Acne, pimples, spots – whatever you call them, you will most likely have experienced them at some point in your life. For those who are lucky enough to get only the occasional spot, they are just a temporary inconvenience, which can be solved with some acne cream from Boots. However, for many of us, acne is a constant aspect of our lives and it has larger implications for us and our mental health than many would think. But what exactly is acne? And how do we treat it?
Firstly, acne is a skin condition that occurs when dead skin cells and oil from your skin clogs up your pores. This can result in spots, blackheads (small bumps on your skin that appear dark in colour), and whiteheads. Acne can be temporary and many of us will have experienced it during puberty. Acne can be a result of higher levels of testosterone, but usually a teeanger’s acne will become less severe in nature the older they get. Acne is most common in girls aged fourteen to seventeen and in boys from sixteen to nineteen. Many teenagers are encouraged to just get through this period as acne is expected to sort itself out as one gets older. However, this is not always the case, and for those of us who experience adult acne, being told to just “wait it out” can be infuriating.
Adult acne is acne that occurs after adolescence and puberty. It can be frustrating and infuriating to deal with, especially when you spent your teenage years dreaming of clear skin that has yet to make an appearance. Women are more likely to experience adult acne than men, primarily because of the change in hormone levels that women experience. Adult acne comes with its own set of problems to face and it is rarely easy to keep under control.
Unfortunately, acne and its causes are often stigmatised. A common misconception is that people who experience acne do not clean their face, which is just simply not true. A person with acne can take better care of their skin than a person with clear skin; clear skin is not tied to cleanliness. As well as this, assumptions can be made about a person’s diet. Foods that are high in sugar and dairy can increase a person’s chance of experiencing adult acne, but they are not guaranteed to cause acne, nor is abstaining from those foods guaranteed to clear it.. However, chances are, reducing your consumption of these foods will make a minimal difference to your skin if any at all, and it is not fair to assume that a person consumes an unhealthy diet just because they are experiencing a breakout.
These common misconceptions surrounding acne can make a person feel embarrassed of their skin and result in low self-esteem. Some may feel the need to try and cover their acne up with makeup and many people who experience acne will avoid eye-contact when talking to others, due to a loss in confidence.
So, clearly acne can have a debilitating effect on people’s mental health, but what can we do about it? And if you want to clear your skin, how do you do so? Before we look at the steps you can take to try and clear your acne, it is important to mention that you should never feel as if you need to clear your acne - the choice is yours entirely. Body positive movements have highlighted to society the importance of embracing our bodies, and that includes our skin.
The first step is to try some acne treatments from your local pharmacy. Creams and face washes from brands such as Acnecide can help shrink spots after they appear and fight the bacteria that creates spots in the first place. However, if these treatments do not work, then it may be worth booking an appointment to see your local GP. Be warned: finding the right acne treatment for you can be a process of trial and error. Personally, I tried a range of acne treatments until I found the solution that worked best for me and at times it felt like I would never find a treatment that cleared my acne. However, you should listen to your GP and try what they recommend to you; if it does not work, then at least you now know what to avoid in the future and to keep searching for your perfect fit.
For some, their ideal form of acne treatment might not be medicinal at all. Some find that more regular exercise in combination with a good skincare routine does the trick. Even if these do not work for you and your acne, it is still a good idea to embrace a healthy diet and active lifestyle for your overall health. For me, it was discovering soap made from goat milk. Goat milk soap has a higher level of lactic acid than other soaps, which helps control acne as it keeps your pores clear and is both gentle and moisturising on your skin. Obviously, goat milk soap is not vegan, so many people will be reluctant to use it.
Many women will find that if they walk into their GP searching for an acne treatment, they will leave with the contraceptive pill. It can take a few months to begin to see results in your skin when using the pill, but this option is not for everyone. As we already know, the pill has many advantages, primarily the fact that it prevents pregnancies and can help control heavy periods. However, there are many disadvantages to the pill, such as mood swings, headaches and breast tenderness. Therefore, it is important that if you are offered the pill to help your acne that you think very carefully about whether or not it is the right option for you. However, the pill can be a great option for women experiencing acne and who are sexually active, as it kills two birds with one stone.
You should also consider whether there are ways you can help reduce your acne on your own. Over the past few years masks have become a common sight for many of us, and if you are someone who wears a mask most of the day, this could be contributing to how much acne you have. This is known as ‘maskne’ and it has become more mainstream since the pandemic began. However, you can help prevent ‘maskne’ by making sure that you wash your reusable face mask at the end of every day. If you do wear a mask for the majority of the day, you could even consider changing your mask halfway through the day and then washing both of your masks when you get home. This will prevent the build-up of bacteria inside your mask. Masks look as if they will be a part of life in Scotland for some time to come, so getting into the habit of always changing and washing your mask may be a good idea.
When it comes to treating acne, there is one thing you should never do and that is pick your spots. As tempting as it may be, this is the worst thing that you could do to your skin. Picking at spots means that you could end up spreading bacteria across the rest of your face or scarring your skin. Acne scars can last for several months and can even appear as craters in the skin, which can be just as demoralising for a person to experience as acne. Popping a spot can also delay the healing process and you will be stuck with a sore mark on your face for longer. If you find that you are prone to picking at your spots, then try to find something else to do with your hands. You could even wear gloves so that you physically cannot pick at your skin. Many people find that they are more likely to pick at their skin when they are bored or sitting studying – times when their hands are not doing very much. Therefore, you should try to keep your hands busy, even if that is just by holding a cup of tea or coffee.
However, acne is not something that you should ever feel the need to get rid of or hide. Acne is a natural occurrence and nobody should ever feel ashamed of their skin. If you want to try and clear your acne then these suggestions may help, but it is important to remember that everyone’s skin is different, and that we should embrace that. We should all keep in mind that many people will want to try and clear their skin of acne, and that this is what they want, whilst others will be content to let their acne stay until it clears up on its own - either way we all have to do what is right for ourselves and our skin.
When it comes to dealing with acne, be gentle with yourself. Reprimanding yourself for that spot you picked or hating yourself for that whitehead that just appeared this morning is not going to help you or your skin. Acne is a normal part of growing up and, for many, a normal part of adulthood, too. It is entirely understandable to feel upset or down about your acne, but try to not let it consume your entire life. We are more than our skin, and our skin is not a reflection of us.
Illustration: Liza Vasilyeva