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Acne: causes & treatments

Acne is a visible, distressing condition which can cause other health issues such as scarring and depression if left untreated. If someone is suffering from acne then it’s important to seek treatment, as a medical professional can help get the condition under control.

Teenage boy in puberty with acne

The surge of testosterone can trigger acne

Causes of acne

When hair follicles of the skin become blocked, acne can develop. The sebaceous glands, which oil the hair and skin, produce too much sebum which in turn leads to blackheads and whiteheads. Normally present bacteria on the skin can then infect the hair follicles, leaving pustules or cysts on the surface. In teenagers, the surge of testosterone can trigger acne; it can also run in families or be triggered by stress, pregnancy and medication. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women has also been known to cause acne.

How acne is diagnosed

Diagnosis is made by a doctor who will examine the skin. Acne is not always limited to the face so a doctor may check all affected areas including the face, chest and back of the patient. Once the presence of blackheads, whiteheads and inflamed nodules are confirmed a diagnosis will be made. A diagnosis is measured on a sliding scale of 1 – 4 depending on the severity of the symptoms.


It’s worth consulting a pharmacist as over the counter medication can help. Self help treatments involve limiting the washing of affected areas to twice a day with tepid water, refraining from squeezing spots however tempting or painful they are, and avoiding make-up. If these methods don’t help then a doctor can prescribe antibiotic creams or tablets. If acne is severe, then a doctor may send the patient to a skin specialist called a dermatologist. If prescription medication hasn’t previously worked then stronger, specific medication may be prescribed by the dermatologist. Some women whose acne is caused by hormones can be given hormonal therapy to redress the imbalance.

All treatments take some time to prove effective. It can be up to three months before any improvement is seen. The key is to persevere with the techniques and medicines.

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