Acne is a skin condition that often occurs during puberty, although it can affect people of any age. It is extremely common, with 80% of 11 to 30 year olds being affected at some point. The symptoms can range in severity, from just a few spots to a more extensive problem affecting the face, chest and back.
Acne occurs when the hair follicles, which are tiny holes in the skin, become blocked. The sebaceous glands lubricate skin and stop it from drying out by producing an oily substance known as sebum. Excess sebum, mixed with dead skin cells and other substances, can plug the follicle, causing whiteheads and blackheads. The harmless bacteria that live on the skin can infect the plugged follicles, creating numerous skin problems such as papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
Below are some of the main causes of acne, and options for treatment.
The cause: During puberty increased levels of testosterone are released, stimulating the body to grow. In particular this affects the penis and testicles in boys and supports bone and muscle strength in girls. An increase in testosterone can cause the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more sebum than needed, resulting in acne.
Solution: Benzoyl peroxide may work to clean the bacteria in the acne, by cleansing and clearing clogged pores. Try a facial wash, cream or gel, preferably of a mild strength at first as this may cause less irritation. Salicylic acid may also aid in unblocking pores and clearing whiteheads and blackheads.
The cause: Skin problems can run in families. If your parents had acne, you are more likely to get severe acne from a young age too. A study has indicated that you are four times more likely to get acne if your your parents or siblings have it.
Solution: While studies indicate the likelihood of having acne increases with genes, environmental factors and lifestyle can play a part. Avoid common triggers such as smoking and using certain cosmetic products. Partaking in regular exercise can also help alleviate stress that may contribute to acne breakouts.
The cause: Adult acne in women is thought to be caused by the changes in female hormone levels during a period, pregnancy or if experiencing a condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome. The changes in hormonal levels can cause excess sebum and skin inflammation.
Solution: Visit your doctor or dermatologist who can assess your hormone levels. They will also be able to prescribe oral or topical acne medication to ease flare-ups.
The cause: Acne can be exacerbated by some make-up and cosmetic products, although this is less common nowadays because they are tested to ensure this doesn't happen. Keep in mind, however, that some ingredients in cosmetics can clog pores and irritate skin follicles. This can lead to 'cosmetic acne', which is a particular problem for those who are trying desperately to cover their spots with concealer and foundation – only to discover they are making it even worse!
Solution: Go make-up free when you can, avoid cosmetics for a while and let your skin breathe. Always check your cosmetics are dermatologically tested, hypoallergenic and oil-free, as this will be much better for your skin.