Acne (pimples) is a very common skin condition which mostly affects teenagers (8 out of 10 teenagers are affected to a degree), but can also persist for much longer in some adults. More common in boys, it usually affects the face but it may also affect chest, back and neck.

Acne can cause a combination of symptoms, including oily skin, blackheads, whiteheads papules, nodules and cysts. It mostly affects the face, back and chest. It tends to develop during puberty, when a surge in hormones causes an increase in oil production in certain areas. The pores and hair follicles on the skin become blocked, causing spots and pimples to appear.

In addition to the physical symptoms of acne, it can cause low self-esteem, discomfort or scarring in some people who suffer from it. Fortunately, treatments are available to manage and treat acne effectively, ranging from topical creams to oral medications depending on the severity of the condition. If you think you suffer from acne and would like to speak to a doctor about treatment going forward, contact our GPs today.

Causes of acne

During puberty, an increase in certain hormones (usually testosterone) can overstimulate the body’s sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oily substance called sebum, which can become mixed with dead skin cells and bacteria to cause blocked follicles and pores. These blockages can then become inflamed and either bulge outwards, creating a whitehead, or they can open the pore, creating a blackhead. These blocked follicles are then more easily infected by bacteria that live on our skin. If this happens, papules, nodules or cysts may result.

Acne can run in families, and a number of factors can increase your likelihood of developing it:

  • Hormonal fluctuations - many women experience acne flare-ups at certain times in their menstrual cycle.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - this condition is linked with high levels of testosterone and male sex hormones, which can lead to increased acne.
  • Medications such as steroids and some antiepileptic drugs.
  • Smoking.

Treatment of acne

Treating acne generally involves a multi-pronged approach.

  • Topical creams are also used. Benzoyl peroxide is a common treatment for acne, helping to reduce bacteria and sebum on the surface of the skin. Topical retinoids can remove dead skin cells from the surface to prevent them blocking the follicles, and azelaic acid both kills bacteria and gets rid of dead skin.
  • Antibiotics are available to treat acne - though long-term use of these medications is not recommended.
  • Contraceptive pills (obviously for women only) can help to regulate the release of androgens (hormones) which reduce pimples. Some pills, such as Ginet are better at reducing acne due to their oestrogen component (there are some risks associated with all combined oral contraceptive pills).

Over-the-counter acne treatments are available for mild cases of the condition. It’s also recommended that skin is kept clean and hydrated as much as possible, with an appropriate skincare regime. If you suffer from acne, you can discuss your treatment options with a GP today.

If the acne is caused by hormonal fluctuations, the most important thing will be balancing those hormones out. One option available to help prevent these fluctuations is a certain contraceptive pill, but this is not appropriate for all women.

Want to talk?

Book an appointment for a video consultation with a qualified New Zealand GP, who can discuss all this with you. If appropriate, we can arrange for the medications to be precsribed and delivered to you.

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