For many people, acne can be extremely distressing. However, it is much more common than you might think.
Acne vulgaris, otherwise known as common acne, is the eighth most prevalent disease in the world. Young people are most likely to have the condition - approximately 80% of people with acne are aged 11 to 30.
Although symptoms will usually fade over time without acne treatment, there are many steps you can take to help treat the condition.
Acne is caused by the pores in the skin becoming blocked with dead skin, bacteria or oil. The pores act as openings to follicles, which are made up of hair and oil-producing glands called sebaceous glands. These glands produce oil (known as sebum) which travels up the glands, out of the pores, and lubricates the skin. When a problem occurs in this lubrication process, the pore becomes clogged and the oil is unable to escape. This causes spots to form.
Depending on the severity of acne, there are a range of treatments available. In mild cases, a local pharmacist should be able to advise you on an effective treatment using over-the-counter topical treatments. Severe cases may require prescription medications. There are also a variety of high street products, natural remedies and at-home approaches to treating acne.
Acne is a very common condition that causes spots, oily skin and inflammation. Otherwise known as acne vulgaris, it most commonly develops on the face, back and chest, as well as the shoulders and arms.
Although most frequent in teenagers, acne can also affect babies, pregnant women and adults. It can range from mild acne (occasional pimples), to moderate (inflammatory papules) or severe (nodules and cysts). If you think you might have acne, we can help with:
What acne do I have? And what are the common symptoms of acne?
The symptoms of acne include:
The severity of your acne will depend on which of these symptoms you have, and your treatment will change with it. Usually, your doctor will assess the severity of acne by the type of spots you have, and how many there are.
Acne affects more than just the face. Acne breakouts can also occur on the neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms, and occasionally the scalp or buttocks.
Most often treated with over-the-counter topical medicine, mild acne is considered to be primarily whiteheads or blackheads, with the occasional papule or pustule, and no nodules or cysts.
The characteristics of mild acne include:
If you have widespread whiteheads or blackheads, with multiple papules and/or pustules, you are likely to have moderate acne. Moderate acne usually requires prescription medication and may seem to get worse before it gets better.
The characteristics of moderate acne include:
With severe acne, you will have many large, painful papules, pustules, nodules or cysts. Your spots may turn a deep red or purple colour and often causes acne scars. Prompt treatment from your GP can minimise this risk, and they may refer you to a dermatologist.
The characteristics of moderate acne include:
You should see your GP if:
Not all spots are acne. If you think there is something unusual about your symptoms it is recommended that you consult your GP.
Despite being so common, acne is a very varied condition. The six main types of spots caused by acne are whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts and nodules.
As these types vary in severity, knowing which spots you suffer from is important to identify the correct treatment. Receiving prompt, correct treatment reduces the risk of long-term skin complications such as scarring or dark spots. If you are unsure about what type of acne spots you have, we can help with:
What type of acne do I have? And what are blackheads?
One of the most frequent types of acne is whiteheads: small, round, white bumps on the skin's surface. Whiteheads are caused by the pores in your skin becoming clogged with dead skin, bacteria and oil. If these clogged pores are ‘closed’ (covered with a layer of thin skin), they appear white on the surface.
Often seeming to develop at the worst time, whiteheads can be annoying. However, they are little to worry about. Whiteheads can be easily treated through over-the-counter medical treatments and small lifestyle changes.
The other type of mild acne is blackheads. Blackheads are similar to whiteheads except for one key difference. As the top of the clogged pores are open, the surface of these spots appear dark or black instead of white. Contrary to popular belief, this black colour is not from dirt but because bacteria or dead skin cells are reacting with oxygen.
If you have red bumps on the surface of your skin, you might have acne papules. Acne papules are inflamed blemishes that form when there is a high break in the follicle wall. They often feel hard, tender and sore. Also known as pimples or zits, papules often turn into pustules.
If you’re concerned about papules, an over-the-counter treatment such as calamine lotion or benzoyl peroxide gel might soothe the inflammation.
Pustules look similar to papules but are often larger. You can identify this type of acne from the white tips at the centre, caused by a build-up of fluid or pus. Pustules can develop on any part of the body, but this form of acne most commonly affects the back, chest and face.
If your acne is severe, it is likely to include nodules. Nodular acne is made up of large, inflamed and painful bumps. When blocked pores become more irritated they grow even bigger and affect deeper layers of the skin. If you have nodular acne you should visit your GP to receive the right treatment.
