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Acne

Acne is a chronic skin condition that affects most people at some point during their life. It causes spots to develop on the skin, usually on the face, back and chest. The symptoms of acne can be mild, moderate or severe.

Acne is thought to be caused by changes in hormones that are triggered during puberty.

Acne can cause great distress and have an adverse effect on a person’s quality of life and self-esteem.

Therefore, healthcare professionals recognise that the condition requires effective and sometimes aggressive treatment.

How common is it?

Acne is the most common type of skin condition. It is most widespread among older children, teenagers and young adults.

Around 80% of 11 to 30-year-olds are affected by acne. Most acne cases in girls occur between the ages of 14 to 17, and in boys the condition is most common in 16 to 19- year-olds.

Most people will experience repeated episodes, or flare-ups, of acne for several years before finding that their symptoms gradually start to improve as they get older. The symptoms of acne usually disappear when a person is in their twenties.

However, in some cases, acne can continue into adult life, with approximately 5% of women and 1% of men over 25 continuing to experience symptoms.

Outlook

With treatment, the outlook for acne is generally good. Treatments can take between two to three months to work but, once they do, the results are usually effective.

Approximately 90% of people who seek treatment for acne will show at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms after three months. Once the symptoms are under control, additional treatments can be used to prevent the acne from recurring. This is known as maintenance therapy.

In cases of severe acne, scarring can occur. However, this can usually be prevented by seeking prompt treatment.

Glossary

Nodules
A nodule is a small growth or lump of tissue.
Onset
The onset is the beginning or early stages of a condition or disease.

Acne myths

Despite being one of the most widespread skin conditions, acne is also one of the most poorly understood and there are a wide range of myths and misconceptions about it. These are explained below.

  • ‘Acne is caused by a poor diet.’ There is no evidence that diet plays a role in acne. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is recommended because it is good for your heart and your health in general. However, it will not help your acne.
  • ‘Acne is caused by having dirty skin and poor hygiene.’ Most of the biological reactions that trigger acne occur beneath the skin, not on the surface of the skin. Therefore, how clean your skin is will have little to no effect on your acne. You should wash on a daily basis (and your face twice a day). More frequent washing will make no difference to your acne and could actually make your symptoms worse by aggravating your skin.
  • ‘Squeezing blackheads, whiteheads, and spots is the best way to get rid of acne.’ Squeezing or picking your acne could make your symptoms worse and may leave you with permanent scarring.
  • ‘Sunbathing, sunbeds and sunlamps help improve the symptoms of acne.’ There is no conclusive evidence that prolonged exposure to sunlight, or using sunbeds or sunlamps can improve acne. However, there is evidence to show that prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase your risk of getting skin cancer. Also, many of the medications that are used to treat acne can make your skin more sensitive to light, so prolonged exposure could cause painful damage to your skin.
  • ‘Acne is infectious.’ You cannot pass acne on to other people and the condition is not infectious.
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