Condition: Acne and breakouts

Acne is a very common skin problem that occurs when pores, commonly on the face, chest and upper back become clogged with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria.

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What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition where the pores in the skin, commonly on oily areas of the face, chest, upper back and shoulders become clogged and blocked. An acne breakout can be triggered by a range of factors and appear as spots on the skin that can vary from small skin-coloured bumps to large, red, pus-filled and painful lumps.

Acne is a very common skin problem that affects a large proportion of the population at some point in life. It’s most common in younger people, between the ages of 11 and 30, and it often lasts for several years, sometimes until mid-life.

What are the symptoms of acne?

There are several types of acne, and the type you have can often be identified and diagnosed by examining the skin and assessing the type of spots that are present.

The 6 main types of spots, and common symptoms of acne, are:

  • Pimples, also called pustules, are small pus-filled bumps with a white tip at the centre

  • Papules are small bumps that are often red or purple and can feel tender or sore

  • Blackheads are small bumps on the skin where a pore has become blocked causing a black tip, or ‘head’

  • Whiteheads are similar to blackheads but have a white top, or ‘head

  • Nodules are large lumps that build under the surface of the skin and can be painful

  • Cysts are large pus-filled lumps that develop under the skin and are the most severe type of acne spot. They can be very sore and look similar to boils and have the greatest risk of causing acne scarring

What causes acne and breakouts?

Acne occurs when follicles or pores become clogged with sebum (the oily substance that protects the skin), bacteria, or dead skin cells. When clogged, pores can become inflamed, sore and filled with pus.

There are several factors that can cause acne or trigger a breakout, including:

Genetic predisposition - you have a higher risk of developing acne if one of your parents or a close blood relative had severe acne.

Changes in hormone levels - androgen hormones increase during puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum, which can lead to spots. Hormone changes that occur during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy can also cause breakouts.

Certain medications - drugs containing corticosteroids, testosterone or lithium can cause breakouts.

Smoking - nicotine may cause breakouts of blackheads and whiteheads.

Certain foods - diets high in sugar, dairy or processed carbohydrates may make acne worse.

Stress - can increase inflammation in the body, aggravating existing acne.

Certain beauty products - oily makeup or skincare products and certain hair care products may aggravate existing acne and cause breakouts.

It’s important to know that acne is not caused by poor hygiene. In fact, excessive cleansing can irritate the skin and make acne worse.

How is acne diagnosed?

At One Welbeck, we have dermatologists who sub-specialise in acne to offer you the best possible care. During a consultation, your consultant will make a diagnosis of acne based on an examination of your skin. They will also ask you questions about your lifestyle and whether you have been able to identify any breakout triggers. This will help them work out the cause of the condition so that they can offer the most effective treatment possible.

How can acne be treated?

Acne is often a long-term condition, so ongoing treatment may be necessary. Early diagnosis and effective treatment is the key to preventing scarring.

The best acne treatment depends on its cause and severity. Acne-friendly skincare is important in managing the condition, and your consultant can recommend a routine and products to best suit your skin that won’t worsen your acne.

If self-care has not reduced the instances or improved the appearance of your acne, the next step is to try prescribed treatments such as creams and oral medication, such as antibiotics.

In women, hormonal treatment such as spironolactone can be helpful and for severe or persistent acne – a course of oral isotretinoin (commonly known as ‘Roaccutane’) is usually very effective.

If your acne is very severe and medications have not helped, other therapies such as steroid injections, laser therapy and chemical peels may be recommended. These treatments can also be effective in treating any scarring left behind by severe acne.

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Jul 2024


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Acne and breakouts Specialists

By having a complete and integrated team of sub-specialty experts under one roof we ensure that patients are seen by the right consultant at every appointment. Our skin health specialists cover a wide range of dermatological conditions, and our dedicated allergy specialists are recognised leaders in their field.