Acne can affect anybody at any stage in their life but is most commonly found in teenagers. The skin condition ranges from mild to severe and bouts can last for months and recur throughout a patient’s teenage years. The condition can persist into adulthood and is also common during pregnancy. The basic causes of acne are the same, regardless of the severity of the condition.
The factors that combine to cause acne are overactive glands which produce natural oils in the skin, a build-up of dead skin cells in the pores and excess numbers of bacteria. These bacteria, found naturally on everyone’s skin, feed on the oils causing the lumps, cysts and nodules that are typical of acne. The walls of the pore around the hair follicle can also rupture causing blemishes and inflammation. The deeper this occurs in the skin the worse the appearance of the scarring and blemishing.
Apart from the physical symptoms caused by acne, depression and psychological impacts are common; the condition can be exacerbated by stress which in turn can be made worse by acne. It is important to consider lifestyle factors and the impact of acne when treating the illness.
Mild acne is, as the name suggests, the least virulent form of the illness. It’s characterised by minor lumps and bumps on the skin or by the occasional blackhead. In fact many of those who have mild acne may not even realise that this is the case as in its least aggressive form it can simply be characterised by minor lumps that are not inflamed; cysts and reddened blackheads rarely form in the mildest cases.
The condition attacks the face and neck and can also appear on the back and shoulders. Mild acne can occur at any age and affects people from every social group. However, mild acne can precursor the onset of more severe cases and, for early teens, it may well indicate that acne will worsen in the coming years. Ideally seeking treatment for mild acne as early as possible makes sense. It’s unlikely that a doctor will prescribe drugs for mild acne, but over the counter medications and topical washes, along with blue light treatment devices are available at a reasonable cost.
Light treatment devices attack the bacteria that contribute to acne and have been shown to reduce the virulence and appearance of acne outbreaks very effectively and these offer an alternative for those who find medications cause side effects, or for those who prefer to avoid longer term uses of drugs.
Moderate acne is probably the most common form of the illness and can result in far more visible redness, blemishing of the skin and the lumps and bumps most associated with acne. It’s likely with this more virulent form of the illness that the visible effects of the condition will be more noticeable and blemishes will be more persistent. Moderate acne again affects people from all walks of life and at any age but is most common in teenagers.
Along with over the counter treatments and medical advice, moderate acne is probably the most suitable for blue light treatment – either clinical or using a home device – and is known to respond best to this type of treatment over a period of time. With all treatments for moderate acne it’s important to be patient as they will take a few weeks in most cases to begin to show visible results. However, moderate acne is often successfully treated and should, in most cases, become less problematic in time.
Often a severe outbreak of acne will be classified as cystic however genuine cases of cystic acne arise when cysts develop on, or within, the skin. Cystic acne is the condition at its most serious and the cysts that develop can (in addition to being emotionally distressing) be painful. Soft lumps, filled with fluid, develop under the skin and form cysts; normally this type of acne is the hardest to treat and the reddening and scarring is more widespread than in other cases. The skin oils that are partly responsible for acne usually go into overdrive as a result of hormonal changes and cystic acne is most common in teenage boys and young men, although anybody who is prone to acne can fall victim to this most severe type of acne.
There seem to be genetic factors at play in an individual’s propensity for acne and for those with a family history of acne, particularly severe cases; it is likely to develop during teenage years. Acne sufferers who find that soft lumps filled with fluid are developing under the skin should seek treatment supervised by a doctor. Normally a course of drugs will be required and for many patients this can be a case of trial and error.
Not every individual case responds to the same drugs and it is important to be patient and work with your doctor until a therapy that works for you can be found. Blue light treatment has been shown to make a huge difference in many cases of acne and it is worth considering this as a method of treatment alongside any prescription medications. Modern medications and blue light treatment have been found to improve and eliminate acne in many people and however severe the condition is; given time a treatment is usually available that will help to reduce the impact of this particularly distressing condition.
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Charlotte Ford is a former dermatologist and freelance health and beauty writer.