What is acne?

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that causes spots and pimples usually occurring on the face, chin, back, forehead and shoulders. Acne commonly occurs during puberty when the sebum producing glands get active as a result of hormonal change but it can occur at any age including during menopause. The oil producing glands are stimulated by male hormones called androgens which are secreted by the adrenal glands. Whist not dangerous, acne can leave scars and the type of acne treatment depends upon the symptoms of acne and its severity.

Types of acne

There are six types of acne with different symptoms which include blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pimples or pustules, cystic spots and hormonal breakouts.

Blackheads are often experienced in those with oily skin and typically found in the T-zone which is the forehead, chin and nose. The sebum and dead skin block the pores and get oxidised resulting in their distinct black colour.

Whiteheads are similar to blackheads in that the oil and dead skin block the follicles but since they are closed at the surface of skin, they do not get oxidised and hence retain their white appearance.

Papules are small red inflamed spots caused by acne bacteria living on skin’s surface. They do not form a head nor do they break through the surface of skin.

Pustules have the appearance of a white dot surrounded by red skin and occur when the debris and sebum become extremely clogged and the skin begins to get swollen. They are often described as a ‘spot ‘and are infected pores that are filled with pus.

Cystic acne is a more severe form if acne. Acne cysts appear as swollen lumps underneath the skin with the pus being blocked inside the skin. They can get bigger and are extremely sore to touch as they are deep-rooted into skin and are the most difficult types of acne to deal with and often leave acne scars and blemishes once they rupture.

Hormonal acne usually occurs at certain times of the month with the appearance of papules and cysts. Just before and during a period, progesterone levels rise dramatically which causes excess oil production leading to acne around the mouth, chin and jawline since there are more oil producing glands in these regions.

Treatment of acne

There are many acne treatments available and treatments for acne depend upon the severity of the symptoms. Medications for acne include the long term of use of antibiotics to reduce the numbers of acne-causing bacteria residing on the surface of skin but these are not without side effects.

Mild acne can be treated with over-the-counter products such as face washes, face masks, acne creams, spot gels and body washes for back acne. Some of the active ingredients in these formulations include:

Salicylic acid which helps to deeply exfoliate the pores as well as the dead surface cells and is often recommended for the treatment of blackheads and whiteheads.

Sulphur which displays antibacterial properties helping to reduce numbers of acne- causing bacteria

Retinol serums, oils and creams which help to enhance cell turnover to reveal smooth, blemish-free skin. Retinol serums are often used to treat acne scars for the same reasons.

Azelaic acid is available in serums and creams. It inhibits acne bacteria from thriving on the skin, it exfoliates skin’s surface to remove dead skin cells and improve the appearance of blemishes.

Supplements containing Zinc, Vitamin A and several herbs such as Burdock Root are known to help acne treatment and to prevent acne breakouts or reduce recurrences of acne.

Our In-House pharmacist has written about Acne. Read the editorial here.