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Can the keto diet cause acne?

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has become a top trend in recent years. The diet can help you lose weight, but the impact it can have on your skin is less clear cut. Some claim it can give you acne, others say it does the opposite and clears your skin up.

So, what to believe?

Here we’ll run you through the need-to-knows on what the diet is and how it can affect your skin.

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, isn’t about eating less and starving yourself. It’s about changing what you eat.

Keto dieters eat foods that are high in fat but low in carbs. Foods like pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, chocolate, cake, sweets, and beer are out. Whilst eggs, cheese, meat, seafood, butter and oils are in. The keto diet is famously known as the diet that lets you eat bacon. Winner.

Cutting back on chocolate, cakes, and beer sounds sensible, but how does eating more bacon, butter, and cheese help you lose weight?

How does the keto diet work?

The idea behind the keto diet is to change how your body uses food as fuel.

With a normal diet with plenty of carbs, your body breaks down the carbs into sugar. This sugar (mostly glucose) is used to fuel your body. You might burn some fat too if your sugar levels run low, but sugar is your body’s main source of energy.

If you switch to a diet that’s low in carbs, your body doesn’t have enough sugar to fuel itself. So, it starts to burn fat instead. After a few days on the keto diet your body enters a state called ketosis where your liver uses your fat reserves to create a different fuel source called ketones. Your body uses these ketones for energy rather than glucose.

Essentially, the keto diet makes your body burn fat rather than sugar. This can stop you putting on more fat, and it can cause you to lose it too.

Does the keto diet cause acne?

First things first. There haven’t been any scientific studies that can say conclusively how the keto diet affects skin condition. The current knowledge on the keto diet and acne is based on a mix of older studies on diet and acne, knowledge of how the body works, and anecdotal evidence from doctors and those who’ve tried the diet.

There’s a general consensus though that the keto diet could cause acne, or worsen it, in two ways:

Firstly, diets high in dairy and oils have been linked with acne. They can cause your body to produce more of a natural skin oil called sebum, and this oil can block your pores giving you acne.

Secondly, switching to a ketogenic diet may stress your body, particularly at first. This stress could cause an inflammatory reaction and could worsen the inflammation that accompanies more severe acne outbreaks.

Before you dismiss the keto diet, to complicate matters there is also evidence that it could have the opposite effect. The keto diet could actually help with your acne.

Can the keto diet help with acne?

Whilst eating more dairy and more fat can be associated with causing acne, there’s a stronger association with sugar and carbohydrates and acne. It’s thought this is because carbs and sugars increase the levels of certain hormones in your body, like insulin, that can cause acne. A number of studies have shown the keto diet can reduce the levels of these hormones. The diet has even been suggested as a potential way to cure acne.

The keto diet has also been shown to reduce inflammatory processes in the body. It could cause an initial rise in inflammation as your body adjusts to the diet – which is why you can get acne when starting keto, but over time it might reduce this inflammation, so acne may be reduced.

Can the keto diet cause other skin issues?

The keto diet can cause a red and itchy skin rash. The medical term for the rash is prurigo pigmentosa, but it’s more commonly called the keto rash. How the diet causes the rash isn’t understood, but it can be treated using skin products like moisturisers, and even with antibiotics.

So will the keto diet be good or bad for my skin?

With the keto diet you could end up eating more of the food that causes acne, or possibly less of it. And the diet could both increase and decrease inflammation. Confused yet? Will it give you acne, or cure it?

The truth is, we can’t say for sure. The link between diet and acne is complicated and is still hotly debated by scientists. Everyone responds to food and diets differently. You won’t know how the keto diet impacts you until you try it.

Even if the keto diet does give you acne, or makes it worse, you have options.

What should I do if the keto diet gives me acne?

