Acne: symptoms, causes and treatment

Acne: symptoms, causes and treatment

Acne: symptoms, causes and treatment

Acne is normal at any age and it's not just a teenage affliction. It's hard to deal with and can make anyone socially anxious, but it's something that many suffer from due to hormones so there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Having acne doesn't have to ruin your life and there are ways to deal with it. It can be managed by understanding what it is and how to properly treat it.

Here’s all you need to know about dealing with your acne.

What is acne?

If you suffer from acne then you’re well aware of what acne is, but for the uninformed - acne is what happens when your skin overproduces oil and ends up creating spots on the skin. If the spots get irritated they can turn into that angry red that we think of when we think of acne. Acne is easily spotted on people’s faces but it’s also very common for people to have it on their chest and back as well.

All this extra oil and irritation is extremely annoying and it can also lead to even more skin conditions. Don’t be surprised if your acne leads to other blemishes like blackheads, whiteheads, papules (raised skin to me and you) and even cysts.

Let’s take a closer look at these and see what we’re dealing with.

Blackheads are the small black spots that most of us have from time to time. Generally, clogged hair follicles are to blame for these, but aside from the visuals, there’s nothing to worry about as they cause little or no irritation.

 Asian woman checking her skin

Whiteheads are a bit different from blackheads, obviously, they’re a different colour but they’re also harder and are likely to get a bit more irritated too. Oil, bacteria and even dead skin cells can get trapped in your pores and whiteheads pop up.

Did you know that blemishes are an actual thing and not just a general word for spots and zits? Their technical name is pustules and they’re spots that contain pus, sometimes they get quite big and are filled with a yellowish fluid.

Papules are those raised areas on the skin, they can be tricky to identify sometimes as they come in various sizes and colours. Some even call them skin lesions because they can go on to change the texture and colour of your skin.

Acne doesn’t just affect the outside of your skin, they can form under the surface and turn hard and become nodules. Unfortunately, these can last for weeks.

Cysts are very similar to nodules in that they are located deep under the skin. But unlike nodules, they are filled with pus which makes them softer. When whiteheads or blackheads spill onto the surrounding skin, cysts are likely to develop.

Types of acne

Think there’s just one type of acne? Turns out there are actually three types and they’re classified on how severe the outbreak is.

Mild acne means you have less than 20 blackheads or whiteheads, with very little inflammation. These are easy to treat with over-the-counter topical creams.

Moderate acne usually means you have more than 20 blackheads or whiteheads on your skin and more inflammation. With mild acne, the skin isn’t hugely irritated or painful. Your doctor will be able to prescribe some medicine to treat this.

Severe acne is when there are inflamed nodules and cysts on the skin. This is the nasty type that can leave scarring so that it would be categorised as bad acne. The skin turns red, is inflamed, easily irritated and feels very hot to the touch. This is one of those rare times when you have to go to your dermatologist to get the situation sorted.

Causes of acne

Ever noticed that acne seems to hit teenagers the hardest? That’s because acne is linked with hormonal changes, but the rest of us aren’t safe though, acne can be a problem regardless of age.

Along with lots of other effects on the body, hormones can make our skin produce way more oil than we need - scientists call this abnormal sebum. This abnormal sebum causes inflammation in our skin and if you’re unlucky enough, can also block pores, leading to even more acne.

Acne can also be hereditary, so you may have your parents to blame for your skin issues. Ask them if they’ve ever had acne and if they both say yes, then chances are you’ll have it at some point too. Women are also more susceptible to getting acne as pregnancy and menstrual cycles affect hormone level.

So good news though, you can forget about those wild claims you’ve seen on social media about the causes of acne - there’s no evidence to suggest that poor hygiene, diet, or sexual activity causes acne.

Woman with acne on her skin

Myths about acne

Oh boy, there are a lot of myths about acne out there. It’s hard to know what to believe, so let’s dispel some of these rumours right here.

Acne only affects teenagers. False

Acne affects people of all ages. Yes, teenagers are more susceptible as their hormones are supercharged, but it’s not a problem that’s exclusive to them.

