An introduction to acne vulgaris
Acne is a chronic but non-contagious skin condition. The most prolific form of acne is acne vulgaris– something that is literally spelt out in the subtype’s name, with the Latin word vulgaris meaning ‘common.’
It affects up to 8 in 10 out of the UK population1 and is usually considered to be a mild form of acne, not normally triggering any severe internal or persistent symptoms.
This form of acne can affect boys more than girls, usually manifesting at the onset of puberty although sometimes it can appear earlier in childhood or later on in life. Women usually find that they are more prone to developing acne later on in life due to the hormonal changes that they can experience in their bodies. The symptoms associated with acne vulgaris can be found in varying degrees in most subtypes of the condition.
The causes of acne vulgaris
The causes of acne vulgaris are usually prevalent in most forms the condition. When the sebaceous glands are stimulated, they start to produce an excessive amount of sebum oil, which in turn can clog the hair follicles on our skin and bond with dead skin cells and bacteria.
Your immune system then responds by releasing a number of chemicals to fight back against what it perceives to be a threat, causing inflammation and redness around the affected area.
This process can be triggered by a number of variables, from genetic predisposition to an allergic reaction. It important to be able to recognise what is causing your symptoms as this can sometimes reveal an answer to their relief.
- Genetics: Genetics can be responsible for exposing you to a variety of different illnesses and health complaints. In acne, you are almost four times more likely to develop the condition if you have a close relative who already suffers from it.2 Don’t let this dishearten you though, your genes aren’t necessarily an acne sentence and there are a variety of ways of reducing and preventing symptoms
- Weak immune system: Your immune system is crucial when it comes to guarding your body against pathogens and bacteria. When your immune system is fatigued, it can become sluggish and prone to over-reacting to perceived threats. If your immune system is constantly being urged to release wave after wave of inflammatory chemicals, it can upset your acne symptoms. This is why it is important to try and support your immune system, rather than exhaust it through lifestyle habits like poor nutrition and stress.
- Poor nutrition: While there is no certifiable proof that our diet can impact our acne symptoms, some of the foods that we eat certainly won’t help an outbreak of acne. Foods that are rich in histamine or place our immune system under stress can often make our symptoms worse, exaggerating any inflammation and irritating the sebaceous glands. This can include caffeinated drinks, alcohol, saturated fats and products high in sugar and salt. Another culprit is foods that contain androgens, such as milk. Androgens are a male hormone that can stimulate the production of testosterone and influence the sebaceous glands into making more sebum oil3
- Stress: Stress and acne can intermingle in a vicious cycle, with stress exacerbating the symptoms of acne and the symptoms of acne in turn triggering feelings of stress. If you are feeling low or anxious then this can elicit a ‘flight or fight’ reaction from your body, which will then release copious amounts of adrenalin as a response. Adrenalin can act as an inflammatory agent, worsening your symptoms and placing a huge amount of pressure on your adrenal glands. There is also evidence to suggest that the receptors in your sebaceous glands can react to stress hormones, increasing the production of sebum oil4
- Hormones: The hormonal changes that we experience during puberty can trigger an outbreak of acne vulgaris. This is because the production of hormones can stimulate your sebaceous glands into making more sebum. Fortunately, your acne will generally calm down when we leave our teenage years behind and our hormones settle. However, it can remerge with women when they become pregnant, go through menopause and or suffer from certain hormonal conditions such as PCOS. When you go through these changes, your hormones can fluctuate, again irritating our sebaceous glands
- Allergies: When your immune system perceives a certain organism as a threat, such as pollen or food, it will trigger a release of chemicals designed to attack the invading pathogen. This is what causes an allergic reaction and sometimes, it can stimulate an episode of acne, especially when the toxins in your body permeate your skin and clog your pores5
- Medication: The medicine that you take can sometimes influence your acne symptoms by aggravating your sebaceous glands. Drugs such as steroids and lithium are well known for doing this but another less recognised instigator could be the progesterone only contraceptive pill. This is because the balance of hormones in the body is affected, which is why doctors generally prescribe a combined pill to acne patients
- Cosmetics: When considering what cosmetics to use to mask the appearance of acne, you should think carefully about their properties. Products that have a high content of oil or coco butter may only increase the amount of oil present on the surface of your skin, providing a food source for the bacteria that resides there. Cosmetics that are fragranced or contain harsh chemicals might also irritate your sensitive skin so it would be worth choosing products that are fragrance-free and as organic as possible.
The symptoms of acne vulgaris
Experiencing acne can be disheartening and demoralising, especially since symptoms often manifest in highly visible places such as the face or the neck. However, If you understand why these symptoms occur, what is normal not normal, then it can help you to find ways of reducing their appearance.
- Blackheads: The melanin pigment contained in sebum oil is responsible for the appearance of this skin complaint. When sebum oil becomes clogged in the pores of your skin, melanin can become oxygenated, making it appear black. Blackheads are not considered to be a serious acne symptom and they can be treated using home, herbal and conventional remedies
- Whiteheads: Whiteheads, also known as milla, can be a more persistent problem than blackheads. They arise rather similarly to their counterparts, but the melanin contained in the sebum oil is not oxygenated, meaning the pigments do not become darker
- Pimples: The symptom most associated with acne, spots or pimples can occur when bacteria merges with the sebum oil in your pores, causing your skin to become inflamed and to break out in pustules. The appearance of pimples will usually diminish when this inflammation is reduced
- Nodules: Nodules usually appear as small lumps just under the surface of your skin and can be considered to be uncomfortable in mild cases of acne and sometimes painful in more intense episodes.
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Home remedies for acne symptoms such as pimples and blackheads have been a staple part of many people’s adolescence and there exist a variety of methods for reducing the appearance of skin blemishes.