Firstly, you should adopt a daily skin care routine that helps keep acne at bay. It should involve cleansing, toning, the use of an acne treatment, and moisturising. Read more about skin care for acne with our helpful guide

When it comes to acne treatments, while you can buy plenty over the counter, stronger medications require a prescription. At FROM MARS we sell a topical acne treatment called treclin. It combines an antibiotic and a retinoic acid called tretinoin in one gel and is medically proven to be an effective treatment for acne. Treclin can reduce inflammation, kill bacterial infections in your spots, and improve the quality of your skin. Start your online consultation with us today.

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Is it a cold sore or a spot?

Cold sores and spots can look similar, especially if you have a spot close to your lips. Neither is particularly desirable, and we’re sure you want to get rid of your blemish as soon as possible.

You do need to know exactly what you’re dealing with, as cold sores and spots are treated differently. And whereas spots aren’t contagious, cold sores can be, so you need to be more careful if you have them.

We’ll explain how you can tell the difference.

What does a cold sore look like when it starts?

Cold sores are small blisters and sores that usually form around your lips, but you can also get them on your chin, cheeks, and inside your nose and mouth.

What causes a cold sore?

Cold sores are caused by an infection of a herpes virus, usually herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), but sometimes by herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), which more often causes genital herpes. Once the herpes virus gets inside you, it’s there for life. Most of the time it lies dormant in your nerve cells and you have no symptoms, but every now and then it reactivates and spreads though your skin cells, causing an outbreak of cold sores.

What does a spot look like when it starts?

A spot is a small bump in your skin that can have a black tip, a white tip, or no tip at all. They can form anywhere on your face, and anywhere on your body.

What causes spots?

You get spots when your skin follicles (the small holes in your skin that hairs grow out of) become blocked, usually by dead skin cells or by the oil your skin produces (sebum). Bacteria can grow in the blocked pore too, leading to inflammation and swelling.

You get a blackhead when the follicle remains open and the blockage inside is exposed to the air, and you get a whitehead when the follicle closes. More severe spots, like pustules and cysts, occur when you have a bacterial infection, especially when the infection spreads outside the follicle and deeper into your skin, causing more swelling and inflammation.

Differences between cold sores and spots. Is it a spot or cold sore?

Although they’re caused by very different things, cold sores and spots can sometimes look similar, especially in the early stages of their development, and particularly if you’ve never had cold sores before and you aren’t personally familiar with them. But the following differences can help you work out what that blemish on your face is:

Where is it? Do you get cold sores only on your face?

Spots can form anywhere on your face or body, whereas cold sores only form on your face, usually around your lips, but sometimes they can occur around your nose, on your cheeks, and inside your mouth and nose.

So if the blemish isn’t on your face, it’s not a cold sore. If it’s on your forehead or your chin, it’s probably a spot too. If it is inside your mouth, it’s most likely a cold sore, as it’s rare to get spots there. For those close to your lips, around or inside your nose, or on your cheeks, it could be either a cold sore or a spot. If this is the case, and you’re still not sure which it is, then you can use how it feels to give you a clue.

How does it feel? How do I know It's a cold sore?

Spots usually feel tender to the touch, even painful, depending on how much swelling and inflammation has occurred. They don’t usually feel tender if you don’t touch them though.

Cold sores on the other hand tend to tingle, itch, or even burn, without you touching them, and you often start to feel the tingling before they emerge. If you can feel it without touching it, it’s likely a cold sore, if not, it’s probably a spot. When you’re still not sure though, you can consider how it looks too.

How does it look? Can cold sores look like pimples?

When pimples and cold sores are emerging they can look similar, like small bumps on your skin without any discoloration. However, as they develop, they usually start to look very different.

Even if you have more than one spot, they tend to be single bumps and usually don’t merge together unless you have serious acne. Cold sores however often cluster together. If you have a patch of discoloured skin with multiple bumps on it, then it’s more likely to be a cold sore than a spot.

Both spots and cold sores can develop heads too, but these tend to look different. Spots can form blackheads or whiteheads, depending if the follicle remains open or if it closes, whereas a small amount of fluid often forms in cold sores. This fluid should look different from a whitehead, as it should be clearer and thinner in consistency, whereas a whitehead is usually white to yellow in colour, with a thicker liquid inside.

