Skin outbreaks: Is it acne or just pimples?


Acne is a common non-contagious skin condition caused by clogging or inflammation of hair-oil gland units. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Are they just pimples or acne? Will they clear with time? How can I manage them? These are some of the common questions that many teenagers and adults with acne struggle with.

But first things first; what is acne and how do they differ from pimples

Acne is a common non-contagious skin condition caused by clogging or inflammation of hair-oil gland units (pilosebaceous unit) with an increased presence of acne-causing bacteria on your skin.

Pimples are layman's term for lesions of acne, and there are many different types, including blackheads, whiteheads, papules and cysts.

Acne usually develops during the teenage years and it all boils down to hormones. During puberty, hormones called androgens increase the production of oil from these hair–oil units which can clog pores along with normal skin (keratin) and subsequently get colonised by bacteria and inflamed.

But acne can also start before (or after) teen years with nearly 20 percent of newborns developing a type of acne called neonatal acne, which usually appears between 6 weeks of life up to the age of 1 year.

This type of acne goes away on its own without causing scars. It also does not increase the risk of developing severe acne later in life.

Acne is also a growing problem for women over 25 years (usually labelled Adult acne). Most of these women had acne as teens and continue to get breakouts as adults.

Some had teenage acne that cleared. Now years later, they are experiencing acne breakouts again.

Triggers and the right makeup

If you suffer from acne, it is recommended that you avoid a lifestyle that may make it worse.

Acne may worsen if you get too little sleep, eat certain foods, use oily makeup products, excessively use skin care products or apply greasy hair care products.

This, however, does not mean that women with acne should avoid cosmetic products. It is recommended to use water-based products as oil-based make-up products tend to worsen acne.

It should also be routine practice to wash off make-up at the end of each day and wash the make-up brushes routinely.

Home remedies

Several home remedies may help treat acne. While home remedies are safe for most people, it’s advisable to check with your dermatologist before trying some of the following options to avoid the risk of developing allergic reactions.

Some home remedies include:

Tea tree oil-based face washes: If they are formulated well, they have antibacterial properties that help.

Warm compress: A warm compress increases blood flow to your pimples, which causes them to heal faster. Soak a clean small towel in very warm water and apply it to your pimples.

Apply the warm compress to your pimples three to four times a day.

Popping pimples can be very tempting and satisfying squeeze and pop. However, it’s best if you don’t squeeze or pop your pimples. Squeezing pimples can cause several problems, including:

Introducing bacteria: Squeezing the pimple creates an opening which in turn can cause an infection.

Irritating your skin: Your skin is sensitive, and your nails are much stronger than your skin. When you use your nails to apply a lot of pressure you can worsen the inflammatory cascade which may lead to bad scarring.

Instead of popping, it is best to manage the pimples by not touching or picking them, being careful around them while shaving and regularly cleaning items that touch your face, including your cell phone, sports helmets, sunglasses, clothing and pillowcases.

It is always advisable to meet your dermatologist early on for recurring long-standing acne so as to discuss a long-term treatment plan.

Dr Narasimhan, Consultant Cosmetic Dermatologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

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