Acne, often thought of as a simple skin problem, has layers of complexity. It is a common condition, occurring in roughly eight out of ten teenagers. Acne presents as troublesome spots, pimples, and cysts on the face and other parts of the body. It needs careful attention, understanding and treatment to prevent potential permanent scarring; both physically and emotionally.
Types of acne
Most individuals experience what’s termed as “common acne.” It helps to categorise acne according to severity:
1. Mild Acne: This presents itself as tiny white or black spots, they are mostly unobtrusive and are considered the mildest form.
2. Moderate Acne: More noticeable, this type features more obvious red spots of various sizes which may be tender or sore to the touch.
3. Severe Acne: This is characterised by larger, painful spots and cysts that have the potential to leave scars, marks or craters on the skin.
What causes acne?
Understanding the cause for acne is needed so that it can be prevented or treated effectively. In general, acne happens due to two main reasons:
1. The skin overproduces oil, leading to clogged pores on the skin’s surface.
2. Our skin is covered in lots of bacteria, which is entirely normal and healthy. These bacteria however, can become trapped in the clogged pores. This then results in red and inflamed spots.
Other causes might include certain health conditions (eg. polycystic ovarian syndrome), medicines and hormonal fluctuations (especially in females), and exposure to some chemicals.
How is acne diagnosed?
Acne is diagnosed based on the appearance of the skin, the severity is then determined based on where it is distributed and the types of spots.
Can acne be completely cured?
There is no complete cure for acne, but there are effective treatments which your GP can explain to you to help prevent the formation of new spots and reduce potential scarring. Often treatment is successful and the skin has a good chances of clearing up. The key thing to remember is that it is important to be consistent and persistent with the treatments – this can take anywhere between two to four months.
What can be done to prevent acne?
While acne might seem impossible to avoid, there are ways to prevent its emergence – especially if one has managed to get it under control. Some simple tips include:
– Avoiding excessive washing or rigorous scrubbing of the affected area.
– Using gentle face cleansers.
– Avoidance of oily / heavy cosmetics and lotions.
– Refraining from picking at or popping pimples, in general keeping hands away from the face.
– Sticking to a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetable, and avoiding processed food. and reducing sugar intake.
– Reducing or abstaining from makeup use.
There are several myths surrounding acne. Some of the most common misconceptions are that acne arises from uncleanliness, stress directly induces acne, it is contagious, or that simple solutions such as drinking water or sunbathing can eliminate it. It is essential to understand that with the right treatment and approach, acne can indeed improve.
What if over-the-counter acne products aren’t working?
If over-the-counter products aren’t effective, it is time to speak to a GP.
What are the main categories of acne treatments?
Acne treatments are classified into:
– Treatments to be applied directly onto the skin. This treatment is very effective when used correctly, so getting the right advice is key.
– Oral medication such as antibiotics, oral contraceptives (for females).
– For the severest forms of acne, Isotretinoin capsules may be used. This is a very effective treatment however this is a very strong medication and used only as a last resort. It has known side effects and your doctor will reguarly monitor you therefore when you are under treatment.
– Other treatments (e.g light or laser therapy for scarring or pigmentation).
Acne and mental health
One important aspect of having acne that needs to be addressed is the effect it can have on mood and self-esteem. Teenage years, (as we all remember), are an emotionally volatile time, with many teens experiencing body image concerns. Adding acne into the mix can cast a shadow over these vital years, and so it is very important to take acne concerns seriously. Acne can have a significant long-term psycho-social impact, limiting one from achieving their true potential.Severe acne has been associated with depression and anxiety. If your teenager is expressing feeling low or worried, or if they are becoming more withdrawn, it is crucial they speak to a doctor.
It is important that your teenager gets the support they need. We always make Osler Health a ‘safe space’ for adolescents, so that they feel comfortable and able to express any concerns. If your teen is looking for guidance on acne, please make an appointment today.
Dr Aallya Qureshi is a British GP doctor based in Osler Health Raffles Hotel Arcade clinic. If you would like your teenager to speak to a doctor about their skin concerns please make an appointment.
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