What is acne?

Acne, otherwise known as acne vulgaris is a very common skin condition, usually featuring blackhead and whitehead spots, which happens when hair follicles and pores become blocked by oil and dead skin cells.

Different types of acne

The six main types of acne are as follows:

  • Blackheads – Small, black or brown spots that are caused when the open pore is clogged with oil which turns brown due to pigmentation in the follicle.
  • Whiteheads – These are similar to blackheads, but are white in colour due to being filled with pus. In these cases, the pore is blocked and won’t pop when they are squeezed.
  • Papules – These appear as small, red bumps, and may be sore to the touch.
  • Pustules – these are the same as papules, but are further developed with a white tip at the centre caused by the build-up of pus.
  • Nodules – These exist under the skin, rather than on the surface and appear as large painful lumps.
  • Cysts – These are the most severe, and look similar to boils. They appear as large pus-filled lumps and carry the greatest risk of scarring.

What are the causes of acne?

Acne is usually linked with hormonal changes that occur during puberty, though it can start at any age. When testosterone hormones become active during puberty in both males and females, the sebaceous glands (those that produce the sebum oil that is secreted onto the skin) become oversensitive and produce excessive amounts of oil. The excess oil, combined with bacteria on the skin and dead skin cells not being shed properly, can cause hair follicles and pores to become blocked.

The bacteria that normally lives on the skin without any problems, then begins to multiply which causes inflammation and the creation of pus-filled spots.

Acne can also be hereditary, meaning that if one or both of your parents had acne, it’s more likely that you will have it. There is no evidence that diet or poor hygiene cause acne.

How can acne be prevented?

It may not be possible to prevent acne, but you may be able to reduce the affects.

Avoid squeezing the spots or clearing out the blackheads as this can lead to scarring and make the spots worse. Don’t wash the areas affected by acne too frequently, as it can irritate the skin and make the condition worse, when the area is washed, use lukewarm water, as water that is too hot or cold can make the acne worse. Finally, always make sure you shower after exercise, and remove makeup before bed, to ensure that your pores remain unblocked.

What is the treatment?

The symptoms of acne can be treated, although it can’t be cured. You may be able to get over-the-counter creams from the pharmacy that can help with the symptoms. Your consultant dermatologist will be able to prescribe treatments that are unavailable over the counter, such as certain laser acne treatments to help reduce the appearance of acne scars.