Acne... Everything you need to know

Ah, acne – it's like an unwelcome guest that never seems to leave, showing up uninvited at the most inconvenient times. If you've ever dealt with those pesky pimples, you're not alone. In fact, acne is a common skin issue that plagues many teenagers and even continues to linger into adulthood for some. We understand how frustrating it can be to wake up to a face filled with blemishes, feeling self-conscious and wondering why this is happening to you.

In this article, we're going to delve into the world of acne, uncovering its causes, discussing the various treatment options available, and how to avoid them from making a nasty return.

person showing acne on face

What actually is acne?

If you’ve been through high school, you’re probably all too familiar with acne. You're not alone in this struggle. Acne is a common skin condition that causes a cluster of nasty spots and oily skin on various parts of the body, most commonly the face, but it can also appear on the back (aka bacne) and chest. Acne can make your skin feel hot and sensitive to the touch, so it’s understandable to want to get rid of it ASAP!

Acne vs Spots

Spots can appear on and off all the time and usually only linger for around a week, acne is when several spots and blemishes appear frequently all at once, and unfortunately, like unwanted houseguests, take their time leaving.

What is the main cause of acne?

Unlike common conception, acne is not dirt getting under your skin from poor hygiene. So don’t worry! To put it simply, acne is caused when hair follicles in your skin get blocked.

How do hair follicles become blocked?

Hair follicles are attached to sebaceous glands, which prevent the hair and skin from drying out by producing an oily substance called sebum. Sometimes, too much sebum is produced, and when mixed with dead skin, can block the hair follicle. Over time, the blocked hair follicle may become contaminated by harmless bacteria, which, unfortunately, causes your skin to react with the result being unwanted pimples…

Types of acne spots


Unlike common belief, blackheads are not dirt under your skin, but are instead clogged hair follicles on the surface of the skin.


Similar to blackheads, whiteheads are clogged hair follicles but are firmer because they are under the surface of the skin.


Papules are small, tender red bumps caused by inflammation. Don’t try to pop them, as that can push the bacteria deeper into the skin!


Pustules are similar to papules but, as the name suggests, have a white tip in the center caused by a build-up of pus close to the surface of your skin. 


Nodules are hard lumps under the skin, they can be tender and painful.


In severe cases, acne can cause cysts, which are pus-filled lumps that are more at risk of scarring.


When are you most likely to be affected by acne?

Acne can affect anyone at any time, but is most common in teenagers, as it’s often a nasty side effect of puberty when hormone and testosterone levels are high. Sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to increased hormone levels, which means they produce too much sebum, increasing the chances of the follicles getting clogged.

Stage 1 – Mild

Mild acne is what most people will experience in their teenage years. Mild acne usually consists of whiteheads and blackheads, with papules and pustules also making an unwelcome visit here and there. You can visit your pharmacy for expert acne advice and recommended treatment.

Stage 2 – Moderate

Moderate acne is more widespread, with more whiteheads and blackheads showing up, and papules and pustules also lingering for too long. You can visit your pharmacy, but you should also see your GP if you’re concerned.

Stage 3 – Severe

In severe cases, acne can produce larger, more painful spots, this also includes nodules and cysts which carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring. It’s recommended that you see your GP if you’re suffering from severe acne so that they can offer the best treatment for you.


When are you most likely to be affected by acne?

Acne can affect anyone at any time, but is most common in teenagers, as it’s often a nasty side effect of puberty when hormone and testosterone levels are high. Sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to increased hormone levels, which means they produce too much sebum, increasing the chances of the follicles getting clogged.

Can acne be hereditary?

Genetics can play a part in your chances of developing acne. If one or both of your parents have had acne, you are unfortunately more likely to experience its reappearance.

Other causes of acne

Our teenage years aren’t the only time that our hormones may be imbalanced. Acne can be caused by various other factors, too.

Environmental factors

Your skin is your protector, preventing anything bad from getting into your system. It puts up with a lot, including all the nasty things floating in the air. Pollutants such as smoke and dust can cause hormones to react, which is why we seem to break out in spots when exposed to smoke, including cigarette smoke.


The act of smoking can also mess up our hormones, increasing the chance of “smokers’ acne”, as well as premature facial wrinkling. Looking to stub it out for good? Your pharmacist can help point you in the right direction.

