What is Acne?

Acne is a medical skin problem that is characterised by the occurrence of pimples and cysts on the face, chest, arms or back. Mild to severe acne outbreaks can begin around puberty and may last until your 40’s.

The two types of acne include:

  • Inflammatory acne: Includes papules, nodules, pustules and cysts. Cysts are lumps under the skin that have pus and other tissue in them. Unlike pimples, cysts do not come to a head. Cysts can result in blotchy and uneven skin, scarring and pitting.
  • Non-inflammatory acne: Includes whiteheads (soft closed comedones), blackheads (open comedones) and milia (hard closed comedones)

The effect of hormones and genetics on acne

The incidence of acne is frequently attributed to oil and hormone production and genetic factors. At puberty, boys and girls experience an abundance of hormones (testosterone and androgens) released into their body.

Androgens affect oil glands on the neck, back, face, shoulders and chest by growing larger and producing more oil (sebum). The increased sebum blocks skin pores. Blackheads, cysts and pimples develop because of blocked pores and skin bacteria.

Boys have more testosterone than girls and can suffer more acne outbreaks. Their acne often seems to be more severe with cysts and pimples. Girls can get acne at a younger age than boys. They can experience breakouts at different times in their menstrual cycle. Girls may have ongoing acne issues in their 30’s and 40’s.

Genetics can play a role in acne development. If a teenager’s parent had acne, they may be more prone to getting acne. The incidence of acne in families isn’t predictable though with some children getting worse acne than others.

If you’re feeling embarrassed or upset about your acne, there are treatments available. Your doctor will be able to help you with acne treatments.

Self-help strategies

How to manage your acne at home

The following strategies can help your acne:

Cleansing: Washing the acne-affected area with a cleanser specifically developed for acne-prone skin can help. It’s important to note that too much cleansing can cause other skin problems, including dry skin and irritations.

Make-up: To avoid your pores becoming clogged, all make-up should be removed before you go to bed. Instead of using soap, we suggest you use gentle cleansers that are oil free, water based and non-comedogenic (won’t block pores).

Don’t squeeze: When you see pimples on your face, try to resist the urge to pick and squeeze them. Doing so will only make them worse and can result in scars developing.

Stress: When you’re stressed, the hormones release more oil into your skin. This can trigger an outbreak of pimples at times of stress. Keeping stress levels under control with regular cardiovascular exercise may help reduce the development of your acne.

Diet: There is a common perception that pimples are caused by eating sweet foods, including chocolate. Although research hasn’t shown any strong links with these foods, it’s a good idea to avoid this food if you notice pimples form after eating them. Some studies have shown that a low-GI diet can improve some people’s acne. Other studies suggest that eating more antioxidants is helpful.

Over the counter treatment of acne:

There are many acne treatments available at the supermarket or chemist that clean your skin and banish excess oil. If you’re unsure about which product to use, ask the pharmacist for advice.

It’s important to note that mild irritation can occur with some of these products. If you experience mildly irritable skin, we suggest you take a break from using the product. If your skin irritation is excessive, stop using the product and consult with your doctor.

Professional treatment of acne

Over the counter acne products can be effective for some people with mild acne. If your acne isn’t improving with these products or your acne is moderate to severe, you’ll need to consult with your doctor. An experienced doctor can treat your acne scars from previous breakouts and can help stop your acne breakout cycle.

Professional acne treatment may involve assessing your acne, prescribing medication and referring you to a dermatologist. Acne medications reduce the number of pimples and improve the way your skin looks. They are oral or topical and include:

  • Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that boost collagen to reduce fine lines, unclog pores and speed up cell turnover. They also prevent new skin blockages from developing.
  • Antibiotics to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria.
  • Hormones (including the contraceptive pill) to decrease androgen levels in the body and reduce oil secretion.

To fight acne, your doctor may recommend more than one acne treatment or blend together two treatments into one product.