However, it is important that if you feel that these solutions are not working or are intensifying your symptoms, you consult your GP for further advice.
- Relax: Stress is never good for body and it can merely exaggerate the symptoms that you are already suffering from. It might seem unavoidable, especially if you feel self-conscious about your acne, but it is crucial that you try to relax during this time. Make time out for yourself in your hectic lifestyle, either by setting aside some time before you go to bed just to indulge in a hot bath or read a good book. You might also want to consider meditation, which can regulate your breathing patterns and teach you to gain control over your mind and body.
- Good nutrition: The connection between diet and acne might just be speculative but it is always recommend that you follow a healthy, well-balanced diet. When you consider the role that sugar can play in inspiring an insulin spike, it is important that you do everything possible to keep your blood sugar levels nice and stable. Make sure you are getting plenty of fruit and veg into your diet as these are rich in anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals and can be very beneficial for the health of your skin and digestive system. Chromium is a particularly useful mineral when it comes to lowering your blood sugar levels, so remember to eat plenty of wholegrains! If you feel the urge to reach for some coffee, try our Bambu substitute instead and attempt to include more fruit-packed smoothies into your everyday routine
- Avoid irritants: Your cosmetics are unlikely to be the root cause of your acne symptoms, but they can play a role in irritating your skin, particularly if you already suffer from sensitive skin. Instead of sticking to conventional brands, why not try using some organic and natural alternatives? These contain no fragrances or harsh chemicals, and are unlikely to aggravate your acne symptoms. You could try using Salcura Antiac, a gentle spot remedy that works well as a remedy for oily skin, and also encourages cell regeneration
- Garlic: Another food product that is likely to make your nose wrinkle, garlic is well-known for giving the immune system a boost and fending off invasive pathogens. Its position as an anti-oxidant and an anti-sceptic agent can give it an advantage when it comes to battling bacteria and reducing inflammation. You can either dilute garlic and apply it topically as a paste or increase your intake of the herb in everyday meals. Allicin Max Gel might be a good idea too, as this contains high levels of allicin, the compound that gives garlic its anti-sceptic and anti-inflammatory properties
- Lemon juice: If you’re a natural clean freak then you’re probably already aware of the anti-sceptic benefits of lemon when it comes to killing germs and bad bacteria. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, giving it anti-oxidant properties that help it to reduce swelling and absorb any extra moisture on the surface of the skin, drying out spots and pimples. You can apply lemon juice topically, just be careful not to get it near your eyes and remember to dilute it first
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is a well-known anti-sceptic, able to attack certain strains of bacteria that lurk on the surface of the skin. This reduces the appearance of any inflammation and can work to rid the skin of blackheads and whiteheads. You can apply diluted tea-tree oil topically to your skin although it is a prominent ingredient in many different types of face masks and beauty products.
If conventional medicines are not relieving your symptoms then you might want to consider some natural solutions, such as herbal remedies.
- Neem cream: If you are recovering from an outbreak of acne, it might be worth trying Neem cream, an ointment made from extracts of neem. Neem has been used in herbal medicine for centuries and has been known to have a very soothing effect on dry or damaged skin
- Vitamin C: Nature-C is a vitamin C complex made using natural fruit extracts. Vitamin C is great at treating skin conditions such as acne due to its anti-oxidant properties. It can also give your immune system a much needed boost during this stressful time
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is excellent when it comes to supporting your immune system, often being recommended to stave off viral infections such as the cold or flu. The tincture is made from extracts of Echinacea, a flowering shrub with many beneficial medicinal qualities. Anyone over the age of 12 can take Echinaforce®, providing that they are not pregnant or breastfeeding
- Viola tricolor: Viola tricolour is cultivated from extracts of wild pansy and may be able to relieve the swelling and redness associated with acne. It can also have a cleansing effect on the bloodstream, which can make it useful for treating any toxins or impurities that may still be lingering in your system. Just be aware that this product may not be suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers
- Stress relief daytime: If your acne symptoms are starting to have a negative impact on your mood and general outlook, then Stress Relief Daytime might be able to help you regain control over your emotions. This product is a gentle, anti-stress remedy that aims to reduce any anxiety or pressure you might experience in stressful situations.
In most cases of acne, your doctor may not prescribe you any forms of conventional medicine as the condition usually clears up in its own time. However, if your acne outbreak is persistent or causing you emotional distress, then your doctor may recommend a range of traditional medicines, such as antibiotics or the oral contraceptive pill.
- Combined oral contraceptive pill: While progesterone-only contraceptive pill can enhance the symptoms of acne, a combined contraceptive pill can work to regulate your hormone levels, reducing the risk of your sebaceous glands being stimulated into producing more sebum oil. However, you may have to try a few different variants before you find a pill that suits your body type as the effects of the pill can vary from person to person
- Anti-depressants: If your acne symptoms are lowering your self-esteem and making you feel anxious or depressed, your doctor may prescribe you some anti-depressants. This treatment can come with a whole host of unpleasant side-effects, including lowering your mood even further. You may also need to try a few different subtypes as anti-depressants can affect us all in different ways
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed in an episode of acne, in order to kill the bacteria living on the surface of your skin. However, whether taken orally as a pill or topically as a cream, antibiotics can cause a number of unpleasant side-effects and may not be suitable for all sufferers. It is even possible to build up an immunity against certain types of antibiotics, so it is important that you consult your GP before taking the treatment
- Oral tablets: Oral tablets, such as Isotretinoin, may be prescribed if your acne outbreak is especially persistent. These tablets can stimulate a variety of unhappy side-effects though, with some brands even worsening your existing symptoms. If you are concerned by such symptoms, it is imperative that you speak to your doctor as soon as possible.