Acne (otherwise known as 'acne vulgaris', from the ancient Greek word 'akme' meaning facial eruption) is a prevalent condition, particularly in teenagers and young adults. Statistics vary, but around 85% of all Australians will have acne at some point, with one 2013 estimate putting the number of sufferers worldwide at 660 million, making it one of the top ten most prevalent medical conditions. It is also an ancient condition, being prevalent from ancient Egyptian times.
Acne appears typically in teenage years at the onset of puberty (so girls tend to suffer earlier than boys) and lasts for eight to ten years before clearing up on its own. Around half of all sufferers will continue to have acne into their 20s and 30s, and roughly 5% will suffer from severe acne.
What causes acne?
Hormones called androgens (testosterone is an androgen) start to be released in the human body at the outset of puberty, with boys having slightly more than girls. These hormones stimulate glands in the skin on the face, neck, chest, shoulders and back, to produce sebum - oil. Bacteria that typically live on the surface of the skin (Cutibacterium acnes) live off this oil and produce substances that irritate the skin and to cause pores and hair follicles to be blocked producing blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and cysts.
Although diet, smoking, exposure to sunlight or lack of cleanliness have been thought to be factors related to acne, it is generally believed that genetics is responsible for 80% of acne sufferers.
A relatively recent study has shown that there may be a link between the consumption of sugar (simple sugars) as sugar produces insulin in the body, which boosts both androgen production and something called 'growth factor 1' which may block skin glands.
Treatments for acne
Here are some general guidelines for dealing with acne on a day to day basis.
Water-based or oil-free products help to avoid the blocking of pores. Always remove all makeup before going to bed.
Squeezing spots or pimples
Do not squeeze pimples and spots as this will make them worse and possibly cause scarring.
Using cleansers specifically developed for acne-prone skin can help. Try washing the affected areas twice per day, but no more, as too much cleansing can cause dryness or irritation. Also, avoid harsh or abrasive treatments which can make acne worse. Research has shown that, of all the products available for acne, those containing benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or sulphur are the most effective.
Try to keep hair washed and away from the face and neck, as oil in the hair may aggravate acne.
It may be an idea to reduce foods with high sugar content, or certain ones that may flare your acne.
Various medication may be prescribed for more severe outbreaks of acne, from antibiotic lotions and gels to a medicine called isotretinoin (sold under brand names Roaccutane and Oratane) for more severe or treatment-resistant cases. This medication can only be prescribed by a Dermatologist and is not suitable for pregnant women.