You get acne from not washing your face. False

Even though acne affects the skin, it’s not like dirt that you can just wash off. The cause of acne comes from below, not poor hygiene.

Poor diet causes acne. False

There is zero evidence, none, zip, nada that says a poor diet causes acne.

Does milk cause acne?

Okay, so this might sound like a weird one - how can milk cause acne? Honestly, there’s not that much research on how milk leads to acne, so while there are some anecdotal reports to support this, and it hasn’t been officially debunked by the professionals just yet, there’s also no evidence to show milk causes acne.

Does smoking cause acne?

This is a bit of a grey area, while researchers aren’t sure if smoking is directly linked to causing acne, they are 100% sure that it causes cancer - so for that reason alone, avoid smoking!

Acne on different parts of the body

Think of acne and most of us instantly think of breakouts of spots and pimples on our faces, but the condition also affects the back, chest and the bum.

They're all still generally caused by hormones, but there are a couple of tips and tricks we can use to limit the severity of outbreaks.

Back acne is generally caused by hormonal changes, sweat, and stress, so wear breathable clothing when you exercise, shower as soon as you’re done and try to find your inner zen and reduce those stress levels.

Butt acne can be caused by waxing or wearing tight-fitting clothes. Try wearing looser clothes, especially during the warmer months, and if waxing isn’t working for you, look into laser hair removal.

Chest acne usually arises for similar reasons to butt and back acne. Keep yourself fresh, wear comfortable clothes that don’t hug your skin and to be extra precautious, use a body wash that specifically targets acne. Add in a body lotion that doesn’t clog your pores (look for non-comedogenic on the label) as you’re set to combat acne.

Medication can also play a part, so speak to your doctor if you think your acne is a side effect.

Woman with back acne

How can I clear up my acne?

Acne isn’t a life sentence, nor is it one of these conditions that take a long time and a lot of nasty, expensive chemicals to get rid of - you can do it in a natural, gentle and cost-effective way.

Cleanse your face twice per day

As a general rule of thumb, if you’ve got a skin issue, keeping it clean can only help the situation. Dirty skin usually won’t cause any skin conditions, but it can definitely make the healing process much slower. Wash your skin twice a day to give yourself the best chance of beating acne and preventing the spread of any nasty bacteria.

Woman cleansing and washing her face

Use gentle products on your skin

Acne is one of those issues where a gentle approach makes all the difference, harsh chemicals and aggressive treatments can end up leaving your skin in a much worse condition.

Reading the ingredients label on the back of some skincare products can feel like you’re reading an alien language, so keep an eye out for the ones that have natural ingredients rather than filled to the brim with chemicals.

Always moisturise

Keep. Your. Skin. Moisturised.

This is such an easy step to work into your daily routine. Moisturise when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed and your skin will thank you for it. And if you can, try to find a non-comedogenic moisturiser to make sure your pores don’t get clogged.

Wear makeup that does not clog your pores

Speaking of not clogging up your pores - keep an eye on your makeup. Just like some lotions, moisturisers and cleansers, non-comedogenic makeup is available. Try swapping to one of these brands and clean your face regularly.

Avoid picking your skin

If you’ve had acne as a teenager, I’m sure you’ve also had a parent tell you to stop picking your spots, and I’m sorry to say - they were right.

It’s so tempting to try and burst your spots and pick your blemishes, but this only makes it worse! Handy treatments like a hydrocolloid bandage is a much better option, this saving grace protects your skin and absorbs any pus oil or bacteria.

Popping or picking your pimples opens your skin up and lets bacteria in that can make your skin condition even worse. And if you pick at your skin too much it can even cause scarring in the long run.

How to get rid of hormonal acne

There are a few opinions out there about treating hormonal acne, depending on how severe it is. If you suffer from mild hormonal acne then you can drop by your local pharmacy and pick up an over-the-counter product to treat it. But when it comes to moderate or severe acne, these products aren’t up to the task, that’s because these types of acne tend to have issues under the skin where the topical creams can’t reach.

