About spots and acne
What is acne?
Acne vulgaris is a skin condition resulting from inflamed or infected oil (or sebaceous) glands in the skin. Our skin is covered in thousands of tiny pores, which connect to the sebaceous glands under the surface. Each gland is linked to the pores via small ducts called follicles, and a small hair grows out of the follicle through the skin. An oily liquid called sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands, helping to keep your skin supple. Certain hormonal changes can cause both the overproduction of sebum and /or an overgrowth of the epidermis (top layer of skin cells) triggering infection from bacteria which feed off the sebum and the result is a spot or pimple.
What causes acne?
Dermatologists believe the main cause of acne is from the skin's response to hormone levels and the effect this has on a normally harmless bacteria resident in the oil glands. The main hormones to blame are androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone which increase during adolescence. Such hormonal disturbances cause the sebaceous gland to produce more sebum and the epidermal cells to thicken, obstructing this flow. Excessive oil production also triggers the bacteria P. acnes to release enzymes to digest the surplus skin oil stimulating intense inflammation that bursts the hair follicle. A lesion then forms on the skin’s surface as a whitehead.
How common is acne and who is affected?
Acne is very common. Around 80% of 11-30 year-olds1 will get acne at some point and it affects people of all races and ages. Although most common in adolescents and young adults, hormone changes during pregnancy, prior to menstruation and as a response to stress or emotional upheaval can trigger an acne outbreak.
What does acne look like?
Acne pimples can range from tiny painless whiteheads to large painful red cysts filled with sebum and pus. They tend to appear on the face, back, chest, shoulder or neck and sometimes the groin when follicles get blocked and infected. We have described the different types of spots and acne below, to help you identify which type you may have, understand what your doctor or pharmacist is referring to and to help decide how to treat it best.
When the pore of the sebaceous gland fills with sebum and shed skin cells, the secretions can react with air and form a black-coloured plug, hence a blackhead. Careful squeezing can remove the blackhead and let the spot drain, but clean hands and minimal pressure are advised to prevent infection or scarring and if in doubt, don’t touch!
Certain sebaceous glands have such a tiny opening so air cannot reach the sebum and don’t become blackheads but remain as whiteheads. Unfortunately these are more likely to become red and inflamed, due to infection from bacteria which harmlessly populate the skin’s surface.
These small bumps are usually pink and visible on the skin’s surface.
These spots are clearly visible on the surface of the skin and tend to be red at the base and have visible pus at the top.
These are large, solid pimples which are clearly visible and often embedded deeper in the skin and as a result can be rather painful and can cause scarring.
Cysts are larger and more inflamed than pimples or bumps, and are clearly visible on the skin’s surface. They are filled with pus and can be quite painful. This type of acne may pit and scar the skin, so it’s very important to treat it effectively.
Top tips for acne care
- Over-zealous scrubbing can make things worse. Wash your face twice daily using a cleanser like Quinoderm Facewash. Follow with an over-the-counter (OTC) lotion or cream which contains benzoyl peroxide, like Quinoderm 5% Cream or Quinoderm 10% Cream.
- Do not try and burst acne pimples, you could make the spot more inflamed, plus scarring and pitting is a risk.
- Wash hands regularly and try not to touch your face or spots too often.
- Phones, mobiles and glasses can all hold oil and skin residues, so try and keep these clean, especially if they touch your face.
- If acne affects your back, shoulders, chest or groin, try and wear non-synthetic, loose clothing which will allow your skin to ‘breathe’. Avoid headgear like caps and headbands, which can worsen outbreaks around the hairline.
- Make sure your make-up is non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic and don’t fall asleep wearing it, as this could clog pores.
- Hair can trap sebum and skin cells, so keep it clean and away from your face.
- Take it easy in the sun, as too much exposure can cause an oily outbreak.
- Shaving can irritate the skin, so take care, soften the skin beforehand with warm soapy water and use either sharp safety razors or an electrical shaver.
- Maintaining a healthy diet, rich in unprocessed foods, fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean fish and meat, will help, as will drinking plenty of water.
- Activity and exercise are a good way to reduce / moderate both blood sugar and hormonal levels (which can trigger acne).
- Stress can make acne worse so finding time for proper relaxation, exercise and stretching, deep breathing and a good laugh can all help!