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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Acne vulgaris, also known as pimples, acne, spots or zits, is very common, usually starting in the teenage years and continuing up to the age of 30. About 80% of teenagers suffer some degree of acne. Mild untreated acne typically takes several years to settle but severe acne can scar the skin for life if untreated.

It coincides with the hormonal changes of puberty, and women may suffer into adulthood with hormonal changes in their menstrual cycle. Hormones affect the amount of oil (sebum) produced by glands next to hair follicles so the skin becomes very greasy, and these follicles then become blocked and inflamed.

Acne can cause blackheads, whiteheads or pustules, or more inflamed lesions including red and sore cysts and larger nodules, which are more likely to cause long-term scarring. Acne usually affects the face - the T-zone is typical in teenagers (forehead, nose and chin), or the muzzle distribution in early adulthood, which includes the upper lip, chin, jawline and neck. However it can also affect the back and chest.

Doctor’s advice

Is acne contagious?

Acne is definitely not contagious – you can’t catch it - and while you may hear about an associated bacteria called P. acnes, this has not been caught from others and can’t be passed on. It can be tempting to use harsh products on your skin to try to eradicate this bacteria, but acne does not relate to skin being unclean. Astringents or exfoliants can cause irritation, further sebum production and the risk of additional bacterial infection.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

There are a variety of products that can help to build a daily regimen to control acne, here are some options we would recommend.

Daily skin cleansers that can help to unclog pores, helping to minimise sweat build-up and reduce outbreaks.

There are products that contain medicated cleaning pads that can reduce the appearance of spots or help clear the spots more quickly. Clearasil pads are a good example of this type of product. It contains salicylic acid amongst other ingredients to bring down inflammation and reduce spots.

For more persistent spots or outbreaks of acne, antibacterial treatments can help to control symptoms. A topical product such as Acnecide Gel 5% which contains benzoyl peroxide is shown to be effective. The gel needs to be applied regularly for between 6 to 8 weeks on average to achieve optimum control of acne spots. This product works by killing bacteria, absorbing excess oil whilst also releasing glycerine to hydrate the skin.

What will my doctor do?

Products are available to buy over-the-counter, but if your acne is causing large inflamed cysts, leaving behind red scars or pocks and pits once healed, or is causing you psychological distress or low self-esteem, book a routine appointment with your doctor.

They will ask about your symptoms and any previous treatments, they will examine you, and they may prescribe a cream or gel and antibiotics, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on your acne. It can take up to 3 months to see any effect. If your acne is severe they may refer you to a skin specialist.

Women also have the option of being offered a hormonal option, as contraceptive pills can sometimes be used as an addition to treatment.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work if you have acne.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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