Cystic acne is the most severe type of spot caused by acne. Cystic acne is caused by bacteria trapped inside of your pores reaching too deep into your skin. Compared to nodules, cysts are often softer and contain pus, looking similar to boils. You should avoid any temptation to pop cysts as this carries a large risk of causing permanent scarring. Instead, see your GP to receive the correct treatment.
Acne occurs when the pores in the skin become blocked with dead skin, bacteria or oil. Each pore is an opening to a follicle, made up of hair and an oil-producing gland called the sebaceous gland. These glands release oil (known as sebum), which travels up the hair, out of the pore and onto your skin. The oil helps keep your skin lubricated and soft.
When a problem occurs in this lubrication process, the pore becomes clogged and the oil is unable to escape. When this happens, spots form. There are a number of risk factors which increase the likelihood of this happening including diet, stress and hormones. If you are unsure of what causes acne, we can help with:
What is hormonal acne? And does stress cause acne?
Acne can be caused by:
Four key factors can aggravate or trigger acne:
Acne affects any part of the body where there are many sebaceous glands in the skin. The areas most commonly affected by acne are the face, back, chest, shoulders and upper arms. Though less frequent, acne can also affect the scalp and buttocks.
One of the common causes of acne is the fluctuations in your hormones. A rise in androgens, such as testosterone, can increase oil production and the risk of your pores becoming clogged. Though most common in teenagers during puberty, hormonal acne can also affect adults.
According to Ayurvedic tradition, areas on our body reflect our inner health. However, there’s little to no scientific evidence that this is true. Many acne face maps suggest unproven links between where acne affects you and why. For instance, forehead acne does not equal liver disease, despite what you might read.
With the rise of social media, many people adopt skincare advice given to them by influencers. Because of this, acne has many myths associated with it. These myths often cause more harm than good.
Some of the most frequent acne myths include poor hygiene, bad diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. Here are the most common misconceptions debunked. We can help with:
Are there any foods that cause acne? And can you get acne at any age?
Despite what you may have heard, spot popping or squeezing may make your acne worse. Squeezing your spots can push bacteria and pus deeper into the skin, causing more swelling and redness. It may also leave you with permanent scarring.
If you are wondering whether diet affects acne, you’re not alone. Research is constantly being carried out to identify whether a correlation exists between diet and breakouts. At the moment, research suggests there is no clear link that diet causes acne, though it may influence it.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding diet and acne, it is always recommended you follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. A balanced diet is good for your heart and overall health, and is generally good for your skin.
Poor hygiene does not cause acne. Many of the biological reactions that cause acne occur beneath the skin, so the cleanliness of your skin has no impact. In fact, excessive washing may make it worse.
If acne affects your self-esteem, oil-free or water-based make-up can still be used as most cosmetics and skin-care products do not clog pores. Choose products that are labelled as being ‘non-acnegenic’ (should not cause acne) or ‘non-comedogenic’ (should not cause blackheads or whiteheads).
Contrary to the common assumption that acne only affects teenagers, acne can also affect adults and babies. Acne most commonly starts during puberty, affecting more than 85% of teenagers, because of increased hormone activity that produces more oil. However, adult acne does affect people in their twenties, thirties and forties.
Depending on the severity of acne, there is a range of treatments available. If symptoms are mild, over-the-counter topical treatments may be prescribed by your local pharmacist. In more severe cases, prescription medications may be required.
There are also a variety of natural remedies, high street products and at-home approaches to treating acne. If you are unsure which treatment is best for you, we can help with:
How do I get rid of acne? And what is the best acne treatment?
Acne treatments fall into the following categories:
Topical treatments will usually be your first choice if you have mild to moderate acne. Apply them to the entire affected area of the skin, not just to individual spots. Depending on the treatment, it is recommended that you apply either every night or twice daily.
Topical treatments include:
Prescribed topical preparations may contain one or a combination of the above.
If your face goes red or is irritated by a topical treatment, stop for a few days. You should then try using the treatment less often, for example once or twice a week, before building up gradually to regular daily use.
Do not use isotretinoin if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant as it can cause birth defects. Use multiple methods of contraception for one month before, during, and one month after treatment.
