What is acne?

Acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin ailment that affects the oil glands and hair follicles. Acne is usually characterised by the appearance of inflamed papules, commonly called spot sand blemishes, on the skin – typically on the face. Blackheads and whiteheads are dark or skin coloured papules – also referred to as comedones. 

How does acne develop?

Acne develops when your pores become blocked with sebum, debris, or bacteria. Every pore on your skin is the opening to a hair follicle. The follicle contains a hair and a sebaceous (oil) gland.

The gland releases an oil called sebum, which moves up the strand of hair, out of the pore, and onto your skin. The purpose of the sebum is to keep your skin lubricated and soft.

These problems in the lubrication process can cause acne:

  • Too much oil gets produced
  • Dead skin cells and debris accumulate in the pores
  • Bacteria buildup

These problems lead to the development of pimples. A pimple appears when bacteria builds up in a clogged pore and the oil can’t escape.

What factors affect acne?

Acne results from several factors, and these differ from person to person. Some of the reasons that people get acne are not fully understood. Some people have severe acne for extended periods; others have short bursts of milder acne. We can attribute a lot of variation in how acne presents to immune system changes and the production of inflammation mediators. The resulting inflammation tends to lead to changes in the hair follicles, which eventually rupture. 

Factors that cause acne include:

  • Genetics (Family history)
  • Hormones
  • A bacteria called P. acnes
  • Occlusion of the hair follicles
  • Inflammation resulting from activation of the immune system

Factors that aggravate acne include:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Certain medications, eg steroids
  • Occlusive cosmetics
  • A diet high in sugar
  • Stress (because of the release of cortisol)
  • Dairy products
  • Environmental factors such as high humidity

Foods to avoid

Foods that quickly increase insulin levels have a high glycaemic index. 

Although cow’s milk is a Low G.I. product, it contains androgens, oestrogen, progesterone and glucocorticoids. These hormones also provoke keratinisation and sebum production. Milk also contains amino acids that produce insulin when combined with carbohydrates — other components of milk that might induce comedones to include whey proteins and iodine.

Ingredients found in chocolate – like caffeine, theobromine, and serotonin – may also increase insulin production. 

If you suffer from acne, contact Dr Ayanda Motau. She will be able to give you a full assessment, determine the cause of your acne and recommend suitable treatment options.