What is Acne?
Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people at some point. It causes spots, oily skin and sometimes skin that’s hot or painful to touch.
Types of Spots
There are 6 main types of spots caused by acne:
- blackheads – small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin. They’re not filled with dirt, but are black because the inner lining of the hair follicle produces pigmentation (colouring)
- whiteheads – look like blackheads, but may be firmer and won’t empty when squeezed
- papules – small red bumps that may feel tender or sore
- pustules – like papules, but have a white tip in the center, caused by a build-up of pus
- nodules – large hard lumps that build up beneath the surface of the skin and can be painful
- cysts – the most severe type of spot caused by acne. They’re large pus-filled lumps that look like boils and carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring
Who and When?
Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults. About 80% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne.
Acne is most common in girls from the ages of 14 to 17, and in boys from the ages of 16 to 19.
Most people have acne on and off for several years before their symptoms start to improve as they get older. Acne often disappears when a person is in their mid-20s.
In some cases, acne can continue into adult life. About 5% of women and 1% of men have acne over the age of 25.
Treatment for Acne
Treatment for acne depends on how severe it is. It can take several months of treatment before acne symptoms improve.
If you have a few blackheads, whiteheads and spots our pharmacist would recommend gels or creams (topical treatments) that contain benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide helps reduce the number of acne-causing bacteria.
Benzoyl peroxide works as an antiseptic to reduce the number of bacteria on the surface of the skin.
It also helps to reduce the number of whiteheads and blackheads. It has an anti-inflammatory effect. It should be applied 20 minutes after washing to all the parts of your face affected by acne.
It should be used sparingly. Too much can irritate your skin. It also makes your face more sensitive to sunlight, so avoid too much sun and ultraviolet (UV) light, or wear sun cream.
Benzoyl peroxide can have a bleaching effect. You should avoid getting it on your hair or clothes.
Side Effects of Benzoyl Peroxide
Common side effects of benzoyl peroxide include:
- dry and tense skin
- a burning, itching or stinging sensation
- some redness and peeling of the skin
- Side effects are usually mild and should pass once the treatment has finished.
Most people need a 6-week course of treatment to clear most or all their acne.
You may be advised to continue some treatment to prevent acne returning.
Managing Acne – Washing
Don’t wash affected areas of skin more than twice a day. Frequent washing can irritate the skin and make symptoms worse. Wash the affected area with a mild soap or cleanser and lukewarm water. Very hot or cold water can make acne worse. Don’t try to “clean out” blackheads or squeeze spots. This can make them worse and cause permanent scarring. Wash your hair regularly and try to avoid letting your hair fall across your face.
Managing Acne – Makeup & Cosmetics
Avoid using too much make-up and cosmetics. Use water-based products that are described as non-comedogenic (this means the product is less likely to block the pores in your skin). Completely remove make-up before going to bed. If dry skin is a problem, use a fragrance-free, water-based emollient.
Managing Acne – Covering Scars with Makeup
Make-up can help cover up scars and can be particularly useful for facial scars. Camouflage make-up specially designed to cover up scars is available over the counter at pharmacies. You can also ask your GP for advice.
Managing Acne – Exercise
Regular exercise can’t improve your acne, but it can boost your mood and improve your self-esteem. Shower as soon as possible once you finish exercising, as sweat can irritate your acne.