Welcome back to The Art of Patients, I’m Dr Golly and today we’re going to discuss acne vulgaris – a common skin condition that affects many teenagers and can last well into adulthood.
There are lots of different words used to describe this skin problem, including blackheads, whiteheads, zits, pimples, cysts and nodules. Let’s have a look at why this happens to our skin.
Now vulgaris just means common, because it affects almost everyone at some stage – and acne comes from the ancient Greek word aknas – meaning point or peak, and it can certainly sometimes feel like a mountain peak has indeed erupted on your forehead when one of these decide to appear.
Our skin is porous, meaning it’s made up thousands of tiny pores or holes, where hairs can pop out. Oily or sebaceous glands connect to these holes and are located everywhere on the body, except the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. These glands produce an oily substance called sebum, which is Latin for grease. Sebum protects and lubricates the skin.
When we go through puberty, we get more sebum production and this blocks the holes. Now – we shed over 30,000 dead skin cells every hour and bacteria love to feed on these cells and it ultimately leads to an infection. The blocked pore turns red as the body starts to fight the growing infection and when the troops arrive (white blood cells), the collection of waste from dead cells and bacteria creates pus.”
So the pore fills with white-looking pus, the infection causes redness around this – and that’s what we call a pimple. There are ways to prevent and minimise acne which are very important, because if left untreated, acne can cause scars that can affect a person’s self-image and confidence. So how do we treat?
Well… start by washing your face with soap and warm water twice a day, but no more because excessive washing can dry your skin and irritate it more. You can also use non-soap alternatives, like antiseptic washes. Don’t forget to shampoo your hair too, because the oil in your hair can rest on your forehead. Always choose water-based, oil-free make-ups and remove thoroughly before going to bed.
It’s very important not to pick and squeeze pimples because this can aggravate them and lead to permanent scarring. Acne can improve slightly in the sunlight, but be careful not to overdo it, because too much sun causes early aging signs and skin cancer. For the guys who shave, soften your beard with warm, soapy water first – and shave lightly with a sharp blade, to avoid cutting pimples and making them bleed and scar.
And finally, medication may be prescribed for moderate and severe acne. Early treatment is best, so talk to your local doctor, specialist or pharmacist about different cleansers or medication options.
And if acne is becoming a problem for you, remember these key points:
- Ask your pharmacist or GP which treatment is best for you.
- Clean your face with soap and water twice a day.
- Never pick, pop or squeeze pimples yourself.
- Everyone gets pimples, it’s a normal part of growing up!