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Acne is a very common skin condition that mostly affects teenagers. But it can also affect adults, especially women in their twenties & thirties. Here we chat through the different types of acne & when to see a pharmacist or GP


What is acne?


Acne usually occurs on the face, shoulders, chest and back. Simply put, it’s an infection of the pores (follicles) from which hair grows.


What causes acne?


Acne happens when hormones cause our skin's oil-producing sebaceous glands to become overactive. Usually, these glands produce just enough oil (sebum) to condition our hair and skin, but when excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells it can form 'plugs’, which block the follicles. If the plugs are near the surface of the skin, they swell outwards and form whiteheads. When the blocked follicle produces pigment, this leads to blackheads.


Excess oil aggravates the bacteria that usually live harmlessly on the skin and it’s this bacteria that can cause papules and pustules (pimples and spots), nodules (swellings) or cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to form.


Are there different types of acne?


In short, yes! Acne is measured in terms of severity, ranging from mild, to moderate, to severe: 


• Mild acne – this is mostly whiteheads and blackheads, mixed with a few pimples and spots

• Moderate acne – whiteheads and blackheads are more widespread, as are pimples and spots

• Severe acne – pimples and spots become enlarged and painful, and there are also nodules or cysts. Severe acne can cause scarring


How is mild acne treated?


Speak to your pharmacist if you have mild acne. They will advise you on which over-the-counter spot creams, gels, and washes might work best when applied to your skin. 

Most non-prescription acne products contain the antibacterial agent benzoyl peroxide, which works by reducing the number of bacteria on the skin. Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so you should avoid exposure to strong sunlight, as well as other sources of UV, such as sunbeds. Read the patient information leaflet which comes with the product for more information and for instructions on how to use your medicine.

Treatments for mild acne can take a month or more to work. If there’s no improvement after this time – or if you're worried in any way about your acne – consult your GP.

You should avoid picking or popping spots, as this leaves them open to infection and can slow down healing, which increases the likelihood of scarring. And always remember to wash your hands before you touch your face.


How is moderate to severe acne treated?


If you have moderate to severe acne or mild acne that isn’t responding to the treatments above, visit your GP, who can prescribe from a range of acne treatments including:


• Antibacterial creams

• Topical antibiotics which can be applied directly to the skin

• Oral antibiotics (severe acne)


For severe acne, your GP might refer you to a dermatologist, who can offer different treatments.

If you have acne scarring, dermatologists can also advise on cosmetic surgery treatments, including laser and abrasion treatments. These are usually not available on the NHS. 


Boots Acne Online Clinic


If your acne is mild to moderate, you can consider treatment through the Boots Online Doctor – Acne Treatment Service*.  The online clinic offers access to a wide range of prescription-only medicines without the need to visit a GP (subject to clinician approval and stock availability. Charges apply). An online consultation will assess if treatment is suitable for you.


Next steps


• Don’t pick or pop pimples and spots. This can cause infection and scarring

• For mild acne, visit your pharmacist for advice on over the counter treatments
• If your acne is mild to moderate, you can consider treatment through the Boots Acne Online Clinic
• Consult your GP for moderate to severe acne, or if you feel like your acne is have a big effect on your life

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*Subject to availability and clinician approval. Charges apply.