A Patient Journey for Acne
Acne is a long-term skin condition in which a person’s hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells, causing the normal bacteria present on the skin to multiply.
This results in oily skin and spots including blackheads, whiteheads (or comedones), and spots filled with pus, most commonly on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders. Acne is very common among teenagers, due to normal hormone changes they go through, but can also occur in adults and, in rare cases, infants.
Mild cases which are extremely common can usually be helped by washing thoroughly to keep the skin clean (you should take care to treat the skin on your face with special care and remember to wash the rest of your body thoroughly too; special care should be taken when shaving), keeping an eye on your diet, and using over-the-counter topical treatments (creams, lotions or gels). If these treatments prove ineffective or if you notice anything unusual about your skin rash, then a GP should be consulted. Early treatment reduces the risk of scarring in later life.
Your GP will ask you how long the condition has been present, whether there are any trigger factors (such as stress, and in girls and women menstruation), what acne medications you have tried or are currently taking (including the contraceptive pill) whether there is any family history of the condition, and how it is affecting you psychologically. The doctor should be able to make a diagnosis simply by looking at the appearance of your skin, and can prescribe stronger medications including antibiotics, antibiotic antimicrobial treatments, topical retinoids, and (where the acne becomes inflamed) steroids. More severe or difficult-to-treat cases may be referred to a dermatologist who is able to prescribe more specific treatments, including light therapy, laser therapy, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, comedone extraction, and chemical peels . At present there is no "cure" for acne but existing treatments can be very effective – though they may take a few months to have maximum effect. Certain supplements may also help.
In most cases, acne will clear up with age. Spots and scars can, though, have a marked effect on a person's self-esteem and can affect their social lives and relationships. If you feel psychologically affected, it’s important to talk to your doctor, and it may be that talking to your family, friends, or a counsellor will help. Where problems from scarring are persistent or particularly strong, procedures (such as augmentation therapy and, in very rare cases, surgery) do exist to treat the scars themselves.
talkhealth is happy to recommend a number of excellent charities and support groups, including Acne PSP, the British Association of Dermatologists, the British Association of Skin Camouflage, and Skin Deep Behind the Mask.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 20 Nov 2015