Telehealth Doctors and Psychologists Australia

Updated 10 September 2021

2 min read

What is Acne?

24-7 Medcare Acne
Acne is a skin condition that affects both males and females. While acne normally starts when a person reaches puberty, adults can also have occasional breakouts. Acne is characterized by the appearance of bumps and spots on the surface of the skin. The bumps are usually painful to touch and often show up on the face. However, the bumps can also be seen on a person's shoulders, back and even buttocks. Acne can be graded into mild, moderate and severe, with the latter responsible for scarring. 

Symptoms of Acne

The signs of acne vary depending on the severity;
  • Blackheads: These are blocked skin pores that are small and slightly raised.
  • Whiteheads: These are small, hard lumps on the skin with a white centre.
  • Pustules (Pimples): These are small pus filled spots on the skin that are usually soft to touch.
  • Nodules: These are lumps underneath the skin that are both hard and painful to touch.
  • Cystic: These are larger painful pus-filled lumps under the skin

What are the Causes of Acne?

The skin naturally protects itself from bacteria by secreting an oil-based substance known as "sebum". Acne can appear when this sebum clogs the hair follicles. Also, reddish spots appear when the sebum clogged hair follicles are combined with "keratin" (dead skin cells). With the clogged hair follicles and a rapid increase in bacteria under the skin, this leads to a painful inflammation of the skin. The production of sebum and the emergence of acne is enhanced under certain situations, some of which include;
  • Puberty: Fluctuations in the testosterone hormone levels at puberty in both male and female can lead to a spike in the production of sebum.
  • Genetics: Some people are more predisposed to both high sebum production and acne.
  • Diet: A diet consisting of foods that are high in fat should be avoided as it increases your vulnerability to acne.
  • Stress: Stress is also a major cause of acne. When you are under some sort of stress, your body releases more stress hormones (cortisol), this makes your sebaceous glands produce more sebum which can then clog your hair follicles and lead to breakouts.

Other causes of Acne include;

  • A lack of exercise,
  • Pregnancy
  • Overweight or obese.
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Diagnosing Acne

Your doctor will carry out a physical examination when diagnosing Acne and this usually involves inspecting the different types of spots present on your back, chest and face. Your physician will examine the whiteheads, blackheads, pustules and nodules on your skin. On rare occasions your doctor may either scrape or swab pustules or lesions and send them to a laboratory for microscopy in order to rule out any concerns he or she may have about possible infection.                                                                                               

Acne Treatment

After several years, the appearance of acne on a person usually reduces significantly. However, there are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help to clear up acne at a more quicker pace. A pharmacist can recommend an OTC drug that can help to clear up your mild acne. For some people, the treatment of acne can be a long-term concern. However, you should always seek the professional advice of your doctor or a specialist (dermatologist) before embarking on any long-term treatment or if OTC medications don’t help after 2 months. . Some of the options available to treat acne include;
  • Treatment with Retinoids: These come as either an oral drug or topical lotion and involve a vitamin A treatment to help unclog hair follicles while also preventing any future clogging of your pores.
  • Isotretinoin treatment: These may be prescribed for the treatment of severe acne.
  • Treatment with antibiotics: Antibiotics can either be orally administered or applied on the skin. They help to destroy a significant number of acne causing bacteria while also helping to relieve inflammation.
  • Low dose oral contraceptive pill: Used in women it may help to regulate the hormones responsible for causing acne.
  • Microdermabrasion , laser or light therapy may help in the treatment of mild acne.

Recovery from Acne

It takes time to recover from acne and any form of treatment will need time to be effective. It is not advisable to switch acne medications too quickly as it can take more than several weeks to see any improvement. You should also know that not all Acne treatment options can be effective for your Acne problem. What may work for other people may not necessarily work for you. However, if your treatment option is effective,  then you will have significant improvements within 6 weeks, but it may take much longer  for a complete clear up. During acne treatment it is important that you do not touch or try to squeeze out spots, as this can cause an infection and even lead to scarring. Also, avoid scrubbing your facial skin, gently wash your face and pat dry with a clean towel after washing. Avoid leaving makeup on when you go to sleep as this can clog the pores of your skin. 

Complications from Acne

Acne in women could be a sign of a more serious medical condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome and breakouts could be a symptom of hormonal disorders as well. Severe acne can cause scarring especially on the face and acne can be the cause of psychological issues, such as; low self-confidence and low self-esteem particularly in young adults.