Acne is a common skin condition that often starts in puberty. It can affect adults too. Acne develops when skin pores get blocked, which causes pimples, blackheads, whiteheads or cysts.
Causes of acne
Acne is the name for a skin condition that develops when skin pores get blocked by dead skin cells and an oily substance called sebum.
Sebum is made in the sebaceous glands, which are found in skin pores on the face, neck, chest, upper back and upper arms. In adolescence, hormonal changes cause the sebaceous glands to get bigger, increase in number and make more sebum.
If there’s too much sebum, it can clog up the skin pores, along with normal dead skin cells. Bacteria can get trapped and grow in the pores, which can cause redness and swelling. This is the start of acne.
People with oily skin can be more prone to acne. Oil-based cosmetics and hair oil and grease can make acne worse.
Acne tends to worsen during stressful periods.
Though acne is most common in teenagers, adults can get acne even into their 40s.
Acne signs and symptoms
Acne can range from a small pimple to a large painful cyst:
- Pimple: this is a small red bump, sometimes filled with pus.
- Whitehead: this is when the bump is clear and just contains sebum.
- Blackhead: this is a small black bump, caused by the build-up of oil and dead skin.
- Cyst: this is a small pocket under the skin filled with fluid, pus or other substances.
Treatments for acne
If your child has mild acne, there are several things your child can do at home to improve the lesions:
- Wash his face no more than two times a day using a gentle skin cleanser.
- Be gentle when washing her face. Hard scrubbing can make the lesions worse. Some skin cleansers can dry out the skin so it’s a good idea to apply an oil-free or water-based moisturiser afterwards.
- Try to leave the acne alone. Squeezing or picking pimples can lead to more infection and make the acne more severe. It also causes more swelling and redness and can result in scarring.
There are also over-the-counter acne treatments such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil.
If your child’s acne isn’t improving after three months, he should see the GP.
Moderate or severe acne
About 5% of people develop what’s called severe acne or ‘cystic acne’. If your child’s acne is moderate or severe, your child will still need to wash her face and moisturise regularly, and avoid make-up.
Your GP or dermatologist might also suggest the following:
- Acne treatments such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in stronger doses might help.
- Antibiotic tablets can slow the growth of the bacteria in your child’s skin.
- Isotretinoin is a pill that can be taken twice a day with food for approximately 20 weeks. This medication has several side effects, so you should talk about it with the GP or dermatologist to make sure it’s right for your child.
- For girls, the oral contraceptive pill is a common treatment for acne. This is because the oral contraceptive pill contains the hormone oestrogen, which reduces the effect of acne-causing hormones called androgens.
If your child notices his acne gets worse when he eats certain foods, it’s a good idea to avoid those foods.
To prevent acne, it’s best to use water-based skin and hair products.