Understanding acne

Posted on 6 November 2015

No matter how old you are, the dreaded skin condition acne can affect you. Dr Matete Mathobela, dermatologist at Mediclinic Cape Gate, discusses acne and debunks some common myths.

‘Genetics often play a role in acne, and it therefore occurs mostly in genetically predisposed people,’ says Dr Matete Mathobela, a dermatologist at Mediclinic Cape Gate. She explains that there are four factors involved in the development of acne:
• Obstruction of the upper part of hair follicle and accompanying sebaceous gland in the skin, leading to open and closed comedones – in other words, blackheads and whiteheads.
• Overproduction of sebum or oil which can be increased by hormonal activity.
• Overgrowth or multiplication of the bacteria commonly found in the pilosebaceous unit in the skin – the hair shaft, hair follicle, sebaceous gland that makes sebum, and the erector pili muscle which causes the hair to stand up when it contracts.
• Inflammation, leading to inflammatory papules, pustules and nodules.

Acne myths
Arming yourself with the facts around acne can help separate fact from fiction. Dr Mathobela identifies and debunks the following common acne myths:

Acne is a disease of teenagers: Acne commonly occurs in teenagers, but adult-onset acne occurs in 30-40% of adults and is much more common in females than males.

Acne can be cured:
There is no cure for acne. It’s a chronic condition and continued treatment is often necessary to control it and keep the skin acne free. Treatments such as roaccutane (isotretinoin) may lead to long-term remission of the condition or prolonged periods of being acne free.

Dirty skin causes acne: Acne is not caused by dirt or uncleanliness. The bacteria that causes acne live in the pores, not on the surface of the skin. Therefore over-washing and scrubbing the skin is unnecessary and can worsen acne by leading to irritation and more inflammation.

It’s okay to pop a pimple: Popping an inflamed acne lesion can worsen the acne by leading to a rupture of that lesion into your skin, which could cause more inflammation and deep-seated nodules that result in scarring.

Drinking lots of water improves acne: There’s no evidence to suggest drinking more than the recommended amount of water improves acne.

Diet and acne: It’s often believed that oily foods cause acne, but fatty foods have very little effect on acne. This topic remains controversial, but some studies have linked a high glyceamic diet to worsening of already existing acne. They also suggest three major food classes that are thought to promote acne:
1. Hyperglycaemic carbohydrates
2. Milk and dairy products – in excessive amounts
3. Saturated fats, including trans fats and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Patients should balance total calorie uptake and restrict refined carbohydrates, milk, dairy protein supplements, saturated fats and trans-fats.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Dermatology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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