Acne is a chronic and inflammatory skin condition that affects most people at some point during their life. Acne is caused by the overproduction of sebum (the oil secreted from the pores) and sebaceous duct blockage. If not treated in time, acne may cause permanent skin damage e.g. skin thickening and irreversible dilatation of skin blood vessels as well as formation of Cysts - big, hard and deep closed pimples which can lead to scarring (acne scars), which in turn can lead to disfigurement.
Acne involves the skin sites where the hair originates; hair follicles, and the sebaceous glands. Acne typically appears on the face, though body acne is also common where the neck, upper chest, back and the shoulders are affected.
Acne rosecea affects the face alone and it is not a form of acne although like acne vulgaris there are also papules and pustules.
Acne is an important disorder to treat, and it should not be dismissed as something purely cosmetic or trivial.
Due to its effect on the external appearance, acne can also cause psycho-social problems such as: decreased self-esteem/self-confidence; problems with body image; embarrassment leading to social withdrawal; depression, anxiety and anger; preoccupation with the acne; confusion/frustration with treatment; limitations in lifestyle and difficulties with family members.
The increased production of the hormone androgen in puberty triggers a higher production of sebum by the sebaceous glands in the skin. The sebum is a natural subtract for bacterial growth, and allows the bacteria to increase dramatically in numbers, especially Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes). The sebum is transformed by P. acnes into both free fatty acids, and other chemicals that produce the inflammation process.
The combination of increased androgen and pro-inflammatory chemicals causes a higher cohesion of the epidermal cells in the pore areas. This action forms what are commonly known as pimples - the characteristic lesions of acne.
There are closed and open pimples: a closed pimple is a closed pore with a tiny plug. An open pimple, also known as a blackhead, is also a closed pore with a larger follicular plug. Blackheads are not dirty. The dark colour is due to increased skin pigment and the sebum contacting the oxygen present in the air. The plugged pore can become swollen and inflamed, resulting in a pimple of minor or major proportions. The leakage of the follicles, in the surrounding skin, produces more inflammation, and creates other lesions of acne, such as cysts, pustules, and abscesses.
Acne problems can include minor pain, itching, or mild soreness, and sometimes even pain in the joints.
Acne may be a life-long process, and usually starts before puberty, or at the onset of puberty, but it can also begin in adulthood or even in elderly people. Adult acne is common: 40 per cent to 54 per cent of men and women older than 25 years have some degree of facial acne which can persist into the middle age. Acne affects both males and females. At the age of 18, acne is more frequent in men than women. Beyond the age of 23 it is more common in women. The severe inflammatory form of acne is more often found in men of any age.
Acne is a form of infection/inflammation, therefore antibiotics are used as the main acne treatment in Western medicine, which can be effective in short term. However, acne often recurs after treatments stop and many are reluctant to stay on antibiotics long term for fear of their side effects. The cause of acne is unknown in Western medicine. Tests for hormonal imbalances can be carried out as part of the diagnosis. Skin biopsy is also used to differentiate acne from other possible diseases.
Acupuncture has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on acne vulgaris according to the World Health Organisation*. Acne treatments in Chinese Medicine include acupuncture and Chinese herbs.
Acne is a common complaint of patients at our clinic. According to Chinese Medicine theory any skin disorder is primarily the result of an imbalance within the body, particularly the internal organs. this imbalance can cause reactions in the skin to external pathogens. In CM theory, acne is associated with the Lungs, Stomach , Intestines and Blood and is caused by one of the following: heat in the lungs; blood stasis, damp or heat in the stomach and intestines.
After examination, the Chinese Medical doctor will prescribe Chinese herbal medicine as well as Chinese herbal lotions to complement the herbs for acne. In cases where the patient does not respond to herbs, other therapies such as ear/body acupuncture can be used as natural acne treatments.
The length of treatment for acne depends on the extent and the duration of the symptoms. The minimum course is normally 4 weeks although in some cases treatment can last a lot longer. No two patients have identical acne.
To stop or prevent acne, factors that you should take into consideration are:
Other factors which can contribute to acne include stress/anxiety, chronic constipation and hormonal imbalances (acne rosacea is often seen in menopausal women).
In female patients, severity of acne symptoms may relate to menstrual cycles. In general, acne sufferers should avoid spicy, greasy and sweet food, eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, and ensure regular bowel movements.
Early treatment can prevent complications such as acne scarring. Long periods of exposure to the sun can aggravate acne. Do not abandon acne treatment before the doctor indicates it is safe to do so.
For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle to stop or prevent acne, please ask the doctor during your consultation.
Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.
* CLINICAL TRIALS:
Li HQ et al. [Acupuncture treatment in 42 cases of acne vulgaris.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1998, 18(3):166)
Wang J et al. [Auriculo-acupuncture treatment of 32 cases of facial acne vulgaris.] Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1997, 16(3):25) [in Chinese].
E.H had suffered from acne for 2 years and in that time had bought all the over-the-counter products that promised to help and even cure her acne. She had even been prescribed antibiotics and other medicated treatments by her G.P - all to no avail.
A friend mentioned AcuMedic, and she came in for a consultation. After only four months of treatment, E.H declared that her skin had been transformed and had tremendously benefited.
"My main concern as acne, I've tried before many things, Roaccutane (Vitamin A), Antibiotics, birth control, facials, creams. My treatment at AcuMedic provides information, which is very important. I do 'solo' - facial treatment + acupuncture. I also take tablets and use a cream. I was informed about foods I should avoid and how to keep my body - to clean it from the inside. I feel that thanks to the treatment, I have stronger motivation to live a healthy life style. Thank you!"