What is Acne? Your Questions Answered

Everything you need to know about acne


Spot break outs always seem to happen at the worst possible moment, just before a first date, the day you’re getting your photo taken, all of those wonderful occasions when you could really do with not having a huge spot between your eyes.


But do you just have a few spots, or are you suffering with acne?


Today we’re going to look at exactly what acne is, what makes it different from a regular breakout, and what it all means for you.



What is acne?


Acne is a skin condition that’s especially common in children and young adults.


Acne happens when the glands in the surface of your skin start to produce too much of an oil named sebum, which can clog your follicles, causing spots, whiteheads, blackheads, and more.


Acne can be mild, causing just a few spots and blackheads, but can range all the way to severe acne, which can cause large, painful papules, cysts, and nodules on top of everything else.


Although people think acne is all about break outs of spots, there are a couple of other symptoms you may experience when you have acne, including oily skin, or skin that’s sore or hot to touch.


The most common places where people experience acne break outs include:


  • Face – Most people with acne get flare ups on their face
  • Back – Over half of people with acne get it on their back
  • Chest – Around 15% of people with acne get acne on their chest



Do I have acne or pimples?


If you get the odd spot occasionally then you probably don’t have acne, you just get spots like everybody else.


However, if you get frequent break outs or find that you get a lot of large, painful spots, then you may be suffering with acne.


The best thing for you to do if you think you might have acne is to make an appointment to see your doctor.


They’ll be able to take a look at your skin and work out whether you’re dealing with acne or just a regular old spot break out, and give you some advice to help clear up your skin.



What is acne caused by?


So, acne happens when your skin creates too much sebum, which blocks your pores, but what makes that happen in the first place?


Well, most of the blame can be placed on your hormones, which is what makes this condition particularly common in teenagers.


When you enter puberty, your body starts to create more of a hormone called testosterone, which can tell your glands to kick their sebum production into high gear and cause acne.


Acne often runs in families, so if one or both of your parents had acne, then chances are you’ll get it too. Remind your parents of that when they’re getting annoyed with you complaining about your skin!


Acne and pregnancy


Many women experience acne during the first 3 months of their pregnancy, so not only can you get morning sickness at this time, but you could have acne too! Who said pregnancy was easy?


These acne flare ups can happen as your hormone levels change during the early stages of pregnancy, making your skin break out.



Acne during your period


Remember how I said that hormones can trigger acne flare ups during pregnancy? Well, guess what ladies, just because you’re not making babies doesn’t mean you’re off the hook!


Many women find that they experience acne just before they get their period, as their hormone levels fluctuate during their monthly cycle. Hormones, aren’t they just grand?



Diet and acne


You may be surprised to know that there’s currently no evidence to suggest that your what you eat and drink causes acne, so don’t worry about your favourite junk foods giving you acne the next time you get the urge to snack.


However, ditching the junk food and following a healthy, balanced diet is great for your heart and your health, and it can’t do your skin any harm either, so don’t think you’re in the clear just because your diet doesn’t cause acne.



Acne treatment


There are lots of different types of acne treatments, and the one you’ll need to use will depend on the severity of your acne.


If you’ve got mild acne, then your pharmacist will be able to suggest an over the counter treatment, usually a cream or gel, that will help you to keep your acne under control.


However, if you’ve got moderate or severe acne you may need to speak to your doctor for a prescribed treatment, which can include creams, gels, tablets, and even the contraceptive pill.


We’re not going to be able to tell you which of these treatments is right for you, so make sure to make a doctor’s appointment so they can assess your condition and choose the best possible treatment for your acne.



Acne scars


When you have acne, you may be tempted to pick or squeeze your spots, but this is one of the worst things you can do to acne prone skin.


Let’s be honest though, we’re only human, and we’ve all given into the temptation to give an irritating whitehead a good squeeze, but did you realise that you were running the risk of scarring your skin?


Not only can squeezing your spots make them worse, but you can damage your skin, causing scarring which will last for much longer than your acne might.


Are acne scars permanent?


Acne scars can be annoying, especially if you’ve waited for your acne to clear only to find that your picking and squeezing has caused some serious scarring.


However, there may be treatments you can use which can reduce acne scarring, so if you’re worried about scars, make sure to see your doctor or a licensed dermatologist.


They’ll be able to recommend treatments which could help to reduce your scarring, but you should know that these treatments would be classed as cosmetic surgeries, which usually aren’t available on the NHS.


Remember, the easiest way to reduce acne scarring is to leave your spots alone and let them heal in their own time.



How can I prevent acne?


As well as acne treatments from your doctor or pharmacist, there are a few things you can do at home to help to keep your acne under control.


Make sure to wash your face twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser, but be sure to use lukewarm water, as very hot or cold water can irritate your skin and make things worse.


Although you may be tempted to wash your face more than twice a day when you have acne, make sure to resist the temptation, as this can irritate your skin and have the exact opposite effect than what you’re going for.


When you have acne, you should try to avoid using too much makeup or cosmetics, but if you do wear makeup, make sure you remove it before you go to bed at night, so it won’t sit on your skin and block your pores.


When you’re choosing cosmetics, pick up ones that are “non-comedogenic”, as these are less likely to block your pores and aggravate your acne.


Make sure you look after your hygiene in other ways too, making sure to wash your hair regularly and keeping it out of your face to keep it from causing more irritation to your skin.


If you love to exercise make sure you shower as soon as you’ve finished working out, this will clean away sweat which can irritate acne prone skin.



We hope that we’ve answered all of your questions about acne, but if there’s something you think we’ve missed, make sure to let us know!


Our Chemist 4 U pharmacists are always on hand to offer help and advice, whether that’s over the phone, via email, or through our Ask A Pharmacist feature!


Don’t be shy, drop us a line! We’ll be more than happy to answer any burning questions you might have for us!


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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