Everyone has heard of the term ‘teenage acne’ or ‘puberty spots’ which makes us believe that acne and spots are only a problem you face in adolescence and once you grow up, you’ll have clear and smooth skin forever. Wrong. While our bodies and hormones are changing in our youth, we can start to have more issues with our skin, but this doesn't suddenly fade away after you turn 18 I’m afraid. It’s important to know that anyone can get spots and acne, if you struggle with it from time to time, know that you aren’t alone and there are MANY people just like you. So let’s get into the particulars with acne and find out what it is, the different types, potential causes and things you can do to manage it.
First things first, what exactly is acne? Well, according to our good friend Google; acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. It causes whiteheads, blackheads or pimples. Acne can form most commonly on your face, but you can also experience it on your chest and back, which can sometimes be a little harder to treat. It’s good to also note the different types of acne you can experience as they will all need a different kind of TLC.
- Blackheads – small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin; they're not filled with dirt, but are black because the inner lining of the hair follicle produces colour. These are quite common.
- Whiteheads – have a similar appearance to blackheads, but may be firmer and will not empty when squeezed. Remember to not over squeeze them before they have fully formed, this is how you irritate the skin or get dark marks.
- Papules – small red bumps that may feel tender or sore. It’s best to leave these ones alone!
- Pustules – similar to papules, but have a white tip in the centre, caused by a build-up of pus.
- Nodules – large hard lumps that build up beneath the surface of the skin and can be painful.
- Cysts – the most severe type of spot caused by acne; they're large pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring. For cyst removal, it’s better to consult a doctor before trying anything at home.
There are a number of things that can cause acne like your period, pregnancy, smoking, certain medication and more. Despite being very common, there are also a few acne myths such as; acne is caused by a poor diet. According to the NHS website, research has not found that foods cause acne. Another myth is acne is caused by having dirty skin or poor hygiene. As we’ve already identified, acne begins forming beneath the skin not on the surface, so your cleanliness has no effect. It’s still important to wash your face and body daily, but over cleansing could just aggravate your skin.
So what to do to manage or treat acne? Well the first thing you need to know is that it's not a one size fits all thing. Different strokes for different folks and all that jazz, what one person’s skin may like, the other person’s skin may hate it. Trust the process and don’t get frustrated if the cream you picked up doesn’t fix things immediately. If you are experiencing severe acne, it’s best to see your GP as they may be able to prescribe medicines that are specific and higher in concentration. For more manageable spots and acne, below are a few tips to help you along the way;
- Azelaic acid - this is often an alternative treatment for acne if retinoids are too irritating and painful. Azelaic acid works by getting rid of dead skin and killing bacteria around the affected area. It’s gentle enough to be used up to twice a day, but please always use SPF in the day time if you are using any kind of exfoliants like this.
- Change your pillowcase - this may sound silly but think about the number of hours our bodies and heads rest on our pillowcases, then think about the amount of bacteria that can transfer during this time. Nothing to be afraid of, but switching up your pillowcases weekly or bi monthly can be a good way of ensuring that the skin on your face doesn’t spend too much time rubbing against material that has oil, grease and bacteria from other parts of our bodies.
- Leave your skin alone - honestly and truly, most of us probably do way too much as soon as we see we have a few spots forming. We probably get very upset and paranoid about what it makes us look like, and this makes us go into overdrive trying all sorts of products and combinations to try and get rid of it. One of the best things we can do for our skin is to strip back and leave it alone from time to time. We think we’re doing ourselves a great service by tackling the problem with full force but you could be causing more damage than you know.