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Can my acne be treated?

Acne can cause self-esteem issues, and can even lead to depression and anxiety, as well as complications such as scarring, so if it is affecting you, you can speak to one of our caring GPs, who can discuss the treatment options available to you.

The treatment option that is recommended to you will be based on the severity of your acne symptoms are, and the types of spots you have. However, no treatment will clear your skin instantly, in fact, it might take a few months for you to see improvement, or possibly even longer.

If your acne is only mild, over-the-counter treatments may be all that you need to clear your spots, or you may even just need to give your skin time to recover, as mild acne usually clears up on its own and does not cause scarring.

However, severe inflamed acne can cause scarring, so you may want to speak to a doctor about the best way to treat it to help prevent this happening. Likewise, if your acne is on multiple parts of your body, you can speak to a GP.

All treatments are designed to clear as many of your spots as possible, but it may not always get rid of them all.

How is acne treated?

As we mentioned, you may be able to deal with a mild case of acne by using an over-the-counter product. Look for ones that contains benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic designed to reduce the amount of propionibacterium acnes bacteria you have on your skin, reduce inflammation and help to unblock pores. It can cause your skin to itch, sting or you may feel a burning sensation when you use it. It can also cause dry skin, as well as redness, and make your skin more sensitive to UV light.

For more severe acne, and if over-the-counter treatments have not worked, a GP may recommend prescription treatments, including:

  • Retinoids, such as tretinoin and isotretinoin - these work to unblock your pores by removing dead skin cells from the skin. They can also help relieve inflammation. You cannot use these if you are pregnant or are trying for a baby as there is a risk of harm to unborn babies.
  • Topical antibiotics - this type of acne treatment is usually in the form of a gel or lotion that you apply to the skin. The antibiotics help to kill propionibacterium acnes bacteria on your skin to prevent further infection and to reduce inflammation. s.
  • Oral antibiotics, such as oxytetracycline, doxycycline and lymecycline  - these are usually used in conjunction with a topical treatment and may be recommended if you have a more severe acne flare up. They work by killing propionibacterium acnes bacteria that can cause inflamed acne but will not have a big effect on black or whiteheads. You will usually find your acne starts to improve after around four months.
  • Azelaic acid - this is used for treatment of acne in people who find topical retinoids or benzoyl peroxide cause too much irritation to their skin. This will get rid of bacteria on the skin as well as dead skin cells and it is good at clearing black and whiteheads. It can also help reduce inflammation. You will normally need to use this for a few weeks before you see an improvement.
  • Oral contraceptive – combined pills have been found to be especially effective in women who find their acne is caused by hormones. If previous acne treatment has not worked, you may be prescribed co-cyprindiol, which reduces the levels of male hormones in your body, and works as a type of contraceptive. They do slightly increase your risk of developing a blood clot though.  A doctor will explain to you.
  • Isotretinoin tablets – these reduce the amount of oil your sebaceous glands produce. It is a very strong medicine and is usually used as a last resort as it can cause severe side effects. You cannot use these if you are pregnant or are trying for a baby as there is a risk of harm to unborn babies. You would need to be referred to a dermatologist for this to be prescribed.

Certain types of acne treatment are not suitable for everyone, so a doctor will be able to make sure you get the right type of treatment.

You can also help your acne symptoms with some simple self-care:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
  • Don’t squeeze, pick or scratch spots, as this can introduce new bacteria and also leave long-term scars.
  • Wash the affected areas with mild soap or a gentle cleanser, twice each day, but no more, as this can affect the balance of your skin.
  • Shampoo regularly to help prevent spots on your hairline.
  • Avoid irritants and use a gentle, oil and alcohol-free cleanser.
  • Use a clean flannel every time you wash your face to avoid introducing new bacteria.
  • Change your pillowcases regularly, as the bacteria can live on the material.

What happens if acne is left untreated?

Acne can damage your skin and lead to permanent scarring, particularly if it is severe.

There are five main types of scars caused by acne, including boxcar scars which are round or oval shaped craters, ice pick scars which are small holes and rolling scars, which have a rolling appearance.

Acne can also cause hyperpigmentation where your skin becomes darker around the areas you had acne and is more noticeable on people with dark skin tones, and hypopigmentation, where your skin becomes lighter in the areas you had acne. This is also more noticeable if you have a darker skin tone.

It is very important that you do not burst or squeeze any type of spot, as if you do, your body can produce extra collagen to help heal the area, which can make the scarring more prominent.

Can acne scars be treated?

You can buy special camouflage make up to hide the scaring, or cosmetic procedures are also available. It is unlikely that these are available on the NHS though as it is classed as cosmetic surgery, so you may have to go to a private clinic.

Speak to a doctor first, as these treatments can be very expensive and may not necessarily work for you.

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