What is acne?
Acne Vulgaris or common acne is a disease that usually starts around teenage years and is characterised by the presence of black heads (comedones), pimples (pustules) and in the more severe cases cysts or nodules.
What causes acne?
Acne starts in teenage years because of the surge of male hormone in both male and female teenagers. During puberty, the oily glands in the skin produce more oils at the time when the top layer of the skin is also getting thicker. As a result, the excess oils can be trapped in the skin allowing bacteria to colonise it. The skin then reacts by generating inflammatory processes to try to get rid of the bacteria. These inflammatory processes can be seen on the skin surface as pimples or pustules. Face, shoulders, back and chest are the most common areas that are affected by acne.
Why should acne be treated?
A lot of people still think that acne is one of those common skin conditions that the sufferers will just get over and too trivial to seek treatment from their doctors. While this is true in most cases, it may still take many years and sometime even decades before the acne is cleared naturally without treatment. This can cause the acne sufferers to have low self esteem and untreated acne may lead to severe scarring. It is important to remember that acne can be cleared but scars last a lifetime so getting treatment for acne before the formation of scars is highly advisable.
How can acne be treated?
Treatment of acne needs to address the four main causes of the problem: excess oil production; thickening skin, bacterial colonisation and inflammation. Doctors usually decide the treatment according to the following categories:
- Mild acne with few pimples and blackheads. It is often sufficient to just use over the counter face wash with anti-bacterial properties and benzoyl peroxide lotion or creams.
- Moderate acne with more pimples and blackheads may need to be treated with the above plus retinoid creams such as adapelene or retin-A and topical antibiotics. Oral anti-biotics can also be prescribed if the topical ones are found not effective enough.
- Severe acne is when most of the face is covered with pimples or when there are cysts. In these cases oral retinoids are the treatment of choice.
Lasers, IPL, microdermabrasion and chemical peels can also be used to treat mild and moderate acne. However as acne is a recurring condition these will form rather expensive options as compared to getting treatments from your GP under NHS.
Can acne scars be treated?
There is currently no treatment that can completely remove acne scars. Therefore it is best to get acne treated early before the formation of scars. However, there are a several treatments that can reduce or improve on the appearance of acne scars. This includes laser treatment, chemical peels, collagen induction therapy by needling and microdermabrasion.