Symptoms of acne
The condition typically affects the face, neck, back, chest and shoulder areas of the body, but can occur almost anywhere in the skin. Acne is typically characterised as persistent, recurring red spots or swelling on the skin, or just beneath the surface of the skin.
Swelling becomes inflamed and is often filled with pus (a thick opaque liquid that is yellowish or greenish in colour, produced in infected tissue. Pus consists of dead white blood cells and bacteria with tissue debris and serum).
Blemishes can form as whiteheads (tiny white bumps or plugged pores) or comedones (blackheads/dark spots with open pores at the centre). Blackheads open at the surface of the skin and are black in appearance due to the effect of oxygen in the air. Whiteheads remain closed just beneath the surface of the skin.
Blemishes can also be more inflamed (papules, pustules, nodules, cysts and large lumps) and are more likely to cause scarring on the surface of the skin. Physical scarring can be long-term if not treated and managed properly.
- Papules: These are typically small, raised inflamed bumps caused by infected hair follicles.
- Pustules: These are small red blemishes (pimples) that contain pus at their tips.
- Nodules: These are solid, often very painful (or tender) lumps just under the surface of the skin. These can be quite large in size.
- Cysts (cystic lesions) and large lumps: These are large and often painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin that contain pus.
For most, hormone changes in the body during puberty (teenage years) can result in the skin becoming oilier. Oil production and dead skin cells, as well as bacteria and dirt, clog the skin’s pores leading to swelling, redness (inflammation) and pus.
Hair follicles become plugged mostly in areas of the skin that have the most oil production (sebaceous glands). These areas typically include the face, neck, back, chest and shoulders. Hair follicles are connected to these oil glands. The glands secrete an oily substance called sebum to lubricate the skin and hair follicles. This normally travels along the hair shaft and through the opening of the hair follicles onto the surface of the skin.
When an excess amount of sebum and dead skin cells is produced, it can build-up in the hair follicles and form a soft plug. This creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive, leading to an infection that causes inflammation.
The soft plug (pore) causes the follicle wall to ‘bulge’, producing a blemish (a whitehead). A plug (pore) may open at the surface of the skin and darken, causing a blackhead (the pore is congested with bacteria and oil and turns dark brown or black when exposed to air). Spots that are red and raised, with a white centre, develop when the blocked hair follicles become inflamed (infected). The blockage can cause inflammation deep inside the hair follicle and produce cyst-like lumps beneath the surface of the skin.
Acne can run in families. If one or both parents have or have had acne, chances are that you will experience this skin condition too.