What Causes Acne and How to Treat it

Acne is the name for an inflammatory skin condition that causes your hair follicles to become blocked with oil and dead skin cells. When this happens, your body rushes to attack the bacteria that is trapped, resulting in spots and inflamed areas that can be hot or painful to touch. 

Most of the time, we think of acne as something that affects teenagers. While breakouts will often disappear on their own later in life, many people do suffer with adult acne; in fact, 3% of people still experience the condition after the age of 35.

Whatever your age, you’ll likely want to know how to get rid of acne, as it can be uncomfortable and severely affect your self-confidence. Let’s delve deeper into what leads to acne, how to identify it, and the various treatments that are available.

Understanding what causes acne in the first place

There’s a common misconception that acne is purely down to poor hygiene, but this is not the case at all. In fact, most of the biological reactions that cause the condition actually take place under the skin. Androgen hormones – ie testosterone – are the main driving force behind acne. 

Hormonal changes (particularly during puberty or pregnancy), excess oil (sebum) production, the natural shedding of skin cells, and the build-up of bacteria all have their part to play in acne breakouts.

Stress, medication, particularly oily self-care products, and air pollution are all exacerbating factors that should be avoided to keep acne at bay. A poor diet can also make acne worse by altering the natural balance of hormones and producing extra inflammation in the body.

Types and symptoms of acne

The biggest indicators of acne are spots or sore nodules on your face, back and/or chest. There are several different types of spots that can occur:

  • Papules are small red bumps under the skin that feel tender to the touch. They are usually darker than your usual skin tone.
  • Pustules are a development of papules and will usually contain a white, pus-like tip in the centre.
  • Whiteheads are closed plugged pores that can create small, firm black or yellow bumps.
  • Blackheads are similar to whiteheads. Their black tip isn’t caused by dirt – the blackness is the colour of the inner lining of the hair follicle.
  • Nodules are hard, often large lumps underneath the skin’s surface.
  • Cysts are big, pus-filled lumps that look very similar to boils. Cysts are most likely to cause permanent scarring.

Preventative measures to treat acne

If you’re wondering how to stop acne, there are several steps you can take to prevent breakouts.

  • Wash your face with a mild cleanser twice a day, and/or after exercise.
    Our range of face cleansers for acne prone skin is a fantastic starting point. Excess washing will not have any effect on your acne and could even degrade your skin’s natural protective layer over time.
  • Don’t touch, rub, or squeeze your spots. While you will want to find a way to get rid of any unsightly bumps and marks, doing so could lead to infection and permanent scarring. If you absolutely must burst a pimple with a whitehead or blackhead, only release the pus once.
  • Avoid irritating the skin. Exposing your skin to tight-fitting clothing and accessories, such as scarves and helmets, will only make the problem worse.
  • Improve your diet. Make sure you’re eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and choose foods that are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene to help reduce inflammation.
  • Reduce your sugar intake. Some studies have shown that high-sugar foods can have a bearing on acne development. You could also try cutting out cow’s milk and whey protein products for a period of time to see if doing so reduces your symptoms.
  • Reduce your exposure to grease – both in your environment, and in the products you use. Greasy cosmetics can alter the cells of your hair follicles and block your pores. Try oil-free alternatives instead, and opt for skincare that is labelled noncomedogenic, as these products will not encourage closed pores.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic stress increases the volume of cortisol in your body, which makes the skin more sensitive and causes your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum.
  • Ask your GP if any of the medications you could be taking are likely to contribute to acne. If they are, if you can safely transition to a different kind (under medical supervision, of course).

As well as following the advice here, it’s important to find an effective acne treatment to get rid of acne-causing bacteria and speed up the healing process. Many of these treatments are available over the counter, but in more severe cases you may benefit from getting specialist recommendations from a trained dermatologist.

Effective treatments to stop acne in its tracks

There’s often no need to go to a specialist, as plenty of over-the-counter anti-acne formulas are available without a prescription.

When purchasing acne treatments, look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Both these ingredients will remove dead skin cells and reduce the bacteria found on the skin (and they are safe to use during pregnancy, too).

Generally speaking, salicylic acid is the preferred remedy for blackheads and whiteheads, while benzoyl peroxide is best for red, pus-filled spots.

You can start with the Bioderma Sebium Anti-Blemish Duo for acne-prone skin, which can be purchased directly from our website.

Advanced acne care: When to see a professional

If you’ve explored all the above and you are still experiencing regular or severe breakouts, we would recommend seeking the advice of a dermatologist.

They will often suggest topical retinoids such as tretinoin and adapalene. These act as exfoliants and should be applied once a day to remove dead skin cells and prevent them from blocking your hair follicles. Isotretinoin capsules – otherwise known as Roaccutane – can be taken orally for between 16 and 24 months to shrink your oil glands and normalise skin growth. Isotretinoin can cause side effects, so your usage and dosage should always be monitored by a qualified health professional.

Find your acne care product

If you’ve ever wondered how to clear acne, we you’ve found some answers here. More than anything, we hope we’ve proven to you that with a little care and patience, it really is possible to get your acne under control.

Explore NVS Pharmacy for more effective acne solutions. We offer a range of cleansing products suitable for all acne types, so whether you are looking to treat a mild issue or need to address deeper acne, you’re sure to find a treatment that will improve your symptoms and get your skin back to its best.