Acne is one of the most common types of skin conditions. It is most widespread among older children, teenagers and young adults and 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. The spots can range from blackheads and whiteheads which are often mild, to inflamed pus-filled pustules and cysts, which can be severe and long lasting and can lead to scarring. Some people shy away from seeking treatment due to embarrassment or the feeling that they will ‘grow out of it’. However, acne can cause great distress and have an adverse effect on a person’s quality of life and self-esteem. 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, so if concerned you should seek help with the condition. 

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 about it. Acne is not directly caused by poor hygiene. Most of the reactions that trigger acne occur beneath the skin and in fact, excessive washing may make it worse. Squeezing blackheads, whiteheads, and spots could make symptoms worse and may leave permanent scarring. Acne is not infectious, and it cannot be passed from person to person, regardless of contact. Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle, can also lead to episodes of acne in women. There is no evidence that chocolate, sweets, or fatty foods cause acne or make acne worse. There is also no evidence that sunbathing or sunbeds will help to clear acne. 

Treatment will depend on whether acne is mild, moderate or severe. Mild acne can be treated initially with over-the-counter medications. You should discuss individual symptoms and affected areas with your pharmacist for advice on products. Initially products should be tried for a period of six to eight weeks to find out if they are working.

Mild acne is treated using gels or creams. Products that contain benzoyl peroxide can be used either once or twice a day. It should be used sparingly as too much can harm the skin. They work by breaking open blocked follicles and increasing skin turnover. Anti-inflammatories such as nicotinamide in FreedermÔ gel are useful for reducing the redness and inflammation sometimes associated with acne.

Moderate acne is usually treated using a combination of medications and in some cases oral antibiotics will be prescribed by the GP.

Those suffering from severe acne will be referred to a dermatologist. A combination of oral antibiotics and topical treatments are usually the first treatment option. If this proves to be ineffective, a medication called isotretinoin (Roaccutane) may be prescribed by the specialist.

It is important to take acne seriously as it can have a huge impact on quality of life. Some simple steps can also help in combination with medication. These include cleansing the skin twice a day with a cleanser or soap, with warm but not hot water. Avoiding greasy make-up and ensure all make-up is removed daily. Resist the urge to pick or squeeze at spots. Most importantly when treating acne patience is required as treatments can take up to a couple of months to take effect. 

Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists. 

The content of this article is for general information only. The information is not for diagnostic purposes and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in this column as an alternative to medical advice from your GP or other professional healthcare provider.

Gordons Chemists is the largest independently owned retail pharmacy chain in Northern Ireland. Established in 1980, Gordons now has 60 pharmacies on the high street and in shopping centres across Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.


Wendy McCague


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