Overview – What is it?
Acne is a skin condition that causes the appearance of pimples, whiteheads and blackheads on the skin especially on the shoulders, neck, chest, back, hands and upper arms. It is caused by blockage of the pores on the surface of the skin.
Some of the symptoms of acne include blackheads, whiteheads and painful pus-filled lumps on the skin.
Acne is diagnosed by a doctor after examining the face, chest, back and checking for blackheads and other signs of the condition.
The treatment for acne may include use of medication either oral and/or ointments, and therapies such as chemical peel.
Acne can be prevented by reducing the risk factors through keeping the face clean, moisturizing the skin and protecting your face from sun exposure, among other measures.
Causes – What causes it?
Acne occurs when the pores on the skin surface become clogged which can be caused by several factors. The main causes of acne are:
- Excess production of oil which clogs the pores.
- A mixture of oil and dead skin cells can also clog the hair follicles causing acne.
- Bacteria that naturally live on the skin enter the clogged pores where they have a favourable environment to multiply, causing inflammation of the pores and if the inflammation goes deep inside the skin, acne cysts or nodules appear on the skin.
- Excess activity of the hormone androgen that increases during puberty causing enlargement of the sebaceous glands which produce more sebum.
Other risk factors for acne are:
- Hormonal changes: Apart from during puberty, hormonal changes can occur during menstruation, pregnancy and after using birth control pills. These changes in hormones increase the risk for acne.
- Certain medications: Use of some medicines such as steroids and testosterone also increase the risk of having acne.
- Family history: If your parents have had acne you are more likely to get the same skin condition due to inherited genes.
- Greasy or oily substances: Using very greasy substances such as body creams and lotions or working in a place that puts you in contact with grease such as in a kitchen raises your chances of getting acne.
- Cosmetic products: Certain cosmetic products may cause acne.
Friction and pressure on the skin: Wearing clothes or items such as headbands and backpacks that exert pressure on the skin can also cause acne or make acne worse for people who already have the condition.
- Age: Teenagers in puberty are at a higher risk of getting acne than adults.
Stress: If you already have acne, being under stress only makes the acne worse.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Acne symptoms depend on the severity of the condition and the type of acne a person has. The two main types of acne are:
- Inflammatory acne which causes pimples that are swollen and red. It also causes the following symptoms:
- Cysts (painful pus-filled lumps underneath the surface of the skin)
- Nodules (large, solid, painful lumps underneath the surface of the skin)
- Papules (small red tender bumps)
- Pustules (pimples that are filled with pus at the tip)
- Noninflammatory acne on the other hand, does not cause swelling, but it causes:
- Blackheads (open plugged pores)
- Whiteheads (closed plugged pores)
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Acne is diagnosed by examining the face, chest, back and other parts of the body that it can affect; to look for any signs such as blackheads, cysts and nodules. By doing this, a doctor or a dermatologist is also able to determine the severity of the acne and the treatment needed.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of acne depends on its severity and it focuses on:
- MControlling the condition,
- Preventing scarring and other skin damages, and
- Making the scares less noticeable.
If your acne is not severe, you can reduce its symptoms by doing or not doing the following:
- Clean your skin gently with mild soap and clean water twice a day
- Remove dirt and make-up
- Avoid scrubbing and washing the skin repeatedly
- Wash your hair regularly especially if it is oily
- Use gentle cleanser for your face
- Keep your hair from the face
- Do not squeeze or scratch pimples
- Do not leave make-up on the face overnight
- Avoid using greasy cosmetics and creams
- Avoid wearing tight backpacks, headbands and hats
- Avoid touching your face with hands or fingers
If your acne is severe and does not go away after self-medication and care, the following treatment options can be used:
- Medications, including:
- Electrocautery: A procedure that uses electrical current to burn off the warts after which you may experience pain and swelling.
- Laser treatments: Uses an intense beam of light to burn off the warts and may cause scarring and pain.
- Cryotherapy: This procedure involves the freezing of genital warts using liquid nitrogen causing blisters around the warts which heal and allow for new skin to appear. This treatment option may need to be repeated.
- Surgical excision: A doctor uses special tools to cut off the warts while you are under local or general anaesthesia.
- Therapies which can be done alone or in combination with medications. Therapies used for acne are:
- Chemical peel: It involves repeated application of chemical solutions such as salicylic acid, among others. This therapy, however, needs to be repeated as its effect is not long lasting.
- Laser and photographic therapy: This therapy involves using light-based therapies such as phototherapy which uses a special light to kill bacteria on the skin that can cause acne.
- Steroid injection: Involves injecting steroids directly to the cysts or nodules which helps in rapid improvement and decreased pain.
- Extraction of whiteheads and blackheads: This is done using special tools to remove whiteheads and blackheads that have not cleared after topical treatment. It may, however, cause scarring.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Acne prevention focuses on reducing the risk factors, so that you do not get it or so that the acne does not get worse if you already have it. Some of the ways of preventing this skin condition is to:
- Keep your face clean using a mild soap and clean water twice a day to remove impurities, extra oil and dead skin.
- Moisturise your skin to minimize peeling of the skin.
- Wash off make up at the end of the day and use noncomedogenic make up.
- When you have a breakout, do not use powder, foundation and/or blush.
- Try over-the-counter acne products like benzoyl peroxide and lactic acid.
- Use sunscreen to prevent ultraviolet rays from the sun, reaching your skin directly.
- Eat healthy by incorporating more vegetables and fruits into your diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid touching your face as that can spread bacteria.
- Watch the products you use on your hair.
- Use oil free skin and hair products.
- Manage stress.