Acne (Pimples)

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It is a common skin condition that causes pimples on the face, neck, shoulders, chest and back.
It can be emotionally stressful and, depending on its severity, can also lead to scarring of the skin.
It occurs when the hair follicles become clogged with oil or Sebum and dead skin cells. As a result, this prevents Sebum to leave the skin through the pores.

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Acne Illustration
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Illustration of acne (pimples) forming in the sebaceous glands

Acne can appear in different forms, which include: 2

Noninflammatory lesions (Comedones, i.e. whiteheads and blackheads)

When oil secretions, dead skin cells and sometimes bacteria clog up and block the openings of hair follicles, it causes the formation of Comedones. When comedones are open at the skin surface, they’re called blackheads because of the dark appearance of the plugs in the hair follicles.2d,3a On the other hand, When comedones are closed, they’re called whiteheads and are slightly raised skin-coloured bumps.1bg,3a

Formation of Pimples and Acnes
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Illustration showing the steps of acne from formation through eruption

Inflammatory Lesions
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The blocked, sebum-filled hair follicle promotes the overgrowth of a bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, which is usually present in the hair follicle. Subsequently, Propionibacterium acnes breaks down the sebum into substances that irritate the skin. This produces skin eruptions which we commonly refer to as acne pimples1g.
Inflammatory lesions take the form of: 2e
Illustration showing the different kinds of acne


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Most acne occurs on the face, but it is also common on the back, shoulders and upper chest.
We can identify three levels of severity – mild, moderate and severe.9
Picture showing pimples of different levels of severity

What Causes Acne?
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Four main factors cause acne

These are:

  • Excess oil or sebum
  • Hair follicles clogged by oil and dead skin cells
  • Bacteria
  • Inflammation

Factors that can trigger or worsen acne include the following:2b



Firstly, male hormones called androgens increase in both boys and girls at puberty. Subsequently, they cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. Similarly, hormonal changes during midlife, particularly in women, can lead to breakouts.



Secondly, medicines containing corticosteroids, androgens or lithium are known to cause acne.



Thirdly, certain dietary factors, including carbohydrate-rich foods, for example bread and chips, may worsen acne.



General care is very simple:

  • Gently washed any affected areas with mild soap once or twice a day.
  • Use water-based cosmetics as very greasy products can make acne worse.
  • Although there are no restrictions on specific foods that a person can eat, we should follow a healthy, balanced diet.

Beyond these routine measures, treatment depends on the severity of the condition.

Woman with healthy skin alongside a diet of healthy fruit and vegetables

  • Mild acne

Topical medicines are applied to the skin. They work by killing bacteria (antibacterial). Or alternatively, they dry up or unclog the pores. Antibacterials that are commonly used include the two antibiotics, clindamycin and erythromycin, and benzoyl peroxide. Other topical medicines are salicylic acid, resorcinol and sulphur. They work by drying out the pimples and cause slight peeling but are less effective than antibiotics or benzoyl peroxide.
If topical antibacterials fail, doctors may prescribe other medicines that help to unclog the pores like tretinoin. While tretinoin is very effective, it irritates the skin and makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight.

  • Moderate acne

Oral antibiotics given by mouth are usually prescribed to treat moderate acne. Examples of these antibiotics include tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline and erythromycin.

  • Severe acne

When oral antibiotics are ineffective in treating severe cases, oral isotretinoin is considered the best treatment. Isotretinoin is the only medicine that can potentially cure acne. It is generally prescribed for 20 weeks. While isotretinoin is highly effective, it can have serious side effects. For instance, it can harm a developing foetus.
Therefore, women taking isotretinoin must use strict contraceptive measures to ensure that they do not fall pregnant. Other people may need to use specific acne treatments. For example, a doctor may prescribe an oral contraceptive for a woman with severe acne that worsens with her menstrual period.


Acne and pimples Brochure Medical Resources

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