Acne is a common skin ailment that often develops around adolescence and can last into adulthood. It causes patches, greasy, and occasionally painful or irritated skin on the face, back, and chest. Depending on your symptoms, there are several strategies to treat and manage acne.

What causes acne and why does it occur?

Acne vulgaris is a skin disorder that results in the formation of patches or pimples on the skin. These spots are most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, and back of the patient. Acne is a common skin condition that most of us will experience at some point in our lives — generally around puberty.

Acne develops when your skin produces too much sebum. Sebum is a natural greasy substance generated by the skin that prevents it from drying out. When there is an overabundance of sebum, it combines with dead skin cells to form a clog. This clog obstructs the skin’s small hair follicles. Depending on whether the follicle is open or closed, these blocked follicles can create blackheads or whiteheads. Open follicles produce blackheads, whereas closed follicles produce whiteheads. When these clogged follicles come into contact with naturally occurring bacteria, the contaminated follicle might become infected. This will result in the formation of papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts.

Acne can be caused by fluctuations in the body’s hormone levels. Because of this, acne is quite common among teenagers. These hormonal swings can lead to an increase in sebum production, which is the primary cause of acne. Menstruation, pregnancy, and stressful times are all variables that might change hormone levels and cause acne. Acne is also known to run in families, but it is not caused by having a poor diet, being dirty or having poor hygiene.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Acne is characterised by red patches/spots and greasy skin, usually appearing on the face or neck. Only about 15% of acne sufferers are said to have signs on their chest. Acne causes six types of spots:

  • Blackheads. The black or yellowish look of blackheads is caused by pigmentation created by the blocked hair follicle, not debris. They will appear on the skin as tiny lumps.
  • Whiteheads. Similar to blackheads, but harder and will not empty when crushed.
  • Papules. Red lumps that might be painful or tender to the touch.
  • Pustules. Similar to papules, but with a white centre due to a build-up of pus.
  • Nodules. Large, hard, and occasionally-painful lumps that form beneath the skin’s surface.
  • Cysts. Pus-filled protrusions that mimic boils, running the highest risk of permanent scarring.

How is acne diagnosed?

Most forms of acne may be treated without seeing a doctor. Acne symptoms are often straightforward to self-diagnose and so it’s possible to treat acne yourself.

If you see your doctor, they will be able to diagnose you with a simple visual check. They will check the face, chest, and back to determine the kind of spots present. Based on this examination, the doctor will be able to establish the severity of your acne. To select the optimum medication, the severity of the acne must be established. The severity of acne is classified as follows:

  • Grade 1: primarily blackheads and whiteheads, with a few pustules and papules here and there.
  • Grade 2: numerous pustules and papules that are primarily located on the chin.
  • Grade 3: many pustules and papules on the face, back, and chest. Inflamed nodules will also be seen in grade 3 acne.
  • Grade 4: a large number of pustules and nodules that are both large and painful.

If you are a woman who’s suddenly developed acne as an adult, consult your doctor. They may want to run an ultrasound or a blood test, especially if additional signs of a hormone imbalance are present. These symptoms may include irregular or lighter periods, as well as an increase in body hair. All of these symptoms may be indicative of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), the most prevalent cause of hormonal imbalance in women.

What treatments are available for acne?

If your acne is moderate to severe or extensive, it may be required to treat it with prescription medicine, such as:

  • Keratolytics (Acnecide)
  • Azelaic acid (Skinoren)
  • Topical retinoids (Differin, Isotrex)
  • Oral antibiotics (Tetralysal/lymecycline, Oxytetracycline)
  • Topical antibiotics (Dalacin-T, Zineryt, Zindaclin)
  • Combination products (Duac, Epiduo, Isotrexin, Treclin)

Topical retinoids act by lowering sebum production and preventing dead skin cells from blocking hair follicles. Adapalene, popularly used in Differin Cream, is an example of a topical retinoid.

Oral antibiotics are generally used in conjunction with a topical cream. They are typically reserved for more severe cases of acne. In most circumstances, a class of antibiotics known as tetracyclines is the best option. Tetralysal 300 Capsules, which contains lymecycline, is an example of a tetracycline antibiotic. Tetracyclines, such as Tetralysal 300, function by destroying the acne-causing bacteria.

