Frequency and causes

Virtually everybody is affected at some point in their lives by a mild form of acne, which requires hardly any treatment. In around 15% of cases, however, the acne becomes so severe that treatment is necessary. Acne is most common during puberty, mainly affecting adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16, although it is not unusual for people both younger and older to also have this skin condition.

There are various causal factors behind the development of acne. These include the sebaceous glands in the skin producing too much sebum, the acne-inducing influence of the group of male sexual hormones called androgens (which the female body also produces to a lesser extent), a keratinisation disorder in the excretory ducts of the sebaceous glands and inflammation caused by bacteria. It is believed that some cases of acne may be caused by a genetic predisposition, while other very different factors also play a role in the development of certain specific types of the condition.

Signs of acne

Acne can manifest itself in very different ways. It mainly affects areas of skin where sebaceous glands are particularly prevalent, such as the skin on the face, neck, chest and back.

The signs of acne range from blackheads (comedones) and isolated inflamed papules and pustules (spots) in milder instances to more severe cases with significantly pronounced skin changes and substantial lumps forming in the skin.

The more severe the acne, the greater the risk of subsequent scarring. In addition to classic acne, there are also various special types which can have quite a different appearance.

Diagnosing acne

Classic acne is usually diagnosed on the basis of typical skin changes. Less common types of acne and diseases or situations, which can lead to similar changes in the skin, also need to be taken into consideration whenever a diagnosis is being made.

Treatment options

The vast majority of acne cases do not require any special treatment. However, around 15% of those affected need specific therapy to improve the condition of their skin and prevent scarring. Treatments applied locally (i.e. applied directly to the skin) or systemically (i.e. taken orally) may be considered, depending on the severity of the acne. Different products work in different ways to combat keratinisation disorders, an overproduction of sebum, bacteria or inflammation. Some medications are designed to combat several of these causes at once.