Acne is a very common skin condition characterised by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and pus-filled spots (pustules). It usually starts at puberty and varies in severity from a few spots on the face, neck, back and chest, which most adolescents will have at some time, to a more significant problem that may cause scarring and impact on self-confidence. For the majority it tends to resolve by the late teens or early twenties, but it can persist for longer in some people.
Acne can develop for the first time in people in their late twenties or even the thirties. It occasionally occurs in young children as blackheads and/or pustules on the cheeks or nose.
What causes acne?
The sebaceous (oil-producing) glands of people who get acne are particularly sensitive to normal blood levels of certain hormones, which are present in both men and women. These cause the glands to produce an excess of oil. At the same time, the dead skin cells lining the pores are not shed properly and clog up the follicles. These two effects result in a build up of oil, producing blackheads (where a darkened plug of oil and dead skin is visible) and whiteheads.
Is acne hereditary?
Acne can run in families, but most cases are sporadic and occur for unknown reasons.
What does acne look like and what does it feel like?
The typical appearance of acne is a mixture of the following: oily skin, blackheads and whiteheads, red spots, yellow pus-filled pimples, and scars. Occasionally, large tender spots or cysts may develop that can eventually burst and discharge their contents or may heal up without bursting. The affected skin may feel hot, painful and be tender to touch.
How is acne diagnosed?
Acne is easily recognised by the appearance of the spots and by their distribution on the face, neck, chest or back. However, there are several varieties of acne and your doctor will be able to tell you which type you have after examining your skin. The most common type is ‘acne vulgaris’.
Can acne be cured?
At present there is no ‘cure’ for acne, although the available treatments can be very effective in preventing the formation of new spots and scarring.
How can acne be treated?
If you have acne but have had no success with over-the-counter products then it is probably time for you to visit your doctor. In general, most treatments take two to four months to produce their maximum effect.