The Truth about Acne (Pimples)

Acne commonly called pimples, zits or spots is a chronic skin condition that affects all ages (not just teenagers- even babies can have it), both sexes and all races. It is believed to be one of the commonest skin diseases and is associated with a degree of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem when not taken care of properly.

Acne is caused by a combination of factors which include:

  1. Acne bacteria- A specific bacteria normally found on the skin which in some people has been found to cause acne (Propionibacterium acnes).
  2. Excess oil or sebum, which the bacteria acts on.
  3. Hormones- puberty, perimenopausal women, hormonal imbalance and women using hormonal contraceptive pills or injections are more prone.
  4. Hereditary- if your family members have it you are more likely to.
  5. Inflammation- your body’s response to the other factors
  6. Distension and blockage of your pores (hair follicles) often by dead skin cells and some heavy cosmetics (there’s no scientific research to connect personal hygiene with acne).


Other things that may cause a worsening of acne include

  1. Emotional stress
  2. Diets high in dairy products and high in sugar (Groundnut and chocolate as triggers for acne do not have any conclusive scientific research to back them up however if you notice they make you break out, please avoid).
  3. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (a syndrome which causes multiple cysts on the ovary which can be viewed with a pelvic ultrasound scan and causes irregular menstruation, infertility, obesity, acne and unwanted hair growth)
  4. Use of steroid-containing creams (tube creams used for toning or bleaching including some over the counter triple action creams for skin problems can cause a type of acne called steroid acne)
  5. Occupation- working in a petroleum industry or one that makes you come in contact with heavy cutting oils can predispose to and worsen acne.

Acne manifests as whiteheads, blackheads, rashes, boils, nodules, scars and black spots and is particularly frustrating because it can be cyclical (often tallying with an expected menstrual period in women) so when one set is resolving, a new set may appear on the face, back, neck, chest or upper arms.

Things we do that make acne worse:

  1. Pressing your pimples- it makes them heal slower and leave ugly black spots and scars. Resist the temptation to press them or pop them with your fingers or a sharp object.
  2. Slicing them off with a blade- leads to bad scars and spots as well as infection by other bacteria.
  3. Using very harsh anti-acne medication, herbal or home remedies or washing your face too often- more often than not these leave the face feeling very sensitive, may burn the face and always cause rebound oil production because of their drying effect which causes more acne in the long run.
  4. Using triple action tube creams to treat acne. These creams contain an antibiotic, an antifungal and a high dose steroid and the steroid causes a different type of acne called steroid acne which doesn’t look like your typical whitehead or blackhead and can cause itching or worsening of acne when discontinued as well as bleaching your skin.
  5. Not going to see a skin doctor for acne. Many patients only see a skin doctor when the acne has reached a stage where there is multiple scarring, black spots or very severe acne. Don’t wait till then, help us help you.


Acne is usually more severe in males but tends to improve after the age of 25 years. However, it may persist after this age, especially in females. There are many simple treatments for acne over the counter, most contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, antibiotics and retinoids. If these do not work, please see your doctor and remember,



Photo courtesy Google Images

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Dr Anita Benson
Dr Anita Benson is a Dermatology Senior Registrar, Public Health Specialist and Anti-bleaching Skin Advocate who believes that to change the harmful practice of skin lightening in African communities, one must first change the perception that lighter skin is better. Apart from clinical practice, she is actively involved in community outreaches and loves to post articles on her blog, 'Memoirs of a Woman with Chutzpah' in her spare time

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