Most people associate acne, pimples and spots with the teenage years, it can erupt at any age. Indeed, nearly 10% of adults, who had clear skin in their youth, develop acne in later years.
What is acne?
Acne is defined by spots and other skin eruptions, a sometimes chronic condition of the face, back, chest, neck, shoulders and other areas of the body. The most common form (acne vulgaris) includes blackheads, whiteheads and raised red blemishes with semisolid centres. In severe cases (cystic acne), clusters of painful, fluid-filled cysts or firm, painless lumps appear beneath the skin's surface.
What causes acne and spots?
Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands at the base of the hair follicles secrete too much sebum. This thick, oily substance is normally released from the pores to keep the skin lubricated and healthy. If the sebum backs up it can form hard plugs, or comedos, that block the pores and cause spots and if one of these plugs ruptures beneath the skin's surface, a localised bacterial infection can develop.
Overproduction of sebum can be caused by hormonal imbalances, a common problem during the adolescent years, especially in boys. For women, menstruation or pregnancy can also create acne-producing hormonal disturbances. Other acne triggers include emotional stress, the friction of clothing rubbing against the skin, certain medications, especially steroids, contraceptives or drugs that affect hormone levels.
Contrary to popular opinion, acne is not caused by eating chocolate, shellfish, nuts or fatty snacks but some members of the medical profession agree that acne can be brought on, or aggravated by certain foods or food allergies.
What to do about acne, pimples and spots
Most people benefit from supplements such as Vitamin B6 – useful for acne aggravated by menstrual cycles or the menopause: Vitamins C and E, and Selenium promote a healthy immune system which helps to keep acne causing bacteria in check. All these supplements can be safely combined and are suitable for long-term use. Taken with any, or all, of these vitamins, zinc enhances immune function, reduces inflammation and promotes healthy hormone levels but long-term use of zinc inhibits copper absorption so it should be taken with that mineral.
Wash daily, using ordinary soap and water; eat a balanced diet and avoid foods you feel may act as triggers of an acne attack; choose cosmetics, which are oil free or "noncomedogenic" and avoid squeezing spots – it increases inflammation and can cause scarring.