This is where oral medicines come into play - they’re able to get into your bloodstream and balance out your hormone levels and clear the skin from the inside. Doctors and dermatologists are the experts here and they’ve got a suite of anti-androgen drugs, retinoids, and various oral contraceptives to treat hormonal pimples.

But that’s not to say that you can’t treat it naturally too. Green tea, tea tree oil and gentle acids are able to relieve some of these symptoms too.

How to get rid of acne scarring

Getting rid of acne is sometimes only half the battle. In really bad cases acne can cause scarring. Acne scars are dark and change the texture of your skin, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Look into products with Alpha hydroxy acids, lactic acid, retinoids, salicylic acid, and SPF, these ingredients can lighten the scars and remove the unwanted texture.

Ingredients that help fight acne

Want to try an all-natural approach to your acne treatment regime? Check out these natural ingredients and fight your acne pimples.

Aloe vera juice

The juice from the aloe vera plant has been used for a long time in soothing irritated skin - especially if you’ve been out in the sun for too long on a hot day. Aloe vera’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it a fantastic choice for treating acne. It is rich in vitamin B, C, and E which works to protect the skin from pollutants and hydrates the skin, all of which can reduce acne breakouts.

Poko Skincare Products

Poko’s soothing moisturisers and serums harness the benefits of aloe vera and help alleviate your acne. Check out our Regenerating Collagen Moisturiser, Ultra Hydrating Moisturiser, and Soothing Serum and wave goodbye to your acne.

Apricot kernel oil

Apricots - great tasting and also great for your skin. Making a nourishing oil from the apricot kernel the non-greasy emollient becomes a rejuvenating salve when applied to the skin. This really helps prevent dryness and inflammation during a breakout.

Try out Poko’s Regenerating Moisturiser and Ultra Hydrating Moisturiser and see what apricot kernel oil can do for you.

Avocado oil

Is there anything avocados can’t do? Great on eggs and also amazing for your skin when used in moisturisers. Unlike some moisturisers, avocado oil hydrates your skin by making it feel greasy or oily. It’s also packed full of anti-inflammatory nutrients.

Baobab oil

Baobab oil comes from those iconic trees on the plains of Africa and Australia and the oil from the tree is very high in linoleic acid. This works wonders for your skin as the omega-3 fatty acid helps reduce swelling on the face, Incredible for when you have a nasty breakout.


CBD oil (cannabidiol) is everywhere these days and rightly so. Studies have suggested it could be useful in stopping the processes which are known to cause acne, like excess oil building up on your skin. One study even discovered that it inhibits oil production while also reducing inflammation.

So wave bye-bye to acne and pick up one of Poko’s cannabidiol products like the Ultra Hydrating Moisturiser, Regenerating Collagen Moisturiser, Soothing Serum, and Luxury Facial Oil.

Read more about CBD for Acne.

Green tea extract

Green tea has literally been used for thousands of years for its health benefits and with today’s scientists identifying that catechins are to thank for their anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antioxidant properties.

This magical tea is also rich in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which can help out people with oily and acne-prone skin. The EGCG does this by reducing the amount of sebum being released onto the skin - amazing!

Is retinol good for acne?

Retinol is one of those ingredients that you find in lots of skincare products. It gets to work on the middle and surface layers of your skin and reduces the appearance of scarring and acne and even unclogs pores.

If this sounds too good to be true, then it might be, some people find that retinol actually makes their skin more irritated and sensitive. Like with any other medical issue, speak with your doctor or dermatologist to fully understand the situation.

Key takeaways

So, what have we learnt here?

Acne is one of those incredibly common skin issues that an awful lot of people suffer from. Sore and irritated spots develop on the skin, but it’s not uncommon to have them pop up on peoples back, chest and butt.

Understanding what type of acne you have is half the battle. Different treatments are required for different levels. It’s also a great idea to know of the natural options available to you too.

Natural ingredients have all the benefits of being anti-inflammatory, soothing and scar reducing without the side effects of aggressive chemicals.

These natural ingredients are in lots of our Poko products. Check out our full range of moisturisers and leave acne behind for good.


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