Facial products

Although most cosmetic products nowadays are well-tested, there are some, often cheaper products, that may react with your skin. Some people may think that hyaluronic acid causes acne, but it is not known for having such side effects. If your skin reacts to cosmetic products, you may be allergic to an ingredient. Speak to your pharmacist for skincare advice.

Unhealthy diet

Particular foods can increase your chance of developing acne, this mainly includes carbohydrate foods that highly affect your blood sugar. These are categorised as high GI foods (glycaemic index):

  • Sugar and sugary foods
  • Sugary soft drinks
  • White bread
  • Potatoes
  • White rice


You may have noticed that you break out in blemishes when you’ve had a super stressful day. Although stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it can trigger a hormone imbalance, which may cause your body to produce too much sebum.


Diagnosis and Treatments for acne

If you’re dealing with mild acne, you can visit your pharmacist, who will point you in the right direction, offering a range of skincare products. Everyone’s skin is different, so your pharmacist will be sure to consider that to ensure you’re purchasing the best products for you. If you think you may be suffering from moderate or severe acne, you should book an appointment with your GP, who will be able to diagnose acne by examining your skin.

Should you squeeze acne spots?

It is always tempting to squeeze acne spots to relieve the pain and swelling. It’s generally okay to pop spots like pustules, with the white head usually indicating that it’s ready to go. However, squeezing other acne spots like papules could push the bacteria further down, making the nasty thing linger for longer.

Squeezing blackheads and whiteheads is also tempting, but it’s best to use blackhead treatment products you can pick up from your local pharmacy. If you squeeze your skin too much, it can damage it and even cause permanent scarring, leaving a constant reminder of those unwelcomed spots.

How do I manage my acne?

Acne is a big nuisance, it’s painful, and stares right back at you in the mirror, so understandably, you’ll want to find the most effective treatments to clear it up. However, as with every common medical condition, it’s difficult to determine what works, and what is just a myth.


Saltwater is good for cleaning out your oily pores and may help reduce acne, removing the excess sebum and drying out pimples. However, saltwater isn’t going to treat acne and is a temporary solution for occasional use. Using too much salt may also worsen skin conditions. So yes, saltwater does help with acne, but no, it doesn’t treat acne.


We should all be using sunscreen anyway for overall skin health, but does it have a direct impact on acne? Sunscreen prevents skin damage from UV rays that can cause inflammation and increase acne. Therefore, wearing sunscreen will help reduce your risk of developing acne from spending too much time in the sun.

Sun exposure

On the other hand, you may have also heard that spending time in the sun helps with acne. Whilst spending some time in the sun can indeed help dry out oily skin, it’s best to keep sun exposure to a minimum. This also goes for sunbeds. Although sunbeds dry your skin initially, they may cause more oil later on.


Exfoliation is the removal of dirt and built-up skin cells. Exfoliating acne-prone skin helps reduce acne by unclogging your pores and clearing up your skin. The amount you exfoliate your skin depends on what type of skin you have. If you have oily skin, then you should exfoliate three or four times a week. You can pick up exfoliation products at your local pharmacy.

Drinking water

It’s no surprise that drinking water is good for you, and drinking water will help your skin health. However, don’t think that drinking water will cure your acne. It will, however, help your skin heal and fight off infections. Therefore, a lack of water may increase acne, and drinking water will help manage acne, but it won’t cure it.

Cold showers

You may have heard that cold water is good for your skin, and it’s true that having a cold shower will help acne by closing your pores and reducing the risk of them getting clogged. However, warm water will do a better job of cleaning your skin. Here’s our tip: Have a warm shower, then when you’re done, rinse in cold water for a minute to tighten your skin.


Acne Recap

So let’s recap the key points here to clear things up:

  • Acne is caused by blocked hair follicles, not bad hygiene
  • There are three stages of acne: Mild, moderate, and severe
  • Acne can be hereditary and is usually at its worst during puberty, but can also be caused by other factors
  • Your pharmacist will recommend skin care products or point you in the direction of your GP for further treatment
  • You can make lifestyle choices to manage your acne, but it’s best to use products that are expert-recommended.

Remember, your pharmacist is there to offer advice and guidance. Visit them in-store today so that you can get glowing again!


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