What if I’m still not sure what I have?

It’s important to know if the blemish on your face is in fact a spot or a cold sore, as not only are they treated differently, cold sores are contagious. They can be easily passed to others, and the virus which causes them can be transferred to other parts of your body on your fingers too, which can cause other conditions like genital herpes.

If you think you might have cold sores, you really need to find out for sure. The best way to do so is to ask an expert. Try to see a health professional who can give you a diagnosis. Cold sores can clear up in around eight to 10 days, so try to see someone in this time period, so they can see your blemish. They may even take a swab, which can then be tested to really make sure.

How to treat a spot?

So, you’ve diagnosed your blemish as a spot. If it’s a single spot, then it’s best to leave it and let it heal by itself. It can be tempting, and fun, to pop spots, but you shouldn’t, as it can spread infection further into your skin.

If you have more severe spots and acne, then you can try and prevent them by having a daily cleansing routine to keep your skin as clear and oil-free as possible.

To treat acne, there are products which contain various acids, like salicylic and retinoic acids, which can help to unblock follicles and clear dead skin cells and sebum. Antibiotics will also fight the bacterial infection. We recommend a product which combines both a retinoic acid and an antibiotic, called treclin gel.

How to treat a cold sore?

You can buy over the counter treatments for cold sores, but we recommend the prescription treatment valaciclovir, which is also sold under the brand name Valtrex. These are both anti-viral medications which help your body fight the herpes virus during an outbreak. They’re taken as a pill, and they can help ease the symptoms of cold sores and clear them up faster. They can also be taken as a daily suppressive treatment to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks occurring. 

Cold sores and spots can look similar, especially when they first emerge on your face, and even more so if you’ve never had cold sores before and you aren’t familiar with them.

You need to know for sure if your blemish is a spot or a cold sore, as you treat them differently. Cold sores are contagious, so it’s important to know if you have them to stop yourself infecting other people, and other parts of your body.

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Are cold sores herpes? What you need to know

There’s lots of misinformation and confusion about cold sores and herpes. People have questions that often aren’t answered clearly, like are cold sores and herpes the same thing, can cold sores on your face cause genital herpes, and do you have a sexually transmitted infection if you have cold sores?

Maybe you’ve got a cold sore, and you have some of these questions? That’s what we’re here for. We’ll let you know everything you need to know about cold sores, herpes, and sex. And we’re going to make it clear and super-simple.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are small blisters that appear on your face, usually around or on your lips, but they can form elsewhere too, like on your cheeks or chin. They usually contain a clear liquid, and they usually burst and crust over. They typically last for around two weeks.

Are cold sores herpes?

Yes. Cold sores are caused by a herpes infection. This might sound scary, but herpes is a condition that can be effectively managed.

What is herpes?

Herpes is the name of a group of viruses, called herpes simplex viruses (HSV) that usually infect the skin. Cold sores are most often caused by an infection of the herpes simplex 1 strain of the virus (HSV-1).

How does herpes cause cold sores?

The herpes virus spreads between people by skin-to-skin contact, such as by being kissed by someone who has the cold sore blisters present on their face. The virus gets into the body through an opening, such as a cut or through your mouth. Once inside, it multiplies and spreads through the surrounding skin cells, causing the blisters to form on you.

Once you’ve been infected, the virus takes up residence in the nerve cells in your skin. Most of the time you won’t have any symptoms but now and again the virus spreads out of the nerve cells and through the skin causing another outbreak or flare up.

What does a herpes sore look like?

The sores can look different by person, but they typically look like this:

  • The herpes sores usually start off as very small pink or white bumps.
  • The bumps redden and grow into blisters, and they often fill with a clear liquid.
  • The blisters may burst to form sores. They then crust over to form a patch of hard, dry, itchy skin.

What is genital herpes?