Your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotic tablets to be taken in combination with a topical treatment. These tablets are usually erythromycin or a type of tetracycline. You should take your course of antibiotics for at least two months, continuing use for six months after there is no further improvement.
Oral treatments work best when combined with a topical gel or cream, usually a topical retinoid. Sometimes the first antibiotic that your GP tries does not work, but if this is the case, there are several alternatives that you can try. It is important to return for review, in order to change the treatment if needed. When taking oral antibiotics, you may find that you experience side effects, such as stomach upset, or thrush. If this is the case, you should see your GP to consider whether you can switch to a different medication.
In cases of severe or resistant acne, where oral antibiotics combined with topical treatments are not effective, the GP may consider a specific type of oral contraceptive pill, called co-cyprindiol, for women. While this treatment is often effective to treat acne, it carries the risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot, usually in the leg).
Your GP may decide to refer you to the dermatologist, and consideration may be given to starting oral retinoids. This is an effective but potent treatment for acne, and cannot be taken if there is any possibility of pregnancy. It can also have an impact on mood, mental health, and rarely cause blood abnormalities. For these reasons, a full assessment and regular monitoring is required when taking it.
There are a number of natural acne treatments that may help get rid of acne. As many of these remedies are quite potent, make sure to dilute them before applying them to your skin. Methods to treat acne naturally include:
There are many steps you can take at home to help ease the symptoms of acne:
Though difficult to prevent, there are many steps that you can take to help reduce the risk of acne. These small lifestyle changes address the common causes of acne that lead to breakouts.
If you want to know what steps you can take towards acne prevention, we can help with:
How do you fight acne? And can acne be cured?
While it is sensible to wash with a gentle cleanser, you should avoid washing affected areas more than twice a day. Excessive washing can irritate the skin and aggravate symptoms.
Stress can aggravate acne. Try to get enough sleep and practice relaxation techniques in order to reduce the risk of breakouts.
Touching your face can trigger more acne, lead to infection or cause permanent scarring.
If you find that the sun aggravates your acne, you aren’t alone. Some acne medications make you more susceptible to the sun’s rays. Try to regularly use a noncomedogenic sunscreen. It is recommended that everyone uses sunscreen on the face daily, regardless of underlying skin conditions, in order to protect the skin from sun damage.
As a complication of acne, acne scars can occasionally develop. The three main types of acne scarring are ice pick scars, rolling scars and boxcar scars. These acne scars can lead to emotional distress.
Any acne spot can cause scarring, but it is most frequent when nodules and cysts burst and damage the skin. Scarring can also occur if spots are picked at or popped. If you want to find out more about acne scars, we can help with:
What are acne scars? And can I remove acne scars?
Acne scars are most often caused by severe acne such as nodules or cysts. When these spots burst they damage the nearby skin, causing scarring. Acne scars can also be caused by picking or squeezing your spots, so it is important to avoid this.
There are three main types of acne scar:
Unfortunately, there is no easy treatment for acne scar removal. Under the NHS, the options are classed as cosmetic surgery and so are usually unavailable. The types of treatment available to reduce acne scars are:
While many people want to instantly banish acne scars, learning to cope with them is equally important. Acne scars can often cause anxiety, stress and depression. If you find you have little interest in seeing your friends or are anxious to leave home, it is important to speak to your GP.
It can be very worrying for parents if their baby develops acne. However, baby acne (neonatal acne) is actually a very common, often temporary condition that fades within a few months. Resulting in tiny red or white bumps or pimples, baby acne occurs in approximately 20% of newborns.
Thankfully, there are steps that you can take at home to help your baby beat the condition. If you think your child might have baby acne, we can help with:
How long does it take for baby acne to go away? And what can you put on baby acne?
If you’ve noticed small red or white bumps on your baby’s cheeks, nose and forehead, they may have baby acne. These breakouts may also appear on your baby’s chin, scalp, neck, back or chest. Baby acne often develops within the first two weeks after birth, but can develop any time before six weeks of age.
If your baby has developed acne after six weeks of age, it is important to visit your GP. This may be a sign of an underlying health problem which a skin exam, blood test or x-ray is needed to rule out.
Although baby acne and eczema can look quite similar, there are differences to help tell them apart.
A number of over-the-counter skin creams can make eczema less itchy.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of baby acne is currently unknown. However, research suggests that it seems to be associated with maternal hormones that pass from the placenta to the baby during pregnancy.
