Most of us have woken up to an unsightly pimple at some point in our lives. Acne vulgaris (or ‘common acne’) affects up to 90% of adolescents aged 16 to 18 years. It can continue to affect us throughout adulthood in differing severity.
The impact of acne
Whilst acne may resolve itself without treatment in many adolescents, for others untreated acne can have a significant impact on physical and psychological health. Early and effective treatment can prevent physical complications such as permanent scarring and reduce the negative social and emotional impact of pimples.
What causes acne?
Acne is caused by an increase in sebum production (the skin’s natural oil) causing acne bacteria to grow, which leads skin inflammation. In girls, acne can be a symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and your GP may test for this prior to commencing treatment.
Treatment starts with simple skin care:
Avoiding excessive cleansing and exfoliating (which can cause further inflammation);
Using oil-free make up and sunscreen;
Refraining from overly touching, picking or squeezing lesions.
Further management will depend on the type and severity of acne you are experiencing, but can include: topical creams and ointments (prescription and over the counter), antibiotics, the contraceptive pill or an oral isotretinoin medication (commonly known as Roaccutane, which can only be prescribed by skin specialists).
First line therapy will often involve a topical retinoid cream (available on prescription) or benzyl peroxide (which can be purchased over the counter) in combination with an oral antibiotic (doxycycline or minocycline). Combination therapies improve the likelihood of skin improvement, and significantly reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
How long will it take to see results?
Improvement in skin can take up to 6 weeks from starting treatment, with a course of treatment lasting from 3 to 6 months. All oral contraceptive pills have some benefit in the long-term control of acne. However, improvement may not be seen for 3 months, with best results seen over 6 months. The contraceptive pill is often used to maintain good skin after a successful course of oral antibiotics.
Knowing when to get help
The emotional and psychological impact of acne is not related to the visible severity of the condition. So, what may appear to be only mild acne, may actually have a significant impact on an adolescent’s mental health.
We encourage any patient who is bothered by their skin to seek help. Your GP can discuss suitable treatment options, along with any assoiated risks or side effects. They can also provide regular reviews and determine when dermatology consultation is likely to be helpful.
For more information contact us, or make an appointment to see one of our skin specialists:
This article was written by Dr Jane Gibson