What is Acne?
Acne is a disease that affects the sufferer's skin, causing spots and blackheads. This can be of varying degrees from mild or moderate infections that cause one or two spots that clear quickly, to severe infections that can be painful, ongoing and covering the face and back. It is prominent in adult men and women, although it’s typically associated with teenagers and going through puberty.
The spots that acne causes come in a number of different types. Whiteheads and blackheads are extremely common, but there are also papules (small pimples that cluster together in a rash), pustules (like a papule but containing pus), nodules (a small swelling caused by an inflammation under the skin), and cysts (very painful pockets of tissue fill with pus or air). Acne spots can be painful, but the condition also causes psychological symptoms such as a knock to self-confidence, embarrassment and upset.
What causes acne?
The causes of acne differs greatly from person to person but are largely due to hormones. The male sex hormones, androgens, (occurring in both men and women), are responsible for sebum production. This means that the hormone controls the amount of oil on our skin and hair, so a high level of production can cause blockages. These blocked or clogged pores become irritated and show as spots, and the imbalance in these hormones is why acne is often accompanied by oily skin and greasy-looking hair.
The shift that causes the hormone imbalance is the part that changes from person to person and can be due to stress, weather, chemicals (in skincare products or cosmetics), pregnancy or a woman’s menstrual cycle. Because it varies from person to person, the best thing to do is make a mental note of certain triggers that lead to acne breakouts and try and tailor your routine based on that.
It’s also this hormone shift that means the condition is highly prevalent in teenagers. When girls and boys hit puberty, their bodies begin to create male and female sex hormones, including androgens. This significant hormone shift throws your body off balance and leads to spots, oily skin and blackheads.
There is a common misconception that acne is caused by poor hygiene. The blockages in your pores are not due to dirt, but due to oils that your body creates naturally. In fact, washing your skin too vigorously, too often or with too many chemicals can actually make acne worse, as you could end up washing all the sebum oil away and your body will produce even more to make up for this deficit.
While certain products may be irritating your skin or body, makeup as a whole is not a cause of acne. In fact, wearing makeup can minimise the psychological side effects of acne, as it can make spots less noticeable and sufferers less self-conscious.
How can I treat Acne?
Because acne is linked so closely to the hormones in your body, there is no way to cure it in its entirety (in the way that you can with a bacterial infection, for example). There is no “miracle” treatment, but there are plenty of ways that you can successfully manage the levels of androgens in your body and reduce the number of breakouts.
At Cloud Pharmacy, we stock a number of different prescription medicines to treat acne, including topical creams (to be applied to the affected skin) and oral tablets. Another option for women is the contraceptive pill. While a lot of combined or progestogen-only pills can cause acne in the first place, some (such as Dianette) can regulate your androgen production and reduce the effects of acne.
The benefit to prescription medications is that they have been extensively tested and proven to work reliably, however you could also try some over-the-counter options. They may work on fewer people, meaning you’ll have to apply a trial-and-error tactic, but some of them can be highly effective. Be aware though that some can be too harsh and strip your sebum oils away, leading to a worsening of your acne.
As well as medical treatment, your lifestyle and diet could be contributing factors too. While there’s no evidence to suggest that chocolate causes spots (like many people believe), some foods can affect the delicate balance of your body and you should, therefore, keep an eye out for any triggers. Of course, prevention is always better than cure so take good care of your skin, of your body, of your health in general and you should notice fewer breakouts.