Genital herpes is an infection of the herpes virus in the skin on and around the genitals, anus, or buttocks. Whereas cold sores are usually caused by the HSV-1 virus, genital herpes is usually caused by the HSV-2 version of the virus

Can cold sores cause genital herpes?

Yes, they can. Genital herpes can also be caused by an infection of the HSV-1 virus on and around the genitals. It can be passed from face to genitals through oral sex, but also by touching the face and then touching the genitals. You can even pass a herpes infection from your face to your own genitals. This means you should avoid sex and oral sex if you or your partner have an outbreak of cold sores, and you should both wash your hands often with an antibacterial wash.

Do cold sores mean you have an STI?

Cold sores are not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but genital herpes is as it’s most often caught through having sex with someone with genital herpes.

How common are herpes infections?

Herpes viruses are highly contagious; they spread easily from person to person, meaning they’re more common than you might think. It’s estimated that 67% of the world’s population is infected with the HSV-1 virus, and nearly 10% are infected with HSV-2.

Why don’t some people get symptoms of herpes?

Some people can be infected with a herpes virus but show no symptoms. Scientists don’t yet understand why these people never get blisters or sores, but they can still be contagious and pass the virus to others.

How do I protect myself against cold sores and genital herpes?

Herpes viruses are common and contagious, so they are very easy to catch, but you can try the following to help protect yourself:

  • Don’t kiss anyone with cold sores or have oral sex with them, as they’re most contagious when the sores are present. Wait for seven days after they’ve cleared up before you kiss or have oral sex
  • Don’t have sex with anyone who has visible genital sores, as they’re most contagious when the sores are present. Wait for seven days after they’ve cleared up before you have sex
  • Use protection such as condoms when you have sex with someone with genital herpes when the sores aren’t present, as they can still pass the infection on through their bodily fluids
  • Don’t share sex toys with someone who has genital herpes. Herpes usually can’t be passed by sharing objects like towels or by sitting on the same toilet seat, as the virus dies quickly when away from the body, but there is a chance of transmitting it by sharing sex toys
  • If you’re in contact with someone who has cold sores or genital sores, try not to touch them, and use an antibacterial wash to regularly clean your hands just in case

Can I take medications for cold sores and genital herpes?

If you catch a herpes virus, unfortunately, it’s with you for life. The virus takes up residence in your body, and there’s no cure that can remove it for good. You can take medications to help manage the condition though. Valaciclovir and Valtrex are antiviral drugs which can help limit the severity of outbreaks, clear them up quicker, and reduce the pain. They can even be taken to lessen the chances of an outbreak happening.

You can order valaciclovir or Valtrex directly from us at FROM MARS. Start an online consultation by entering your medical history and symptoms. If approved, you’ll receive a treatment plan from our doctors within two hours, and your meds will be shipped for free to your door the next day.

Although there’s a lot of myth and misinformation around cold sores, herpes, and genital herpes, there shouldn’t be. It can be easy to understand what they are and what causes them if explained simply. We hope this guide helps.

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Cold sore stages

Cold sores happen in stages and understanding what these are can help you.

Knowing what the early stages of a cold sore are will let you recognise that something is on the way, and the faster you act, the faster you can clear them up. Understanding the later stages of a cold sore helps you gauge where you are in the process and lets you know roughly how long you have left until it’s gone.

So, let’s look at the stages of a cold sore.

What is a cold sore and what causes them?

Cold sores are small blisters and sores that usually form around the mouth, but also on the chin, cheeks, inside the nose, and inside the mouth.

They are usually caused by an infection of the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), but sometimes also by the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), which more often causes genital herpes. You usually catch these viruses through body contact. They get into you through openings, like through your mouth or through cuts in your skin. The virus then spreads through your skin cells, causing the blisters and sores to form.

Once the virus is in you, unfortunately it’s there for life. Most of the time it lies dormant and you have no symptoms, but every now and then it reactivates, and you get another outbreak of blisters and sometimes other symptoms too.

