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What is acne?

Acne is a very common condition. It is recognisable by areas of spots, redness, blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and greasy skin. This skin condition affects 80% of 11-30 year olds.

Acne is one of the most recognisable skin conditions. Despite its prevalence (8 out of 10 teenagers are affected), acne causes social embarrassment, associated physical and psychological scarring and can be life changing.

What is acne?

Acne is a simple identifiable dermatological condition that starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up your pores. The most common names for acne are blackheads, blemishes, whiteheads, pimples, spots or zits. When you have just a few red spots, or pimples, you have a mild form of acne. Severe acne can mean hundreds of pimples that can cover the face, neck, chest, and back. Or it can be bigger, solid, red lumps that are painful (cysts).

Small non-inflammatory acne lesions may not be more than a minor annoyance, but anyone with more harsh inflammatory nodular acne can suffer soreness. The resulting social embarrassment, as well as acne associated physical and psychological scarring, can be life changing.

How does acne form?

Acne starts with the formation of a microcomedo, which is simply a clogged hair follicle (or pore) in the skin. Stage two consists of non-inflammatory lesions, whiteheads (closed comedones) and blackheads (open comedones). These non-inflammatory lesions can then turn into inflammatory lesions. Depending on how severe your acne is, the inflammatory lesion range comprises of small pimples on your skin, small raised spots containing pus (pustules) or nodulocystic lesions, which is characterised by lots of inflamed and non-inflamed firm lumps and cavities which can cause scarring.

What causes acne is still uncertain. The strongest medical leads suggest it is caused by changes in hormones called androgens, or it may be due to alterations in follicular linoleic acid levels, and the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1a (a group of proteins which controls your body’s response to infections). Other factors, such as your genes (if you parents had acne), stress, and diet, may also affect the development and severity of acne.

Is there a cure for acne?

There are acne treatments that successfully treat and control the condition if the right skincare routine is carried out and maintained.

Does diet affect acne breakouts?

A few small studies have shown a correlation between certain food groups and acne severity (such as dairy products and carbohydrates with a high glycemic index), but there aren't any foods that actually cause acne. A diet high in protein and carbohydrates with a low glycemic index has been shown to improve acne breakouts.

What are the present therapeutic approaches to acne?

Treatments for acne include topical therapy (which means treating the surface of the skin with products such as creams, gels and lotions) or systemic therapy (such as using antibiotics). Dependent upon the severity of the acme, a single or combined therapy is suggested.  In general, topical and systemic therapies aim to reduce  hyperkeratosis (thickening of the outer layer of the skin), follicular plugging, while reducing bacteria and inflammation.

The main active ingredients in gel, cream or liquid formulations consist of retinoids and antibiotics.  Hormonal treatment is occasionally used for most types of acne in both adult and adolescent females.  However these types of non-natural therapies are often accompanied by adverse side effects.

Whatever the type of acne or perceived cause of acne, it’s important to seek out the right type of treatment to alleviate the long term affects.