If you have acne, you don’t have to put up with it — effective treatments are available.
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  • Updated:15 Aug 2004



In brief

  • Some big-name acne treatments don’t contain particularly effective active ingredients and won’t help much at all.
  • To control mild to moderate outbreaks of acne, first try a product containing benzoyl peroxide.
  • For severe acne, consult your doctor or a dermatologist. A range of effective treatments is available, and a combination of prescription and non-prescription products may be your best bet.

Please note: this information was current as of August 2004 but is still a useful guide today.

Many acne treatments contain an antibacterial agent called triclosan. While it’s good at killing surface bacteria (you’ll also find it in some toothpastes and soaps), it won’t reach the bacteria in your pores. In fact, a recent review of medical research found no evidence that triclosan’s an effective acne treatment. That’s bad news for anyone who’s spent a lot of money on such products.

The good news is that whether you suffer from occasional blackheads, troublesome pimples or severe inflammatory acne, there are plenty of products that will help.

What is acne?

  • Everyone’s skin produces sebum, an oily substance made by the sebaceous glands. Sebum moisturises your skin, and helps maintain a healthy bacterial population on the skin’s surface.
  • During adolescence, surges of the male hormone androgen (which females have too) cause the skin to produce more sebum than usual and the cells of the sebaceous follicles seem to get stickier. The sticky cells block the skin’s pores and the sebum can’t get out.
  • If the blockage stays below the skin you get a whitehead. But when the sebum reaches the air it turns dark and becomes a blackhead. The dark colouring isn’t dirt, it’s just the pigment in the sebum. Whiteheads and blackheads are called comedonal acne.
  • Sometimes bacteria, called Propionbacterium acnes, get into the surrounding tissue, causing it to become inflamed. Inflammatory acne can be small red bumps (papules), white or yellow pus-filled pimples (pustules) or large red bumps (inflamed nodules).
  • Around 90% of boys and 80% of girls get teenage acne to varying degrees. It typically starts just before puberty and mainly affects the face, upper back and chest. Acne usually becomes less of a problem after the age of 25.
  • Hormones aren’t the only problem. Acne can also be caused or aggravated by oil-based cosmetics, harsh cleansing and some medications (for example steroids). And vigorous scrubbing won’t help — in fact, if you wash and scrub too vigorously, or use abrasive products, you’ll irritate the skin and make the acne worse. There also seems to be a genetic link.
  • Finally, it’s important to recognise that acne isn’t just a cosmetic disease. It not only affects your looks, but can affect self-esteem and social interactions. Acne can have a negative effect on young people’s quality of life, and successful treatment can improve their overall wellbeing.

Acne and junk food

Despite the myths, acne isn’t caused by junk food. Studies have found no connection between acne and chocolate, chips or pizza. However, researchers are currently investigating whether there’s a link between acne and high glycaemic index (GI) foods, such as white bread and potatoes.

How to look after your skin

  • Wash your face twice a day with water and a mild soap or cleanser, and pat it dry.
  • Use oil-free or ‘noncomedogenic’ skin-care products and make-up.
  • Apply acne treatments all over the affected area, not just on the spots.
  • If you have acne on your back or chest, wear loose clothing.
  • If you want to remove blackheads, use a proper tool. Don’t squeeze or pop pimples — it can damage the skin and cause infection and scarring when sebum, bacteria and shed skin cells are pushed into the surrounding tissue.

The blackhead removal tool

Yes, you can remove blackheads — but not by squeezing them out with your fingers. This could just make things worse and cause an infection. Blackheads and pimples can be dealt with using a blackhead removal tool available from the pharmacy.



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