What is Acne?

Dr. Richard Law (Consultant in Acute Medicine)

Acne, also known as acne vulgaris is a long-term skin condition that primarily affects hair follicles within the skin.

Acne affects areas of the skin with a high number of oil glands – typically facial, upper part of the chest, and back areas. Acne occurs as a result of inflammation resulting from the blockage of individual hair follicles with dead skin cells and oil (sebum) naturally produced by the skin.  Consequently, the appearance of acne on the skin is characterised by blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and in severe cases permanent scarring.


The severity of acne (vulgaris) can be categorised as mild, moderate, or severe which allows clinicians to determine appropriate treatments. Patients with mild forms of acne typically have clogged skin follicles (comedones) limited to the facial area with occasional inflamed skin lesion. In moderate acne, the clogged follicles are more inflamed and generally widespread across the trunk of the body. In severe cases, follicles become grossly inflamed and may form extensive painful lumps (nodules with evidence of scarring and abnormal pigmentation of the skin.


The primary cause of acne is largely genetically determined, though the influence of hormones, diet, infections, and stress is contributory. Sunlight exposure and cleanliness are not implicated in the development of acne.


How Acne Affects You?


Acne usually occur during the teenage and adolescent years and usually improves around the age of 21. However, acne may persist into adulthood. Whilst acne developing in adults is particularly uncommon, in most cases acne represents persistence of the condition from adolescence to adulthood. About 20% of all cases are affected with moderate or severe acne.


As acne can be perceived as an adverse cosmetic problem, there is substantial evidence that the condition can negatively affect a person’s psychological state. Acne related scarring of the skin can be permanent and may exacerbate low mood, poor self-esteem, and is associated with heightened anxiety and depression.


The social impact of acne is substantial. Acne (vulgaris) accounts for up to 3.5 million doctor visits annually in the UK. Misconceptions on the causative factors of acne are common and those affected by this condition are often ‘blamed’ for its development. This blame may worsen an individual’s sense of self esteem and confidence. Facial acne and its related scarring have been associated with significant academic and work-related difficulties, including the ability to hold down long-term employment. Sufferers of moderate or severe acne due to cosmetic reasons may encounter specific work-related difficulties. These may include lack of personal confidence with speaking to an audience; interacting with customers and meeting people; and heightened anxiety over one’s cosmetic appearance and how others may perceive this (spotlight effect).


How We Can Help?


Many different treatments are available for the management of acne (vulgaris). This may range from clinical advice to cream-based (topical) and oral medications. At HealthSteer, we can provide various topical cream treatments for cases of mild to moderate acne. Sometimes, oral or topical antibiotic medications may be necessary if the skin becomes infected. In addition, at HealthSteer we may advise referral to a skin specialist for cases of severe acne and this is can be arranged through us. Therefore, if you feel that your skin condition is affecting you physically and your ability to perform at your full potential at work, then HealthSteer can help.

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