Acne affects 80-90% of all adolescents. For some people it can cause problems all the way through their 20s and in some cases it can lead to life-long scarring. It causes whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pustules to appear on the skins surface.
WHAT CAUSES ACNE?
Our skin is made up of several different layers. Within those layers there are skin cells, sebaceous (oil) glands, sweat glands, hair follicles and much more. Our sebaceous glands secrete sebum (oil) which helps to lubricate the surface of our skin and prevent it from drying.
When our skin produces too much sebum, then the hair follicles can become blocked with excess oil and dead skin cells. When bacteria enter these blocked follicles, inflammation occurs near the surface of our skin and a whitehead or blackhead appears.
Factors that increase the production of sebum include:
Androgens (male hormones e.g. testosterone)
Certain medications such as androgenic steroids
Factors that can contribute to blocked follicles and pores:
Before you see your Doctor, you can be proactive and start the fight against acne on your own:
Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid and Retinoids: These are acne-fighting active ingredients that you can find in many over-the-counter skin products that you can buy in your local boots or superdrug. They will be in lower concentrations than prescription medication but are an excellent way to start combatting mild acne.
Reevaluate your makeup: Make-up and acne form part of a vicious cycle. The more you break-out, the more make-up you want to cover it up. But is your makeup helping to clog the pores or irritate the skin? Try having as many make-up free days as you can tolerate. If you can't resit wearing makeup daily, try and invest in a non-comedogenic brand and NEVER go to sleep in your makeup.
Maintain good hygiene: The average person touches their face 2000 times a day. In between this they are touching anything and everything else. The amount of bacteria that lies on our fingertips would shock all of us. Prevent bacteria from reaching your face by not touching it (this could also prevent you from getting the flu!). Likewise change pillowcase and towels regularly, wipe phone cases and wash make-up brushes. Hygiene is King.
Avoid greasy foods: This is self-explanatory. Your body and skin are already experiencing an overload of oil. Put down the chips and pick up the vegetables instead.
When to see your doctor
All the above steps are a really good start to improving your skin, but realistically they aren't likely to improve moderate- to- severe acne. If your skin is starting to get you down or having an effect on your self-esteem and confidence then it might be time to see your Doctor. Don't delay seeing your GP, as many of the really effective treatment take a long time before you can be started on them.
WHAT CAN YOUR DOCTOR PRESCRIBE?
Acne therapy is normally giving in steps:
1) Topical agents: (can be prescribed in higher concentrations than over the counter products):
Benzoyl Peroxide is an acne-busting agent that works by preventing the follicles in your skin from being blocked. It's antiseptic properties help to reduce bacteria and it also dampens down inflammation.
2) Topical Retinoids: are creams or gels that contain vitamin A. They assist in the proliferation of new skin cells.
3) Topical Antibiotics: Clindamycin and Lymecycline are examples of some of the topical antibiotics that can be used on your skin. They help prevent the bacteria from growing inside the clogged follicles in your skin. They can be used alongside some of the topical agents mentioned above.
3) Oral Antibiotics: Oxytetracycline and Lymecycline are antibiotics that help to fight the bacteria in your skin from the inside out. These take a few months for any results of improvement to be seen.
3) The Oral Contraceptive Pill: Certain types of oral contraceptive pills can help some girls battle acne. Pills such as Yasmin and Dianette have anti-androgenic properties to help reduce sebum build up.
4) Isotretinoin (Roaccutane): This is the mother of all acne medications. Isotretinoin falls under the 'retinoid' group of acne medications but is the most effective of them all. Everyone who has experienced persistent severe acne should have the opportunity to use roaccutane. It has serious side effects such as painfully dry skin and can be very harmful to the babies of pregnant women. It needs to be prescribed by your dermatologists but the results are dramatic.