Acne, what really causes it and how to treat it

We’ve all been told horror stories of the dreaded teenage disease called acne. It affects many people worldwide and can be quite embarrassing. But what causes acne? Is there any way to stop it? Can it be cured? The answers to these questions are quite complex, but the bottom line is that acne is not really a serious condition and there are some very effective ways to treat it.

Photo: BURST

So what actually causes acne?

There are several factors which play into the development of acne including skin bacteria, hormones, and the immune system. Increased levels of testosterone and other androgens (“male-like” hormones) lay the foundation for acne to arrive. It’s true that not only males get acne because, as many people don’t realize, females make these androgens too. This is also why acne is more common around puberty, when the body is producing a whole new host of hormones. These androgens cause the cells in the oil glands of the skin to become more active. No-one really knows why our bodies do this, but one of the theories is that it supports body hair growth.

With an increase in oil in the glands, it becomes much easier for some skin bacteria like P. acnes to get stuck in the gland and multiply. This causes an immune reaction that causes the nearby skin cells to harden and grow over the gland, eventually resulting in pimples.

The difference between having acne and just having a few pimples is that acne is chronic, meaning that multiple pimples must be present for at least a month. Acne is also diagnosed by seeing pimples at multiple stages of healing, suggesting that as one pimple stops, another starts.

Is there any way to stop this?

The formation of pimples can never be completely stopped unless you are very lucky, but it can certainly be limited. If you wash your face with a moisturizing cleanser, it clears out the excess oil and bacteria. Stick to washing your face twice a day only as more will dry out your skin which might actually increase the chance of pimple development.

It’s also important to stay well hydrated, otherwise the oil glands will produce more oil to limit the body’s water loss. The same is true of keeping out of the sun.

There has also been research into how certain foods like junk foods and pastries as well as stress may contribute to acne, but the conclusions of this research are conflicting.

Above all, it has been shown that popping a pimple actually increases the chance of pimples developing nearby as some of the pus gets into nearby follicles and there is increased local inflammation. Besides, popped pimples can scar, which is a much more permanent mark than a simple pimple.

Photo: BURST

How to treat acne

So there are various medical ways to treat acne, but these require a medical diagnosis and come with a fair amount of side effects. Medical treatment should be reserved for severe cases. There are also several home remedies which include:

Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which sorts out two of the three main contributors. It also gives a soothing feeling when applied to inflamed skin.

Aloe vera: aloe vera works similarly to tea tree oil with its own antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Omega-3 acids: Taking omega-3 fatty acids reduces total body inflammation, which is helpful for several diseases.