All about acne: Causes, Types & Treatment
What is acne?
Acne (pronounced ak-nee), is one of the most common skin problems worldwide, affecting 3 in every 4 people. It is a chronic, inflammatory disease which results in unsightly whiteheads, black heads, pimples, cysts and nodules. Although it is not dangerous, it may cause red scarring and in extreme cases, even pitting.
Who is at risk of getting acne?
It can affect anyone, of any age, of any race and gender. It is most common in adolescents and young adults and it is estimated that at least 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 have suffered from the problem at least one point in their life. For most people, it tends to subside by the age of 30, however, there are people who continue to have the skin problem well into their 40s and 50s.
What types of acne are there?
The most common type of acne, acne vulgaris, which presents different types of lesions such as:
- Blackheads which are uninfected clogged follicles which appear as a dark bump on the skin
- Whiteheads are clogged follicles covered by a thin layer of skin. These appear as white bumps or spots on the skin
- Papules, more commonly known as blind pimples, are inflamed lesions which appear red and can be sensitive and painful.
- Pustules are your “typical” pimples, which appear as lesions on the skin that are inflamed and pus-filled. The pus can be white, yellow and sometimes even greenish in appearance.
- Nodules are a severe form of acne which develop under the skin. They do not usually contain pus and appear as a large hard bump.
- Cysts are a very severe form of acne which appears as a large and inflamed bump which is filled with pus. They are generally painful and will require medical attention.
What are the main causes of acne?
The exact cause is unknown, but dermatologists believe that it may be caused by several related factors.
Hormonal changes such as during puberty, cause an increase in the hormone androgen, which cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce more sebum. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls, causing excessive bacteria to grow. Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy may also cause acne.
Genetic or hereditary factors may be another cause of acne. Researchers believe that the tendency to develop acne can be passed on from parents, as many studies have shown that school-aged children that suffer from acne, have had a family history of the disease.
Medication such as those containing androgen and lithium, as well as starting or stopping birth control, has been known to change the hormone balance in one’s body and may cause a breakout.
Greasy cosmetics which are high in oil content, may alter the follicle structure, making them stick together and causing them to clog.
Friction or pressure on the skin, caused by items such as telephones, cell phones, helmets, hats and even tight collars or back packs may cause irritations and further worsen acne.
Stress does not cause acne, however, if one already suffers from the condition, it can aggravate it and make it worse.
Eating chocolate and greasy foods has little to no effect on acne. However, working in a greasy area, such as a kitchen may affect the skin, as the oil can stick to the skin causing the pores to clog.
Dirty skin does not cause acne. In fact, excessive scrubbing of the skin with harsh chemicals can cause acne to worsen. Gentle exfoliation once a week will help to remove dead skin cells, oil, bacteria and other acne causing substances.
Cosmetics such as foundation and other makeup, do not cause acne, especially if the products that one uses are non-comedogenics (do not clog pores). Try using non-oily cosmetics.
When should I see a dermatologist?
If you have acne that is not responding to self-care and over the counter medication, it is advisable to consult with a specialist to determine a treatment option tailored for yourself. Early treatment reduces the risk of severe scarring and of the lasting damage to your self-esteem. A specialist will be able to diagnose the type of acne that one is suffering from and recommend a suitable treatment course.
How can I treat my acne?
There are several methods which can be used to treat acne, without visiting a specialist. These are some of the most common treatments:
Over the counter medications
This treatment will depend on how severe and persistent the acne is. Mild acne can be treated with over the counter medications, such as gels, soaps and creams which may contain the following active ingredients:
Resorcinol helps to breakdown both black and whiteheads
Benzoyl Peroxide eliminates bacteria, accelerates cell regeneration and reduces the rate of sebum production
Salicylic Acid breaks down white and black heads and helps to reduce inflammation
Sulfer helps to dry out oily skin and get rid of dead skin cells more effectively, which reduces blocked pores
Azelaic Acid strengthens cells that line the follicles, stops excessive sebum production and reduces the growth of bacteria
For more severe cases of acne, a corticosteroid injection can be administered by a dermatologist. This is usually done when an acne cyst becomes severely inflamed. The corticosteroid solution is injected to break down the cyst, reduce inflammation and speed up healing and reduce scarring.
Oral antibiotics may be prescribed by your doctor for up to 6 months for patients with moderate to severe acne. It will start with a high dosage and it will be lowered over time. Antibiotics will effectively reduce the growth of bacteria on the skin and get rid of inflammation, however, the bacteria may become resistant to this type of treatment.
Oral contraceptives can be especially helpful for treating acne in women, as they are used to balance the hormones and suppress the overactive gland. It is advisable to check with your gynaecologist first, as this treatment method may not be suitable for women with certain conditions, such as someone who has a history of blood clots or migraines.
Your doctor may prescribe a topical antimicrobial cream to minimise bacterial growth, unclog pores and prevent further blemishes from developing.
Sometimes, one’s skin may be worse off after chemical treatments than it was initially. For this reason, it is worth it to consider natural treatments. Ultra Bee offers many natural products which may assist you in getting rid of your acne. You can try the following to get beautiful clear skin:
Propolis tincture: The propolis extract is a natural antiseptic, helping to keep your skin clean and free from infection, preventing further breakouts. The ethanol helps to dry out pimples and oily skin, helping to restore balance.
Propolis Balm: Has natural anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties, helping to soothe the skin. The added ylang ylang is also a natural antibacterial agent, which will aid in fighting the bacteria P.acnes which is responsible for breakouts
Tips for managing acne
- Wash you face no more than twice daily, especially after sweating, with warm water and a mild soap
- Ditch face cloths and sponges and rather cleanse using your fingertips, as the material can irritate and inflame the skin, worsening the acne
- As tempting as it may be, do not pick and squeeze at your pimples, as this will not only increase the risk of getting unsightly scars, but it will also take longer to heal and may cause further breakouts
- Stay out of the sun, as some acne treatments make the skin sensitive to UV light, which causes further irritation and damage
- Pay special attention to hygiene. Wash your hair regularly, ensure your hands are washed before applying lotions or touching your face, and avoid putting items such as telephones on your face, as they may contain dead skin cells and sebum
- Remove makeup before sleeping and only buy products which have a low oil content and are suited for sensitive skin
- Wear loose fitting clothing to let the skin breath, and avoid items such as hats and scarfs which may rub against the skin. You should also wash these items regularly.
- Pay attention to your diet. Eat foods rich in Omega 3 oils, Vitamin A and Zinc. Avoid foods that are processed or rich in refined sugars
- Gently exfoliate the skin once a week to get rid of any dead skin cells. You can also try using a face mask to unclog pores and soothe skin