Acne occurs when the little holes (pores) in your skin or the roots of your hair become blocked with oil and dead skin cells. The blockage can cause pus-filled pores (pimples), open plugged pores (whiteheads), or close plugged pores (blackheads), and other boil-like appearances on your skin. Acne mostly occurs on the face, although it can occur on the chest and back. Teenagers are mostly affected, but acne can affect people of all ages.
Acne reoccurs many times in spite of adequate treatment. Medicines for acne aim to reduce oil production in the skin and treat infections when they occur. Self-care and mental support (where necessary) is important in preventing unnecessary scarring in the long run.
The most commonly identified symptom of acne is a small, red bump usually filled with pus (pimples). Other common symptoms include:
- Open, blocked pores are called whiteheads.
- Closed, blocked pores are called blackheads.
- Painful, swollen skin on the face, shoulders, upper back and chest.
The main causes of acne include:
- Inflammation of the skin that causes pimples.
- Too much oil on the skin can block the hair follicles on the skin, trapping dead cells and causing acne.
- When you have too much normal bacteria and fungi on your skin, it can inflame the skin and cause acne.
- If your parents had acne (when they were young) you are also more likely to have acne.
- Stress can cause acne. Exercise may help to relieve stress.
- Africans with dark skin are more likely to have permanent scarring due to acne.
- Teenagers are more likely to have acne than young children and adults, due to hormonal changes at puberty.
- Using oil-based cosmetics products.
- Taking lots of sugary foods (e.g. soft drinks), starchy foods (e.g. cake, white bread, white rice), oily foods (e.g. fries, fried chicken) and fatty foods (e.g. sausage).
- Stress can make your breakouts worse or appear worse.
- If you have an oily skin. The oily substance that your skin produces (sebum) protects your skin. Some people produce too much sebum, causing acne.
- Hormonal changes in pregnancy.
- Some medicines like hormone replacement medicines or contraceptives.
If your acne does not improve with self-care, you should see a healthcare provider. For teenagers, how they see themselves change during an acne episode. If you notice any mood changes, see a healthcare provider immediately.
Acne that is due to hormonal change is difficult to prevent. It can, however, be made better through self-care.
- Wash your face at least twice a day. Use warm water and mild soap to wash lightly. This will keep your skin clean and free of dead cells, impurities and extra oil.
- Moisturize your face and skin to reduce dryness and peeling. Cosmetic products that labelled "non-comedogenic" will not worsen or cause acne.
- Don't rub your face with your hands. This can transfer germs to your face.
- Clean your skin with mild soap to reduce facial oils. Do this in the morning and before bed for best results.
- Use water-based makeup and makeup that will not clog the pores in your skin. Such makeup products are usually labelled “noncomedogenic.”
- Avoid touching your face. Your hand usually contains bacteria that can be passed to your face and cause pimples.
- Essential oils like tea tree oil, clove oil, cinnamon oil, rose oil, lavender oil are home remedies that can help to treat acne.
- Aloe Vera gel can moisturize the skin and reduce inflammation. It soothes painful skin and improves the appearance of symptoms.
- Avoid foods that cause your acne to become worse. Eating a healthy and balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables may help you control acne.
- Prescription retinoid and similar medicines prevent your pores from getting blocked. They are useful for mild to moderate acne. Wear protective clothing or sunscreen as they make your skin sensitive to the sun.
- Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications for you that will kill the bacteria causing acne. Examples of such medications are benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics like doxycycline.
- Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medication to reduce the excess oil on your skin, such as spironolactone or a type of birth control pill.
- Photodynamic therapy is a process that uses lasers to kill bacteria that may be causing your acne and also reduce oil production. This procedure is useful for severe acne. The procedure is not easily accessible in Nigeria.
- Your healthcare provider may also recommend other treatment options such as dermabrasion, chemical peels, or cortisone injections for you.
Having acne can affect your confidence, cause self-esteem issues and even depression. Ask for help whenever you feel that this is the case with you. Treatment of acne is often successful and you can get back to looking good again.
In most cases, acne will not resolve at once. It may recur over several years and may lead to scarring. Remember to continue using gentle, water-based products on your skin and eat a balanced diet that supports your skin. Self-care is often the most important part of treating your acne.