Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world; most people will have to deal with it at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, acne can be rather unattractive, which can cause sufferers of the condition to feel embarrassed, self conscious, and less confident. If left untreated, it can cause permanent scars and other unsightly marks, too. This article explores everything you need to know about acne - what causes it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it from coming back in the future.

Causes of acne

Acne is normally caused by hormonal changes in the body, particularly during puberty, pregnancy, and during periods. As part of these hormonal changes, the glands in the skin start to release an oily substance called ‘sebum’ that blocks hair follicles from growing. This causes whiteheads and blackheads to form. Bacteria living on the skin then infects these whiteheads and blackheads causing acne.

Contrary to popular opinion, research has found that hygiene and diet has no affect on acne. While a healthy diet will help to keep the heart and body healthy, and daily face washes will help to keep the skin looking brighter and cleaner, they will not help to reduce and/or prevent acne.

Acne can also be caused by a skin condition called rosacea. Rosacea is a very common skin condition with one in 10 people, on average, suffering from it at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the medical world has yet to discover the causes of the condition. Thankfully, it can be treated and controlled fairly easily.

How to cure acne

The type of treatment needed to cure acne will depend on the severity of the acne.

If you have a few pimples, a few blackheads, or a few whiteheads, a topical over the counter acne gel containing ‘benzoyl peroxide’ should help to clear the acne up. The cream will need to be used consistently twice a day for a period of up to three months.

While benzoyl peroxide based treatments don’t usually cause side effects, they may cause stinging sensations, reddening of the skin, and dry skin. It has also been know to cause photosensitivity, particularity in those with very fair skin. Contact your doctor if you find yourself experiencing these side effects.

If your acne persists and shows no signs of improving, prescription medicines may be needed to treat your acne. These medicines are much stronger than benzoyl peroxide based treatments, but they can have much worse side effects.

Dermatologists will be able to administer these stronger, prescription medicines. The most common prescription medicines used for curing acne include: antibiotic creams, topical creams that help kill acne causing bacteria living in the skin; retinoid creams, topical creams that reduce the amount of sebum released by the skin glands; antibiotic tablets, special tablet that helps the body’s immune system to kill acne causing bacteria living on the skin; and azelaic acid, a special type acid that kills dead skin cells and acne causing bacteria. Different people will require different prescription medicines. Your dermatologist will be able to provide advice about the best treatment for your particular skin type.

Unfortunately, particularly bad cases of acne may cause permanent scarring of the skin. If the scarring is bad enough, your dermatologist may advise you to get dermabrasion or microdermabrasion treatments. These treatments work by removing the top layer of the skin by firing a laser at the skin cells or by scrubbing the skin cells with a wire brush. Then, when the skin cells grow back, the scars will be filled in.

Acne caused by rosacea is normally treated by the use of topical creams and medicines. Normally, creams containing metronidazole will be able to treat the condition in most people. For more difficult cases, dermatologists will be able to prescribe the use of stronger medicines like azelic acid and antibiotics.

Preventing acne from recurring

While most people will ‘outgrow’ their acne once their hormone levels normalize, a few steps can be taken to reduce the chances of acne recurring.

Avoid spending too much time in the sun without sunblock, and avoid washing your face more than twice a day. Additionally, try not to use too much make-up on your skin. Make-up can block pores in the skin which can cause whiteheads and blackheads to form.

In summary:
  • Acne is caused by bacteria infecting blocked pores in the skin.
  • Acne creams containing ‘benzoyl peroxide’ should, in most cases, clear up acne in 12-16 weeks. Dermatologists are able to prescribe more powerful drugs if benzoyl peroxide based creams do not work.
  • To prevent your acne from returning after treatment, use sunblock when out in the sun, avoid wearing too much make-up, and try not to wash your face more than twice a day.