Acne can be quite embarrassing when it boldly sits on your face. Then there is that irresistible urge to pinch and squeeze the zits, pimples and blackheads. Acne is a skin condition that commonly affects people with oily skins.
Consultant dermatologist Evanson Kamuri says that beyond the uneasy feeling that acne causes, it can leave permanent scars if not treated appropriately early enough.
“Acne can be emotionally and psychologically damaging because the face is your first point of contact during social interactions. However with proper management, acne is a passing cloud that should not affect your self-esteem at all,” said Dr Kamuri.
The cardinal causes of acne include excess production of oil, clogging of the hair follicles by oil and dead skin cells, infection by bacteria and excess activity by a hormone known as androgens.
Dr Kamuri notes that whereas it affects men and women in equal measure, it is most common among teenagers due to the hormonal balances associated with puberty.
“As the hormone levels increase, sebum is actively produced by the skin leading to the breakouts that we commonly refer as acne,” said the skin specialist who works at Kenyatta National Hospitals.
Some women also have a few pimples during menstruation and hormonal imbalances caused by some oral contraceptives have also been cited as culprits in eroding faces with acne.
“These prominent pimples are amusingly known as ‘torches’ though they are not easily noticeable except to the self-conscious woman,” said Dr Kamuri.
Genetics also play a great role in determining whether acne will run in families.
“Children whose parents had acne in their teens are more likely to have this condition. Assurance that the condition is manageable is important so that self-confidence is cultivated and sustained as the hormones stabilise and before it eventually clears out,” Dr Kamuri says.
Acne is grouped according to severity though some forms cause pain and tenderness.
“Acne Vulgaris is mostly found on the face, back, and chest because these places have the highest concentration of sebaceous follicles that produce sebum which lubricates and waterproofs the skin,” Dr Kamuri said.
Drug reactions cause acne and whereas the primary treatment cannot be discontinued because of this side effect, the skin condition should be managed separately by a dermatologist.
“Medicines that treat tuberculosis cause this acne breakout. We deal with the pimples instead of discontinuing the TB treatment,” Dr Kamuri added.
Reactions to hair products like oils and pomades, especially among women, cause skin irritation that later becomes a fertile ground for acne to colonise.
“That hot, sleek and shiny look achieved by applying certain hair products are harsh to the skin. Beware!” Dr Kamuri warned. Mental health and balanced social interactions are also advised to prevent unnecessary exposure to stress. “Stress causes the body to produce androgens and cortisol hormones that increase the production of more oil on the face,” Dr Kamuri noted.
Acne is diagnosed through a close examination by the skin specialist to establish the type of skin, acne variant and the extent of the condition. Treatment depends on the severity and grades of the acne and it can include antibiotics, ointments, special procedures and observing personal hygiene.
“Acne treatment aims to prevent scars from forming on your face and controlling the breakouts which is achieved by a resolute doctor-patient plan,” said Dr Kamuri adding that acne management requires cooperation and patience.
A dose of antibiotics kills excess skin bacteria and reduces the redness caused by severe forms of bacteria,” he said. The first steps of controlling acne like personal hygiene should discourage home-made acne treating solutions like facial scrubs and makeup which do more harm than good.
“Excess cleaning of the skin worsens the skin because it dries it up and denies it the self-cleansing function” said Dr Kamuri said adding that sunscreen should be considered to protect the skin from sun exposure.
Toxic products like bleaches end up damaging the skin more intensively and further expose the individual to skin cancer.
Diet therapy like eating healthy foods also goes a long way in ensuring that the skin gets the necessary nutrients to keep it healthy and supple.
Dr Kamuri discourages honey as a skin ‘cleanser’.
“Honey is not meant for the skin. Applying it worsens because the pores are closed hence there is no ‘room’ for the skin to breathe and get rid of waste products that are lost through the sweat,” Dr Kamuri added.
There are special soaps that are recommended for people with acne-sensitive skin while under treatment and thereafter.
When these treatment forms do not successfully manage the acne, Dr Kamuri advises that options like microdermabrasion can be considered. “During this process, we exfoliate and remove the superficial layer of dry, dead skin cells to make room for new and smoother skin,” said Dr Kamuri adding that this needs to be done under the keen eye of a dermatologist to prevent scarring especially for those with darker skin tones.
Phototherapy where the affected areas are exposed to controlled ultraviolet light can also be considered as a treatment form.
When all is said and done, Dr Kamuri emphasizes the importance of following simple technics like washing the affected areas using warm water and a gentle cleanser, avoiding irritants like oily and greasy cosmetics, applying sunscreen regularly and avoiding over-the-counter steroids.
Five facts on Acne
- Dermatologists can surgically remove scars associated with acne.
- Teenage boys tend to have more severe acne than teenage girls.
- Acne in babies is uncommon and usually due to maternal hormones.
- Using hot water makes acne worse.
- Large pimples called cysts or nodules form firm swellings deep under the skin during severe acne.
There is no cure for acne, but effective treatment is available1