Acne Patient Information Fact Sheet

What is acne?
Acne is a skin condition that commonly affects teenagers, usually girls between the ages of 14 and 17 years and boys between 16 and 19 years. It can continue into the 20s and 30s and sometimes first develops at these ages.

It affects the face in 99% of people and can also be present on the back and chest. It may be more severe at one site than another and may affect one or all three areas. Acne can range from mild acne, where blackheads, whiteheads and a few inflamed spots are present, to severe acne where there may be large, deep lesions that can take weeks to settle and may cause scarring.

Acne is not infectious and cannot be passed on to another person. Acne can cause considerable psychological stress and should always be treated. Without treatment it could last for up to eight years and cause permanent scarring and disfigurement.

What causes acne?
There are many myths surrounding acne—it is not caused by poor hygiene or dirt and cannot be cured by washing more frequently, in fact this may make the condition worse. In addition, there is no evidence that eating chocolate or sweets can cause or worsen acne. However, some people may find that certain foods make their acne worse. It may help to avoid these foods but a strict diet alone will not cure acne.

The sebaceous (oil) glands are small glands surrounding the fine hairs on the skin. These glands produce sebum (oil), which is released via the hair follicles. Acne is usually triggered by puberty when rising levels of male hormones (androgens) in both boys and girls cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This excess sebum causes the lining of the hair follicles to become inflamed, making them narrower and resulting in the formation of plugs at the surface of the skin. Bacteria can then grow causing redness, swelling and the formation of pus. The black in a blackhead is not dirt but dried oil and shed skin cells.