Baby acne usually clears within a month by itself. If your baby’s acne does not clear within this time, you may wish to see a GP.
Baby acne is generally nothing you need to worry about, clearing by itself without any specific home-care or medical care. There are steps you can take, however, to help keep your baby’s skin as healthy as possible:
As the body begins to develop, these hormones stimulate the oil-producing glands within the skin’s pores. When these glands produce more oil, the pores clog and form spots.
Thankfully, there are steps that you can take to get through it. If you have teenage acne, we can help with:
What is the best treatment to use for teenage acne? And does teenage acne go away?
As acne is so common in teenagers, it can be easy to think it will just pass on its own. However, though hormonal acne is an almost guaranteed part of teenage life, there are a number of treatments available that can reduce symptoms. Over-the-counter products or a visit to your GP can prevent acne from worsening and help avoid acne scars.
It may seem obvious, but for hormonal acne treatment to work, you must keep using it. If other responsibilities are adding up or improvement isn’t instantaneous, it can be easy to forget this. Make sure to maintain regular use of your treatment to ensure maximum results.
During your teenage years, everything can seem stressful. Exams, job hunting and planning for your future can all add pressure. However, stress can cause acne to flare up. Try to destress by effectively balancing your time between study and social occasions, and take regular time for yourself to relax.
You may have found that acne has caused a negative effect on your self-esteem or self-confidence. This isn’t unusual. Research has shown that acne can lead to depression, anxiety, or both. It is important you start the right course of treatment to help clear your acne and these worries. If you have any of the following symptoms, visit your GP to find a solution for your acne:
Having a one-to-one meeting with your GP can give you space to discuss your acne and find the right treatment. Rather than waiting for acne to clear on its own, your GP may be able to prescribe you an effective topical or oral medicine.
More than one out of every two women can expect to develop acne during pregnancy. However, managing this can be tricky. Treatments applied to your skin or swallowed may enter your bloodstream and affect your baby.
As such, self-care is often the best place to start. Washing regularly and avoiding irritants are simple steps you can take to manage the condition. If you have developed acne while pregnant, we can help with:
How do I treat acne during pregnancy? And what medications can I take during pregnancy?
More than one out of every two pregnant women can expect to develop acne. The primary cause is an overproduction of oil (sebum) because of increased hormone levels in the first trimester. In some cases, it can be severe, but can most often be treated with self-care and medication.
If you have acne during pregnancy, the first step is self-care:
If these treatments do not work, medication is available. However, you should always check with your GP that the treatment will not impact your pregnancy.
Acne medication such as oral isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis) and topical retinoids are known to cause birth defects. They must be avoided during pregnancy.
If you want to steer away from acne medications during pregnancy, there are a number of all-natural remedies that may help ease your acne:
Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to avoid acne when pregnant. However, regular self-care can reduce the risk.
It is recommended that you see a GP who will be able to accurately diagnose your acne instead of attempting to diagnose yourself. We can help with:
What does acne look like?
There are a small number of spots, bumps and lesions so this acne is considered mild:
Multiple whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pustules:
Large, painful papules, pustules, nodules or cysts. Spots have turned a deep red or purple colour:
A clogged pore closed with a layer of skin, appearing white on the surface:
A clogged pore exposed to open air, causing the surface of the spot to turn dark or black:
Red bumps on the surface of the skin that often feel hard, tender and sore:
Similar to papules but often larger with white tips at the centre from build-up fluid or pus:
Large, inflamed and painful bumps affecting deeper layers of the skin:
A similar size to nodules, cysts resemble boils and are often softer and contain pus:
Small, deep holes in the surface of the skin that resemble punctures:
Image source: Acne Scars: Pathogenesis, Classification and Treatment. Gabriella Fabbrocini et al.
These are broad depressions with sharply defined edges:
These scars have smooth edges that give the skin a rolling or uneven appearance:
Our vision is to change lives with convenient, accessible healthcare. With over 150 private doctor clinics across the UK, you can find your nearest surgery and see a GP in minutes.
Our private doctors can diagnose the severity of your acne and provide expert treatment and advice. Find out how severe your acne is and get the right treatment today. We can help with:
Where is your nearest GP practice? And how can Medicspot help?
The Medicspot clinical station allows doctors to look at your skin close-up to diagnose and treat acne vulgaris.
Find your nearest walk in centre today.