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What is acne?

Skin Problems - Acne

Nick Lowe (Professor of Dermatology) gives expert video advice on: How can I get rid of acne?; How can I get rid of acne scars?; Are spots on different parts of the body caused by different problems? and more...

What is acne?

Most spots are acne, but not all spots are acne. There's a variety of causes, so it's important that you have the right diagnosis.

What are the causes of acne?

Acne spots are usually caused by hormone changes. They most commonly start in the teenage years. What happens is that the hormones that are normal at this stage in life, produce a change to the oil glands deeper in the skin around the hair follicles. This changes the oil gland, produces more oil and this can allow the growth of certain bacteria called kerino bacterium acnes or "the acne bacteria" that then in turn can produce the redness that we know is the acne spot. The blackhead, or the whitehead is actually the very first sign of acne and that's caused, again, by the hormones acting to block the opening of the sebaceous glands, so acne is a result of that. There are a variety of things that can make acne worse, including stress, including excess hormones from underlying problems in the body, including certain medicines that are taken, like some of the oral contraceptive pills. Some medicines that are used for epilepsy, for example. There is a wide range of medicines that can give acne as a result. Stress can make acne worse. There were some very interesting studies done tracking women students in the United States during the course of their years. Times of high stress, such as exams, correlated well with the acne being more severe. Some cosmetics and heavy makeups can make acne worse. So there are a variety of things that can make acne worse. One of the reasons that we're seeing much more acne in post-teenage women, and I will see acne in women in their thirties, forties, fifties, is probably because some of those women have a high stress lifestyle. That's almost certainly what's triggering their acne.

Should I squeeze my spots?

It's not a good idea to squeeze spots, because that tends to force the inflammation and the bacteria deeper in the skin, which makes the spot worse. That's a common experience, but it's something that people keep forgetting. If you've got a really bad spot, then I will see patients and I will inject a special substance into the spot to remove it very quickly. But don't squeeze spots. If you've got an anti-acne gel that you've been prescribed, or a non-prescription gel, dab that on the spot more frequently, several times a day, but don't squeeze it.

Are spots on different parts of the body caused by different problems?

The most common other places to get spots is if you've got hair on the legs, on the arms, or on the back for example. This is more common in men, but it does occur in women. You can get infections in spots around those hair follicles and these are treated in a different way. Sometimes hair that grows back into the skin can also produce spots. They can be treated by, for example, hair removal laser, they can be treated by special body lotions, or by some antibiotics. In addition, there are a rarer cause of spots that you really need to consult with a dermatoligst about. If you've got unusual spots, large spots, spots that bleed, that may not be acne and they need to be looked at by a specialist dermatolgist.

Does toothpaste or banana get rid of spots?

Toothpaste and things like bananas, and papayas, things which contain very high concentrations of ingredients, can draw out the inflammation from a spot. In fact, it can be used. It is not the most effective of treatments, but if you've got nothing else it is certainly not going to give you any harm, and it is certainly safer than squeezing.