Acne affects as many as 5.6 million Canadians, a number that accounts for 20% of the country’s population.

It occurs when dead skin cells clog the pores, resulting in an accumulation of an oily substance known as sebum, which is produced by oil glands and is one of the most common skin conditions seen by dermatologists and family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary.

Symptoms commonly associated with it include:

  • Small, red pimple-like lesions
  • Redness
  • Swelling/inflammation

While acne is most commonly seen on the face, it can also affect other areas of the body including the neck, shoulders, arms, and back. Anyone can develop it, but it usually begins around puberty and can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years, and even well into adulthood if it is severe enough.

There are three different stages of acne:

  • Mild acne: Only a few small, superficial lesions on the skin/face, which may or may not become inflamed.
  • Moderate acne: Larger and more inflamed red spots that cover more of the face, and may be present on other areas of the body.
  • Severe acne: Several spots all over the face, with acne spots being deeper into the skin including other areas of the body, such as the back.

As mentioned, acne is caused when the oil-producing glands (known as sebaceous glands) produce too much sebum, resulting in clogged pores. However, there may also be other factors that can contribute to these, such as:

  • Certain cosmetic products
  • Sweating
  • Overwashing
  • Menstruation
  • Certain foods
  • Medications

Cosmetic products known to contribute to acne include foundations and blush, though it is not limited to these specific things. When purchasing cosmetics, it’s important to ensure that they are both hypoallergenic, as well as include acne-friendly terms such as non-acnegenic and non-comedogenic. 

When it comes to washing the skin, especially the face, washing it too much or with too harsh of a product can also lead to acne. Make sure you’re washing your face with a mild cleanser while avoiding things like exfoliators and skin toners that contain alcohol, as these will only irritate the skin further.

Certain medications such as corticosteroids, anticonvulsants, and oral contraceptives can also cause acne flare-ups. Certain foods such as spicy foods or dairy foods have also been shown to contribute to it, and you may benefit from switching to a diet with a low glycemic index. Women also tend to notice flare-ups of it during their menstrual cycles.

If you do have it, you should avoid picking or popping the lesions. This can lead to bacteria entering into them, and you could develop an infection as a result. The best way to treat it is to use what has been recommended to you by your family doctor, pharmacist, or dermatologist. In mild cases, it can often be easily treated with over-the-counter products such as slightly medicated cleansers, creams, and gels that contain the anti-inflammatory and bacteria-killing properties known as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

It’s also important that you apply these products all over the affected area, and not just the acne spots themselves. If over-the-counter medications are not enough and provide you with little to no relief, your doctor may prescribe something stronger, including antibiotics, retinoids, and other anti-inflammatory medications.