Acne or spots can affect people of all ages but it tends to be more common in teenagers and young adults. Most people grow out of acne by their mid-twenties, only rarely does it continue into later life. Acne sufferers may experience just a few occasional spots, but sometimes the problem can be more serious and widespread. The high visibility of acne means that it can often affect the self-esteem and confidence of sufferers, particularly during adolescence.


Acne develops when the skin starts to react abnormally to the male hormone testosterone, which everyone, male or female, has in varying amounts. During the teen years the levels of testosterone shoot up, which causes body hair to develop and makes the skin produce more oil (sebum) in the skin. At the same time, the skin pores from where the oil is normally secreted start to narrow and become blocked with a plug of protein called keratin. To add to this, the bacteria that live naturally on the skin break down this oil producing substances that cause irritation, redness and swelling.


The skin has a greasier feel than usual; spots can vary in size and appearance and are sometimes tender and painful. Spots can appear as whiteheads or blackheads (comedones). Acne can also appear as small red lumps called papules, or yellow, pus-filled lumps called pustules. These spots are more painful and generally mean that there is a bacterial infection. If spots are not treated early, they can form scars. In females, symptoms can get worse before a period because of the hormonal changes in the body. Spots can also get worse if you get hot and sweaty.


You do not have to put up with acne. For mild acne, there are several products available over the counter from your local pharmacy. Treatments are generally divided into keratolytics, antibacterials and cleansing agents that are available in a choice of formulations including creams, gels, lotions and washes. The pharmacist will be able to recommend the product that best suits you. You must remember that treatment should be used continuously and that it may take some time to start working. For moderate or severe acne your doctor will have a choice of treatments to prescribe including antibiotics, retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) and hormones.