Acne, or acne vulgaris as it is medically termed, is a very common inflammatory skin condition.In the UK, our NHS reports 95% of people aged 11-30 experience acne, with symptoms improving from the mid-20s once hormone production settles down. Saying that, we do see patients whose acne either begins or has continued into adulthood (approximately 3% of adults over the age of 35 encounter acne).
Revealing itself across a spectrum of symptoms, our practitioners in the Avicenna Clinic regularly see patients experiencing oily skin, yellow spots, blackheads, pustules and eruptive cysts – primarily on their face, though also often appearing on their back and/or chest areas.
Here we explore – and answer – the key questions our practitioners are asked about acne.
What causes acne?Most commonly, acne – specifically blackheads and whiteheads – is the result of skin reacting abnormally to testosterone levels. During puberty, testosterone activates the sebaceous glands to produce oil to lubricate skin… and those experiencing acne secrete especially high levels of sebum. In addition, the skin cells lining hair ducts may also react abnormally to testosterone. Instead of shedding dead skin cells, they stick inside the duct, therefore blocking the flow of sebum. Over time, this oil solidifies, forming blackheads and whiteheads.
This build-up of oil in the ducts also causes bacteria on the skin, known as Propionibacterium acnes, to multiply. This in turn triggers inflammation, itching and soreness as well as the formation of red or pus-filled spots.
Similarly, at any time of profound change in our lives, and even as we age, hormone levels fluctuate and acne may be triggered. Less often however, acne may be induced by stress, poor diet or as a result of medication taken for other conditions.
Why does acne keep coming back?The most common reason for acne returning is stopping treatment too soon. Though
acne cannot be cured, it can be effectively treated and managed – just be sure not to end treatment too soon.
Poor diet or lifestyle habits may also prolong or exacerbate acne. Overly spicy, fatty or fried foods, as well as excess caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, are known to increase heat in the system, therefore risking inducing acne among other skincare conditions.
Are acne scars permanent?Though rather unwelcome, acne scars are part of skin's normal healing process when recovering from damage. Though it’s almost impossible to entirely prevent acne scarring, you can very effectively minimise the likelihood of experiencing acne scars in four simple ways:
- Prompt treatment as soon as you notice acne, in order to get it under control
- Avoid using harsh abrasive products on your skin
- Resist picking, popping or squeezing spots and scabs (this can force debris deeper into skin layers and spread infection, plus prolong the natural healing process)
- Calm any areas of inflamed acne as soon as possible
What about a cure for acne?As mentioned earlier, acne is incurable. However, both acne and acne scars can be very effectively minimised and greatly improved with the right diet, lifestyle and specialised skincare.
Visit our Spotlight blog on with acne for our recommendations on effective acne and acne scar treatment.