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Acne

A woman's face covered in acne

Photo by Megan Bagshaw on Unsplash

Please note that all content on this website (including, but not limited to, copy, images, commentary, advice, tips, hints, guides, observations) is provided as an informational resource only. It is not a substitute for correct and accurate diagnosis, or recommendation, or treatment by a medical professional. Please ensure that you obtain proper guidance from your GP, or another medical professional. The information provided on this website does not create any patient-medical expert relationship and must not be used in any way as a substitute for such.

 

Acne vulgaris is known as a common acne skin condition that can affect people throughout their entire life. Acne is often associated with teenagers, as it can be linked to hormonal changes that happen during puberty. However, adults can also experience different severities of the condition. 

Acne vulgaris causes oily skin, spots, and/or pimples. The surface of the skin can sometimes feel painful, or hot to touch – acne can also irritate the skin. 

These hormonal changes cause the sebaceous glands to produce oil (more than usual) near the hair follicles on the surface of the skin. Although these changes typically produce harmless bacteria named Cutibacterium Acnes (formerly, Propionibacterium Acnes), it can become problematic, as it is more aggressive and often produces pus and inflammation.

This bacterium blocks the pores and causes acne. Unfortunately, merely cleaning the face does not remove these blockages.

The condition can run in the family. If a mother and father experienced acne as teenagers, the NHS says that their offspring is likely to get it, too.

Hormonal changes in women, such as menstrual cycles and pregnancy, can also play a part in the condition.

Many myths and misconceptions surround the skin condition, including the one that claims a poor diet, or bad hygiene, can cause and even make acne worse. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

A bunch of pink tulips alongside the word – Types

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Spots on the face, back and chest commonly identify acne. However, different types of spots can affect the skin, including:

Blackheads

Many people have blackheads throughout their life. They are small yellowy, or black bumps, that appear on the skin. It is a common misconception that they are filled with dirt. The reason they appear black is due to the lining of the hair follicles producing a colour.

Whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads are similar, but whiteheads appear white! They have the same characteristics, but when squeezed, they do not empty.

Pustules

This type is typically what most people associate with a spot. They have a white centre due to them being pus filled and can be “popped” quite easily.

Papules

Papules are smallish red lumps on the skin and typically feel sore to the touch. They can usually be seen before a pustule appears.

Nodules

A nodule has similar characteristics to a papule, but they are larger in size. This type of spot can be sore and painful due to the build-up beneath the skin.

Cysts

Acne can become severe and cysts are often the cause of more painful symptoms. These spots are large and filled with pus. If left untreated, they can also cause acne scarring.

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Acne is most commonly seen on the face. However, it can also develop on the back and chest.

If a person experiences acne, they will often see changes in the skin, such as an increasing amount of spots and oils on the surface of the skin.

A doctor can diagnose the condition and can also examine how severe it is. There are three severities of acne – severe and mild to moderate acne: 

Mild

A person that has mainly whiteheads and blackheads and possibly a few papules and pustules may have mild acne.

Moderate

If an individual experiences the above, but this time it’s more widespread and there are more papules and pustules, then this could be considered moderate acne.

Severe

If a person experiences painful spots and has lots of the above, they may have severe acne. This condition may require treatment to reduce scarring.

If you have moderate, or severe acne, the NHS recommends that you seek medical advice as soon as possible. However, if a person has just a few spots, a pharmacist can usually advise on the best way to treat the condition.

Acne In Women

Sometimes, acne can signify something different other than just a skin condition problem. This is particularly prevalent in adult women. It can mean there is a hormonal imbalance which could be associated with other conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

A modern, grey armchair next to a small side table. The words – Living With The Conditions – are also visible

Photo by JZhuk on iStock

People that have acne can generally live a “normal” lifestyle. In severe cases, acne treatment may be required to reduce pain, inflammation and potential scarring. If a doctor offers acne medication, it is not a quick fix and may take many months for treatment to start working. 

Doctor, or pharmacists, can prescribe several things for treating acne, including topical retinoids, oral antibiotics, and azelaic acid and salicylic acid. Women suffering from acne may also be given the combined oral contraceptive pill.

There are also topical gels and creams like benzoyl peroxide that can be used to reduce inflammation and painful spots. The most common topical treatment is benzoyl peroxide. This helps to reduce the bacteria on the skin and acts as an anti-inflammatory.

There are also mobility aids like cooling gel pads available that may help reducing inflammation, for example a pillow with a cool pad mobility aid to help keep your head cooler during the night.

People living with acne may want to squeeze their spots, but this can do more harm than good – it can make symptoms worse, which can lead to permanent acne scars.

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The first place to seek help for acne is your local doctor. They will be able to advise on the best treatment for the type of acne someone has.

There are several resources online that can also help individuals manage acne.

Private clinics have specialist acne treatments and can also provide help and support throughout treatment plans.

The UK charity, Acne Support, was set up by healthcare professionals to assist people living with acne. The website contains advice and information on acne and several resources and contacts for relevant organisations.

Acne sufferers may also experience other issues, such as low self-esteem and confidence. In some cases, this can lead to mental health disorders. Several organisations provide support in this area, such as the NHS and Mind.

There’s also a range of informal message boards and blogs about acne available on the web. Some people find reading other people’s experience of living with acne helpful, for example, talkhealth provides a free acne support and information community

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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

  • Antibiotics – medication that destroys, or reduces, the growth of bacteria
  • Anti-inflammatory – medication which helps to reduce inflammation
  • Azelaic acid – found in grains such as barley, wheat and rye with specific properties, frequently used to treat skin conditions such as acne and rosacea
  • Bacteria – single-celled organisms
  • Glands – a group of cells in a body that synthesises substances (such as hormones) for release into the bloodstream
  • Hair follicle – an organ found in skin on mammals; the hair follicle regulates hair growth
  • Hormonal changes – changes in the balance of hormones within the body
  • Inflammation – the process by which the body fights against things that can harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins
  • Menstrual cycles – the monthly hormonal cycle a woman’s body goes through to prepare for pregnancy
  • Pharmacist – a professionally qualified person to prepare and dispense medicinal drugs
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a common condition that impacts how a woman’s ovary works, resulting in irregular periods, enlarged ovaries, or excess androgen (levels of “male” hormones)
  • Puberty – when a child’s body begins to change from being a child into an adult
  • Pus – a thick yellow, or green, opaque liquid produced in infective tissue
  • Topical – when medical treatment is applied to a localised area of the body