June is the month when Skincare professionals and many Dermatologists, shine a light on Acne, and its causes, and it has come to be known as Acne awareness month. It was introduced to reduce the stigma attached to this skin condition and raise awareness of how it arises and how it can be treated.
Acne is an extremely common condition which affects teenagers, men and women the world over, although it is seen more often in teenagers. It is not caused by poor hygiene, but by a combination of factors including one or more of the following: hormones, bacteria, hereditary predisposition, lifestyle and high stress levels.
There are 4 types of acne, namely Papular acne, Pustular acne, Nodular acne and Cystic acne. The first 2 are usually unsightly rather than painful, and are non inflammatory and may be treated relatively easily, with advice from your GP, Pharmacist, a skin therapist or by yourself at home, using over the counter remedies, as these types of acne are not usually inflamed or painful. Nodular or Cystic acne however, are inflammatory acne conditions, producing hard, swollen, painful lumps under the skin, and these should always be treated by a medical professional, as they are more likely to result in scarring.
Telling a teenager with acne that they will “grow out of it” is never any consolation, especially as they are often the target of unhelpful and unnecessary comments by their peers. For women who develop acne after pregnancy or during the menopause, acne can cause equal distress, and being told that it “its just your hormones dear” is equally upsetting, even if true!
Acne usually has a trigger. Environmental factors such as UV and pollution, the use of cosmetics containing talc and grease, which provide a perfect breeding ground for bacteria; high heat and humidity which increase the production of sebum, can all lead to worsening of the condition, as can working in areas with high humidity such as kitchens and bars. Many people claim that their skin gets better in the sun, only for it to worsen afterwards- that is because the UV temporarily sterilises the skins surface at the time, but sadly simultaneously you also produce more sebum as a result of the UV exposure, … and a couple of weeks later, the acne worsens.
Diet by itself does not cause acne (unless there is an underlying intolerance – dairy for example has been shown to have an unhelpful effect on the skin of some sufferers), and a high intake of refined sugar may also have a detrimental effect on the skin. Try aiming for a well balance diet, increasing the range of fruit and vegetables that you eat, and add fermented foods such as miso, kimchi, probiotic yogurt and sauerkraut, as all of these foods help with the maintenance of a good gut biome, which is increasingly being shown to help to improve overall skin health.
Stress may also be a trigger for acne. Increased production of adrenalin happens when we are under stress, this produces more testosterone, which results in the production of an increasingly sticky type of sebum, which then blocks the pores, providing a feast for p-acnes, the specific bacteria which is responsible for the formation of acne breakouts. Ironically, p-acnes is a normal, indeed essential bacteria, when found on the surface of everybody’s skin, where it is needed for maintaining overall skin health, but if it migrates down into the sebaceous gland, below the skin surface, where it is not designed to be, it can create inflammation, and it is that which may then result in the formation of acne.
Acne sufferers often try to cleanse their skin of the sebum they believe to be responsible for their skin condition. Stripping the skin of oil by the use of harsh cleansers however will merely increase the production of sebum, making the acne prone skin even more oily. Look for cleansers containing salicylic acid (unless you are allergic to aspirin!), as these will help to unblock the pores, allowing the free flow of sebum, so that they do not get blocked, trapping p-acnes below the surface of the skin, and then inflaming the sebaceous gland and starting a chain reaction below the skins surface, thus spreading the condition.
However strong the temptation, NEVER try and ‘squeeze out’ an acne “spot”. Releasing white pus onto the surface of your skin, however satisfying it may appear at the time, will not only spread bacteria on the surface – and it will also spread the trapped p-acnes below the skins surface. Double trouble! Furthermore it is squeezing which is the main cause of scarring
If your – or your child’s – acne is painful, or with hard lumps under the skins surface, causing distress, always go and see your GP, who has a number of treatments at their disposal which are not available unless medically prescribed. A skin therapist or pharmacist should be able to provide you with free advice if your acne is of the pustular or papular (comedones, blackheads and whiteheads) variety. There is help to be had, don’t suffer in silence, and the sooner you start dealing with it, the better.
As ever, any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Tel 07494 850582