Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages, primarily during adolescence and early adulthood. It is characterised by the presence of pimples (papules and pustules), blackheads, whiteheads, and sometimes deeper lumps or nodules on the skin. While acne is not a serious health threat, it can cause emotional distress and impact self-esteem. This information page provides an overview of acne, its symptoms, and its underlying causes.
Symptoms of Acne:
Acne typically appears on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders. The severity of symptoms can vary, ranging from mild to severe. Common symptoms of acne include:
Whiteheads and Blackheads: These are non-inflammatory acne lesions. Whiteheads occur when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells and the surface of the skin is intact (closed comedone), while in blackheads (open comedone) the skin is not intact on the surface of the clogged pore and the contents are exposed to oxidation so can appear black, gray, or brown.
Papules and Pustules: These are small, red bumps or pimples that are inflamed and contain pus. Papules are tender to the touch and pustules also have a white or yellow center.
Nodules: Nodular acne consists of large, painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin. They can be deep and difficult to treat, often leading to scarring.
Cysts: Cystic acne is characterised by large, fluid-filled lumps that are painful and can cause scarring. This is one of the most severe forms of acne.
Causes of Acne
The development of acne is multifactorial, involving a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. The primary causes of acne include:
Excess Sebum Production: Sebaceous glands in the skin produce an oily substance called sebum. Overproduction of sebum can lead to clogged hair follicles and the formation of acne lesions.
Dead Skin Cells: The shedding of dead skin cells can mix with excess sebum, leading to the blockage of hair follicles and the formation of comedones (whiteheads and blackheads).
Bacteria: Cutibacterium acnes , formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes (C. acnes) is a bacterium that naturally resides on the skin. When hair follicles are clogged, C. acnes can multiply, leading to inflammation and the development of inflammatory acne lesions.
Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and stress, can increase sebum production and contribute to the development of acne.
Diet: While the exact relationship is still debated, certain diets high in refined sugars and dairy products might exacerbate acne in some individuals.
Medications: Some medications, such as corticosteroids and certain birth control pills, can influence hormone levels and trigger acne outbreaks.
Genetics: A family history of acne can increase the likelihood of experiencing the condition.
- Stress: It is not clear but it seems that Stress does not cause acne, but it can trigger or worsen it by changing a person’s hormone balance
Acne is a common skin condition that can range from mild to severe, causing physical discomfort and emotional distress. Understanding the symptoms and underlying causes of acne is crucial for effective management and treatment. Acne scarring can sometimes have a greater impact on the psychosocial well being of the person, even more than acne.
If you or someone you know is struggling with acne, it’s advisable to consult Dr Bhavjit Kaur who can provide personalised recommendations and treatment options tailored to individual needs. Remember that early intervention and proper skincare can help minimize the impact of acne and reduce the risk of scarring.
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Dr Bhavjit Kaur
Dr Bhavjit Kaur is an Aesthetic Physician, with over 27 years of clinical experience. She is a postgraduate in Pathology, Biomedical sciences, DRCOG, DFSRH and Cosmetic Medicine.