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Acne is a skin condition that usually starts for the first time in adolescence and can be found on the face, chest and back. The skin develops what are known as comedones (spots) which can include a combination of blackheads, whiteheads and more inflamed-looking spots or pustules. The condition mostly disappears when teenage years have passed but for some sufferers, the spots carry on into adulthood.
Our skin is covered in follicles, more commonly known as pores, and these get blocked with skin’s natural oils (sebum) instead of draining away. The blocked follicles then attract a build-up of bacteria which helps to form a spot. If the blocked sebum stays below the surface of the skin then you will notice a white head. If the pore opens, the sebum will oxidize and turn black. Some people think this is dirt, but it isn’t, and can’t be cleansed away. It is simply the melanin (skin pigment) that is present in the sebum that creates the black appearance.
There are two types of acne, inflammatory and non-inflammatory. The first is created when the inner wall of the follicle, or pore, collapses and white blood cells leak through and cause swelling. The surface of the skin will look red and inflamed and a few days later will appear to have a white head. Non-inflammatory acne will have no red swellings around the spots, they simply remain as small black or white heads which are sometimes not easily seen by the naked eye.
Occasionally large pus-filled spots can turn into cysts that either burst and then heal by themselves or heal without popping. Severe acne can leave the skin scarred, but these can fade over time with the right care or with the help of medical treatment.
Skin that has acne is usually oily and often sufferers believe that constant cleansing or washing will help. This is generally not helpful as over-cleansing can encourage the skin to produce even more oil. Getting the balance right will help to keep acne under control. Gentle washing using clean hands no more than twice a day is usually enough. Remember acne does not appear because skin is ‘dirty’. Everyone’s skin is different though and one person’s acne will be different to another’s so it is best to seek advice from a registered dermatologist or your GP who can diagnose your acne type and explain what will help.