shutterstock_177851702Acne is a skin condition that causes spots in four out of five people between puberty and their late twenties. It is most common in the mid teens for girls, and in the late teens for boys, with just 5% of women and 1% of men continuing to suffer beyond the age of 25.

Acne can vary in severity from just a few blackheads (comedones) to significant papules, pustules and cysts, which if not treated correctly can lead to permanent scarring.

These spots occur on the face of most acne sufferers, with around half also getting spots on their back and around 15% also getting chest spots.

Causes of acne

Acne is caused by changes in hormones that occur during puberty, especially the increase in the level of the hormone testosterone, which is present in both men and women. The hormone changes during pregnancy and menstruation, as well as those caused by polycystic ovaries, can also cause acne in women beyond their teens.

Testosterone causes the sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum, which then blocks the pores, which in turn become infected by the normally harmless skin bacteria called P. acnes. Some strains of P. acnes are more virulent than others at causing acne.

Since acne predominantly affects teenagers, it is no surprise that there are a number of myths surrounding the condition. However, acne is not caused by dirty skin, greasy hair, excess sexual activity, poor diet or lack of exercise, and it cannot be caught from another person.

Acne runs in families, and the worse your parents suffered, the more likely you are to suffer too.

Diagnosing acne

Fortunately, the vast majority of acne can be easily managed using common over the counter medications. However, in more severe cases, you should seek expert help from your GP or dermatologist to control outbreaks and prevent large spots and cysts leaving permanent scars. Around 30% of acne cases will require professional help.

Acne is diagnosed by observation, and graded in four categories:

  • Grade One or Mild Acne – mostly black and white heads with occasional pustules and papules
  • Grade Two or Moderate Acne – many pustules and papules mostly on the face
  • Grade Three or Moderately Severe Acne – multiple pustules and papules on the face, back and chest, along with some painful nodules
  • Grade Four or Severe Acne – significant numbers of painful nodules and cysts

 Treating acne

The good news is that dermatologists can prescribe plenty of different treatment options to help control and clear acne. In addition to treatments with creams, gels and possibly tablets, treatment involves managing the symptoms, identifying any avoidable triggers and preventing large acne spots from leaving a permanent scar. Acne does not affect your general health and most people will grow out of it by their late teens, with no lasting after effects.