If benzoyl peroxide or retinoid cream has proven unsuccessful, azelaic acid is frequently used as an alternate therapy. It works similarly to benzoyl peroxide in that it kills germs while also removing dead skin cells that might clog hair follicles. Skinoren 20 percent cream is an example of an azelaic acid preparation.

To properly treat acne, all acne remedies must be used regularly for several months.

Can I prevent acne?

Breakouts of acne can take weeks to heal, and run the risk of permanent scarring. Even if you’ve discovered a good acne treatment, it’s still necessary to take care to avoid recurrence – with a few basic precautions, you may be able to avoid outbreaks:

  • Use a gentle soap or cleanser to clean your face. Using hot or extremely cold water might aggravate acne, so keep the water lukewarm. Scrubbing too hard or using abrasive washcloths might irritate the skin. Using a soft cloth, rinse well with and wipe dry with a clean towel.
  • Wash the afflicted region no more than twice each day. Washing too frequently might irritate the skin and aggravate acne.
  • Try not to touch your face. Bacteria can easily spread from the hands to the face
  • Avoid picking or squeezing your spots as this might result in permanent scars.
  • Ensure hair is regularly washed and try not to let it fall across the face.
  • Avoid using oils, fragrances, gels or pomades on your hair. If any of these products get onto your face they can block pores and cause acne.
  • Avoid using excessive amounts of cosmetics and makeup. Try to only use products labelled as ‘non-comedogenic’. Non-comedogenic products are water-based and are less likely to clog up the pores on your skin.
  • Always remove makeup before going to bed.
  • If your skin is dry and flaky, try using a fragrance-free water-based emollient.
  • Avoid applying oils, perfumes, gels, or pomades to your hair. If any of these things come into contact with your face, they might clog pores and cause acne.
  • Avoid excessive use of cosmetics and makeup. Try to only use ones that are labelled ‘non-comedogenic.’ Non-comedogenic products are water-based and are less prone to clog your skin’s pores

See below for further information on how to prevent acne:

Keep your hands off your face

Our hands may look clean, but they’re home to millions of microorganisms. Our hands are constantly picking up dust, dirt and grime as they come into contact with all sorts of surfaces.

Touching or scratching the skin can cause abrasions or even burst a zit, sparking a chain reaction that can lead to a full-blown outbreak. Avoid touching your face except to thoroughly wash it now and then.

Wash your face frequently

Acne outbreaks can be reduced by keeping the skin free of bacteria and debris. Deep cleansing once a day is recommended, but always follow up with a neutral moisturiser, since dry skin causes excessive oil production.

Follow a healthy diet

It’s true — we are what we eat! Breakouts are known to be exacerbated by greasy and spicy foods. Food allergies, no matter how mild, are also possible causes. Some of the most common ‘problem foods’ are dairy products, almonds, chocolate, and soda. Alcohol and some fast food ingredients are also harmful. Remember to eat plenty of fruit and veg, as this should keep your skin looking healthy and acne-free.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is known to significantly reduce the risk of developing acne. Water, in addition to removing toxins from the body, helps to keep your skin moisturised from within.

Cut down cosmetics use

Cosmetics can block the pores of the skin and essentially suffocate it, producing an excellent setting for bacterial development. Cosmetics commonly include a variety of ingredients, any of which might induce an allergic response. Even the process of applying the make-up itself may serve to irritate your skin.

If you find it difficult to avoid cosmetics, stick to products that don’t tend to cause a reaction on your skin. Leave your make-up on for as little time as possible and never wear it to bed. When applying and removing makeup, avoid forceful rubbing.

Avoid stress

Most people have breakouts when they are stressed, as this can cause hormonal shifts. Stress is unavoidable in life, but if you’re keen to avoid acne, we’d recommend looking after your mental health. 

Sleep in clean beds

Sweat, dead skin cells, and dandruff collect in our bedding. Not surprising, when you consider that we spend one-third of our day in bed. The dirt and debris in our beds has the potential to irritate the skin and produce acne. To prevent this, wash your pillowcases and bed clothes once every week.