Acne is a skin condition which can affect most people at some point, but is most common during adolescence. Typically, it causes spots to develop on the skin, mostly on the face, back and chest.

    These 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.

    Why do I have acne?

    It is thought that acne is linked to the changes in hormone levels during puberty.

    Glands in the skin begin to produce excessive amounts of an oily substance known as sebum. This blocks small holes in the skin through which hairs grow (hair follicles), causing blackheads and whiteheads.

    Normally harmless bacteria that live on the skin can then infect a blocked follicle, causing pus-filled papules or cysts.

    Acne is known to run in families. If both your mother and father had acne, it is likely that you will also have acne.

    Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy, can also lead to episodes of acne in women.

    Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults. About 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 will be affected by acne.

    Acne is most common between the ages of 14 and 17 in girls, and between 16 and 19 in boys.

    Most people have acne on and off for several years before their symptoms start to improve as they get older. Acne usually disappears when a person is in their twenties.

    In some cases, acne can continue into adult life. About 5% of women and 1% of men have acne over the age of 25.

    What can I do if I have acne?

    Keeping your skin clean is essential to prevent new spots developing. Washing the affected area twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser is usually effective, but be careful not to scrub the skin too hard as it may lead to skin irritation.

    Although there is no cure for acne, it can be controlled fairly effectively with treatment. A wide range of creams, lotions and gels to treat spots are available at pharmacies. If you develop acne, it’s a good idea to speak to your pharmacist for advice in order to select the most appropriate product.

    Severe acne may need to be treated with antibiotics or stronger creams that are only available on prescription.

    One of the most effective treatments is with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acids containing products, which are available in a range of strengths.

    Alternatively, light treatment which works by killing the skin bacteria which promote acne, is now gaining significant interest.