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Acne

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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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.

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 – 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.

Doctor’s advice

Is acne contagious?

Acne is not contagious, and while you may hear about an associated bacteria called P. acnes, this cannot be caught from others and cannot be passed on. It can be tempting to use harsh products on your skin to try to eradicate bacteria, but acne does not equate 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 can help unclog pores, help minimize 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 reduce inflammation and reduce spots.

For more persistent spots or outbreaks of acne, antibacterial treatments can help to control symptoms. Topical products that contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or resorcinol have been shown to be effective. These products need to be applied regularly for between 6 to 8 weeks on average to achieve optimum control of acne spots. They work by killing bacteria and absorbing excess oil.

Adapalene is another type of topical product that modulates the inflammation process. Acne may worsen during the first few weeks of treatment, but the full therapeutic effect will be seen after 8-12 weeks of treatment.

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 or antibiotics, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on your acne. It can take up to 3 months to see any effect.

Women also have the option of being offered a hormonal medication, 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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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