Anyone who suffers from acne knows the daily struggles that come along with it. We look at the skin condition that affects 8 out of 10 people in a lifetime.

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when the oil-secreting glands, mainly on the face, back and chest, in the skin are clogged and become inflamed or infected.

Acne is associated with increased grease production, therefore people with acne often notice and complain of the greasiness of their skin.


Acne usually starts in the early teens and, if not treated, peaks between the ages of 17 and 21 years. Most people are acne-free by the time they are 25, although, in a few people, acne may persist to the age of 40 or older. Acne is also quite common just before a woman’s monthly period.


Grease glands

These are controlled by the sex hormones and this is why acne starts at puberty. However, acne is seldom due to an excess of these hormones but is usually due to an excessive response of the grease glands to normal hormone levels.

It is not clear why and how blackheads and whiteheads develop, but the grease secreted by the sebaceous glands (any of the simple or branched glands in the skin that secrete an oily substance) probably plays a part in their formation.

Keep a record of the foods you eat and try to figure out if any foods make your acne worse.

Skin bacteria

After puberty, the skin of the face and upper trunk, with or without acne, contains bacteria. These bacteria get into the ducts of the grease glands where they make chemicals that eventually pene- trate the deeper parts of the skin. This does not mean acne is infec- tious. It’s due to the action of normal skin bacteria on the abnormal quantity and quality of grease produced by acne sufferers.

  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Pimples

These skin eruptions can be painful and, in some cases, spots may become large and tender. These are called nodules and may lead to scarring — scars may be raised from the skin surface (keloid scars) or depressed (atrophic scars).


Acne spots can usually be kept under control but continuous treatment may be necessary for many years.

Treatment is aimed at cleaning out the pores, keeping oil and dirt out of the pores, and reducing inflammation.

Your doctor or nurse will discuss your skin care and assess which products, such as soaps, you should continue using and which you should stop using. They will also discuss the various options for treatment.


Topical treatment

This is treatment that is applied to the skin. Some topical treatments are also available from your chemist — the most effective topical treatments that can be bought over the counter contain benzoyl peroxide. Topical treat- ment must be applied to the entire affected area and not just to the spots and it should be continued to keep the spots under control.

Oral antibiotics

These are the most frequent oral treatments. They reduce the number of skin bacteria and also reduce inflammation.

Hormonal treatment

Ordinary contraceptive pills have little or no effect on acne, but there are other hormonal treatments that can reduce excessive grease production.

There are other strong treatments related to vitamin A. These are only likely to be prescribed by a specialist after your doctor has referred you for assessment in the more serious cases where other treatments have failed.

  • Follow the full treatment pre- scribed by your doctor and keep your follow-up appointments.
  • Change your washcloth every day, as bacteria can grow on damp cloth.
  • Wash your hands more frequently and avoid putting your fingers and hands to your face unnecessarily.
  • Don’t squeeze, pick, scratch or rub your skin as scars may form if you squeeze pimples.
  • Although diet probably has no role in acne, it might be useful to keep a record of the foods you eat and try to figure out if any foods make your acne worse.
  • Sunshine may help acne but it is obviously important for everyone to avoid sunburn. Sunbeds have little benefit.
  • Try to avoid extreme stress as this may aggravate acne. Stress reduction strategies such as exercise or meditation may help to alleviate stress.
  • Don’t give up — there are many alternatives for you and your doctor to try.

Acne is usually one of the most straightforward of the persistent skin conditions to treat, but it must be treated sooner rather than later. Early treatment minimises the risk of scarring. Don’t be embarrassed to go to your doctor about this condition as help is always available.

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