What is acne?
Acne is a common chronic disorder affecting the hair follicle and oil (sebaceous) gland, in which there is blockage of the follicles and inflammation. There are several types. It is characterised by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and pus-filled spots (pustules). It usually starts at puberty and varies in severity from a few spots on the face, neck, back and chest, which most adolescents will have at some time, to a more significant problem that may cause scarring and impact on self-confidence. For the majority, it tends to resolve by the late teens or early twenties, but it can persist for longer in some people.
Who gets acne?
Acne affects males and females of all races and ethnicities. It is prevalent in adolescents and young adults, with 85% of 16 to 18 year-olds affected. However, it may sometimes occur in children and adults of all ages.
What causes acne?
Acne is due to a combination of factors. The exact mechanisms are not fully understood. The sebaceous glands of people who get acne are particularly sensitive to normal blood levels of certain hormones (androgens), which are present in both men and women. These hormones cause the glands to produce an excess of oil. At the same time, the dead skin cells lining the pores are not shed properly and clog up the follicles. These two effects result in a build-up of oil, producing blackheads (where a darkened plug of oil and dead skin is visible) and whiteheads.
The build-up of oil creates an ideal environment in which acne bacteria can multiply. This triggers inflammation and the formation of red or pus-filled spots.
Some acne can be caused by medication given for other conditions or by certain contraceptive injections or pills. Some tablets taken by body-builders contain hormones that trigger acne and other problems.
Acne can very rarely be caused by problems with hormones. If you develop unusual hair growth or hair loss, irregular periods or other changes to your body, then mention this to your doctor in case it is relevant.
Can acne be cured?
At present, there is no cure for acne but there are very effective treatments.