Acne (Teen and Adult Pimples)
Acne is a common skin condition seen that in most cases starts in the teen years but may continue into adulthood. The proper medical term is acne vulgaris but it is often referred to by its primary symptom – pimples. It affects about 80% of all people at some point in their life – sometimes starting as late as the mid 30s to 40s. The main problem in acne vulgaris is that the tiny pores (follicles) of the skin become blocked with plugs made up of oil and dead skin cells. Certain types of bacteria may then infect the skin and further exacerbate the inflammation. Acne can be treated but there is no once off cure. Management is usually over the long term.
Acne is a skin condition although it may be due to a combination of causes such as hormonal alterations. There are several different types of skin lesions that may be seen at different times in the condition. Blockage of the pores without inflammation is known as comedones – either whiteheads (closed comedone) or blackheads (open comedone). Once inflammation sets in, other skin lesions may also be seen such as papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
- Papules are brown to red bumps on the skin that are small and appear to be devoid of any pus. It is sometimes commonly referred to as ‘blank pimples’.
- Pustules are the actual pimples that most people refer to when they think about acne. It is larger than a papule and often filled with white pus. It is also commonly referred to as zits or pus pimples.
- Nodules are not seen in every acne case. These are much large solid lumps that are located deeper in the skin. It seems to be under the surface of the skin.
- Cysts are more like boils in that it is much larger and filled with pus. Like nodules. cysts are also located under the skin surface and tend to be painful.
Oily skin is also a common symptom of acne and some people may complain of itching or burning of the skin. Acne is not only a problem with the skin on the face. It also commonly affects the skin on the chest, shoulders and back. Sometimes the upper arms may also be affected.
Simply, acne is a result of blocked pores which then becomes infected an inflamed. These ‘pores’ are the opening on the skin surface through which oil is released. It is also the opening through which the hair follicles pass. The oil is called sebum and is made a by a special type of gland in the skin known as the sebaceous gland. Sebum productions is normal – it keeps our skin lubricated and healthy. But when excessive, this sebum can be a problem.
During the hormonal changes often associated with puberty, the activity of the sebaceous (oil) glands increase. The excess sebum coupled with dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and dust from the environment can form a plug. It is this plug that can then block the pores. When the plug lies on the surface it is visible as a whitehead or blackhead. Inflammation eventually sets in and the site can become infected with bacteria. At this point it is visible as a papule or pustule. But when a plug is lodged deeper in the pore then a cyst may form.
There are certain risk factors that may increase the chance of developing acne. It does not mean that every person with one or more risk factors will definitely suffer with acne. Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by eating too many chocolates or oily foods. While there has been mention about the role of blood glucose levels and dairy in acne development, there is still some uncertainty about the role of these factors. The actual disease mechanism behind acne is quite complicated and there is an interplay of factors, from hormones to the use of cosmetics and stress.
Using oily substances on your face, make up and various cosmetics can worsen acne. If your siblings or parents have acne, then your chances of developing the problem is higher. Sharing personal items may not cause acne to spread from one person to another – it is not contagious. However, make up and oil can be transferred from one person’s skin to another which can lead to blockage of the pores in a person who otherwise did not have acne. Rubbing your face often, feeling you skin or squeezing pimples can make acne worse. There may also be periods of aggravation after prolonged exposure to intense sunlight.
There are a number of different over-the-counter applications, prescription drugs and dermatological treatments for managing acne vulgaris. You should speak to your general practitioner and a dermatologist about the best course of allopathic treatment. In terms of complementary health care, acne vulgaris can be treated by a homeopath with a combination of homeopathic and herbal medicines as well a range of topical applications (cream, face wash, gel, ointment, soaps). Always ensure that you are consulting with a registered homeopath.
Some commonly used alternative remedies for treating acne includes:
- Silica tissue salts
- Tea tree oil (gel or ointment containing 5% to 10% tea tree oil)
- Zinc supplements
It is advisable that you consult with a homeopath rather than treating yourself based on information on the internet or the recommendations of sales staff. While many of the above mentioned remedies may be effective, it needs to be used in the correct dose and should be of medicinal quality. Specific homeopathic treatment requires an in-depth consultation with a homeopath and a thorough clinical examination. Your homeopath will also advise you on the appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes to be implemented.