children and adults can have primary milia. They can disappear without being treated, but are sometimes permanent.
- Secondary milia: These occur in areas of the skin which have suffered injury or trauma. It is thought that this is due to damage caused to the sweat glands.
- Milia en plaque: This rare type of milia forms on a raised and inflamed patch of skin.
- Multiple eruptive milia: Clusters of milia appear close together, most often on the face, upper arms and upper torso.
Age spots and freckles
Age spots and freckles are caused by ultraviolet (UV) light stimulating the production of melanin in the skin. They are usually found on areas of skin which have had the most sun exposure, such as the hands, face and decolletage.
Skin rashes and red spots
Red spots or dots on the skin may not always be acne-related; they can also be a sign of an allergic reaction to a skincare product or as the result of a pet or plant allergy. Some viruses - such as chicken pox, measles or shingles - can also cause red spots or dots to appear. Speak to a doctor if you are concerned about unexplained spots on your skin.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How can I get rid of my spots?
Adopting a thorough facial cleansing and skincare regime can help prevent breakouts if you suffer from spots, blemishes or acne, but it’s important to use the right products for your skin type. There are many over-the-counter solutions for mild acne available at most chemists, but for moderate and more severe cases of spots and acne, you may achieve better results with professional skin treatments.
How many spots is classed as acne?
If you have around 30 or more blemishes on your face at one time, you might have acne. However, if the blemishes are more severe cysts or nodules, you may be categorised as having acne with fewer than 30 or so blemishes.
NATURAL REMEDIES FOR SPOTS
It’s important to know what is causing your spots before you try any home remedies. Acne sufferers, in particular, can have very sensitive skin which can be susceptible to infection, especially in more severe cases. It’s important you don’t use anything which might upset your skin further, so before trying natural remedies, speak to your dermatologist. Coconut oil is often recommended for its natural skin benefits, but seek advice if you have oily, acne-prone skin.
Aloe vera is also a popular natural remedy due to its soothing, cooling characteristics, and is sometimes recommended for inflamed, angry blemishes and spots.
OTHER TREATMENTS FOR SPOTS
There are a number of professional skin treatments available to help break the cycle of active acne. These include:
There are three main methods of professional milia removal:
- Needle extraction: Once the skin has been cleaned, a sterile needle is used to create a tiny incision and the contents of the milia are carefully extracted.
- Hyfrecator extraction: This method of milia removal involves cauterising the skin using tiny electrical pulses, which then allows the contents of the milia to be extracted.
- Prescribed medication: It may be more suitable to be prescribed a topical medication to treat the milia, but this is only for certain types of milia where physical extraction is not suitable.
Treatments for age spots
Age spots can be visibly reduced and even removed altogether with professional rejuvenation treatments, including skin peels and microdermabrasion. These work to break down pigment beneath the surface of the skin and remove dead skin cells, which helps to fade pigmentation. Laser resurfacing treatments such as Fraxel and CO2RE are also effective for fading age spots.