Understanding the problem
The medical term for acne is acne vulgaris – ‘vulgaris’ meaning ‘common’. According to the NHS, about 80 per cent of people aged 11-30 will be affected by acne to some extent.
Acne is most common between the ages of 14-17 in girls, and 16-19 in boys – around the time when the hormonal changes of puberty peak. In general, symptoms tend to improve as the person gets older and usually disappear when they reach their mid-20s. However, for some people, acne remains an issue into adult life – about five per cent of women and one per cent of men have acne over the age of 25.
In adults, about 80 per cent of acne cases occur in women. There is some evidence that acne runs in families. For instance, it has been suggested that if both parents suffered from acne, their child is more likely to develop acne at an earlier age and their symptoms may be more severe. Research also suggests that if one or both parents had adult acne, their child is more likely to suffer from adult acne too.
Acne is associated with puberty and is caused by the skin’s reaction to hormonal changes. During puberty, levels of the hormone testosterone increase in both sexes. As a result, the sebaceous glands in the skin are stimulated to produce higher levels of sebum, which is why teenagers often suffer from oily skin and greasy hair.
Changes in hormone levels in adults have also been linked to acne symptoms, such as just before a woman’s period or during the early stages of pregnancy. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may also suffer from acne.
In addition, bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes), which normally occur harmlessly on the skin’s surface, thrive in this excess oil and multiply. If the bacteria grow inside a clogged skin pore, that pore can become red, swollen and inflamed.