Spots, zits, pimples - however you phrase it - for many acne is the scourge of their teen years. Acne is a skin condition that causes spots to break-out typically on the face, neck, back or chest. It generally peaks at 14-17 in girls and 16-19 in boys before diminishing (although occasionally it continues into adulthood).
- Blackheads - black or yellow bumps
- Whiteheads - firmer than blackheads with white centre
- Papules - small red tender or sore bumps
- Pustules - red bump with white tip caused by pus
- Nodules - large, painful hard lumps that build under the skin
- Cysts - large, pus-filled boil-like lumps
What causes acne?
Our skin is covered in millions of hair follicles. Inside each is a tiny gland called the sebaceous gland which produces natural oil called ‘sebum’. During puberty, hormonal changes can cause these glands to produce too much oil so the hair follicles get clogged-up with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria. Soon the follicles become inflamed causing an eruption of unsightly spots.
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy can also cause flare-ups later in life.
- Acne can range from mild closed whiteheads or small open blackheads, through to large pus-filled cysts.
- For most people acne is an inconvenience with spots clearing up over a matter of days or weeks. Occasionally though, acne is severe causing scaring and psychological distress.
How is acne treated?
- While many spots appear to be crying out ‘squeeze me!’ resistance is the best policy. Squeezing spots increases the risk of scarring.
- Wash your face (or body) with a mild cleanser to prevent new spots.
- Use a water-based moisturiser rather than an oily one that can block pores.
- Use a non-greasy shampoo and avoid letting your hair fall into your face.
- Exercise - this increases blood flow, pumping oxygen and nutrients to all the cells in your body including your skin.
- Use a mild acne treatment - possibly up to three months as acne takes a while to control.
- Consult a doctor if: the acne does not respond to over-the-counter treatment, if you develop cysts that may need professional treatment to avoid scarring, or if you feel psychologically distressed.
- In severe cases a dermatologist may prescribe medicines either targeted at the acne-causing bacteria or that help control sebum production.
- Scarring can be tackled with laser treatment.