What is acne?
Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people, to some extent, usually when they're in their teens and early twenties (although 'adult acne' can continue into later years).
It can vary from relatively mild and superficial blackheads or whiteheads with oily skin, to more severe inflamed spots and cysts that leave permanent scarring.
Acne usually affects the face, back and front of the chest, but can also appear on the lower back, buttocks and thighs.
What causes acne?
There have been many myths over the years about the causes of acne, as well as how to treat it.
It’s mainly caused by hormonal changes that lead to an over-production of sebum (the oil that the skin produces naturally to keep itself from drying out).
When the skin’s pores (openings for hair follicles) become blocked with excess sebum and dead skin cells, oily skin, blocked pores and acne are the result.
Acne lesions, particularly cysts, can leave scarring where there has been intense, collagen-damaging inflammation of the skin.
There are three main types of acne scars, characterised by their shape:
- atrophic (mostly broad and shallow)
- boxcar-shaped (wider and deeper, with straight sides)
- icepick-shaped (narrow and deeper).
People with darker skin tones may also notice darkening (or hyperpigmentation) within the scars, while people with lighter skin tones may show redness (or erythema) within the scars.
It’s hard not to feel self-conscious if you’ve been left with visible acne scars, as they can be an unsightly reminder of having to deal with that condition.
But with a little help, that can change: today’s cosmetic treatments can now reduce - or in many cases, completely remove - acne scars.
See below for our range of treatment options.
What makes acne worse?
Sun exposure can cause acne scars to darken and may slow the healing process. UV rays stimulate melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), leading to further discolouration.
Physical sun blocks (unlike chemical sun creams) give instant protection and - importantly - don't contain chemicals or additives that may increase skin sensitivity or block the skin and cause the acne and redness to worsen.
So before heading outdoors, use an SPF 30+ sunscreen with the physical blocker zinc oxide, and reapply every two hours.
Picking and squeezing spots can cause pus and bacteria to filter deeper into the skin, which increases collagen damage and the spread of bacteria - causing more spots and more scarring.
Scars are made mostly of collagen, a protein fibre normally found in the skin's second layer. They are the body's way of repairing itself.
Acne scars are typically indented because of collagen loss from intense inflammation. Picking leads to further inflammation and injury of the skin, which adds to skin discolouration and scarring.
Vitamin E applied topically to scars may not help them heal faster, as is sometimes claimed.
According to a study from researchers at the University of Miami, applying the nutrient directly onto a scar can actually hinder its healing.
In the study, vitamin E had no effect (or made matters worse) for 90% of the patients, and 33% who used topical vitamin E developed a contact dermatitis.
Vitamin A (or derivatives of Vitamin A) and Vitamin C may be more effective, as they calm inflammation, protect the skin from free radical damage and help lighten any skin discolouration.
Getting help with acne, acne scarring, oily skin and blocked pores
Whatever the cause, and whatever age we are, any signs of acne can have a big effect on how we feel about ourselves.
Many sufferers have tried medication prescribed by their GP or dermatologist but if these treatments have been unsuccessful, there is little else the NHS can offer.
If you are self-conscious about having spots and scarring, however mild, please do call us at Skin Perfection.
There are many prescription treatments available but acne-prone skin usually responds well to a specifically-tailored combination of treatments - see below for details.