How long does it take for a cold sore to go away?

Cold sores usually last between eight to 10 days. They can last up to two weeks however, and sometimes longer. This is often the case if it’s your first outbreak, as the first is usually the worst. If you treat cold sores with prescription medications like valaciclovir and Valtrex, you can usually clear them up, and sometimes you can even stop an outbreak from happening.

How long is a cold sore contagious for?

So, when are cold sores contagious? When you have cold sores, you can have the live virus on your face, and you can pass it on to other people through body contact. Your cold sores are contagious from the moment you feel the first symptoms, usually a tingling in the skin, until the cold sores have gone, and your skin has completely healed.

What can trigger a cold sore?

When you’ve contracted a herpes virus it stays with you for life, and you get periodic outbreaks of cold sores. These outbreaks can be triggered by anything which lowers your immune system, like illness, stress, and fatigue, but they can also be triggered by the weather, and possibly even by food. You might find you have unique personal triggers for cold sore outbreaks too.

How do I heal a cold sore?

Cold sores will heal naturally, but you can speed up the healing process by using over the counter cold sore treatments that contain acyclovir, or better yet, by using prescription cold sore drugs like valaciclovir and Valtrex. You can also use ice to numb any pain, or take pain killers, and whilst these won’t help you heal any faster, they can help you manage the symptoms of cold sores.

The 5 stages of a cold sore

Cold sores usually pass through five stages over the course of 8 to 10 days. Everyone is different though and your symptoms and the time they occur may vary from those described below.

Cold sore stage 1: The first symptoms

One to two days before the cold sores appear, most people feel a tingling on the skin where they’re about to erupt. You can also feel soreness, itching, and tightness of the skin. At this point the virus has reactivated and is multiplying through your skin cells.

Cold sore stage 2: The cold sores emerge

Usually around two to four days into an outbreak, the cold sores begin to make an appearance. They typically look like small red lumps with a tip filled with clear fluid, and they can be itchy or even sore. Your body is beginning to fight the virus at this stage.

Cold sore stage 3: The cold sores burst

After four to five days the cold sores can rupture and leak the fluid that they contain onto your face. The fluid can dry creating a crust, which can be very tempting to pick off. But you should try and resist, as the fluid can contain the live herpes virus, and if you get it on your fingers you can transfer it to other people and other parts of your body.

Cold sore stage 4: The cold sores scab over

By around five to eight days, the ruptured and open cold sores scab over. They can be even more tempting to pick at, as they can be dry and itchy, or even sore. You shouldn’t though, as this is part of the healing process, and you’ll delay it if you pull the scabs off.

Cold sore stage 5: The cold sores clear up

After typically about eight to 10 days, the skin beneath the cold sores is healing, and the scabs begin to fall off. The skin can be a little pink or red for a few more days as it continues to heal.

How to treat cold sores

You can buy a range of products to treat cold sores, including over the counter creams and gels which contain acyclovir, an antiviral which can stop the spread of herpes. However, prescription medications taken in pill form, such as valaciclovir and Valtrex , are usually considered to be more effective. They also contain an antiviral which fights the herpes virus, and they can help your body clear an outbreak up faster. They can be taken daily at a lower dose to stop outbreaks from happening.

As well as antiviral medications, you can also use ice or painkillers to reduce any pain or irritation around the cold sores. These won’t help your body clear the cold sores up any faster, but they can help to ease symptoms alongside antiviral medications.

Remember, knowing the stages cold sores go through can help you understand how long you’re likely to have them, and can help you treat them.

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What causes cold sores?

It’s back! A cold sore can creep up again when you thought you’d dealt with it last time. Sometimes not knowing what to do and how to get rid of it can be so frustrating. If you go online, there’s loads of advice. But it’s not always accurate.

That’s what we’re here for. We’re giving it to you straight.

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores are small blisters or sores that usually appear around the mouth at the edge of the lips, but they can also form on your chin, cheeks, inside your nose, and even in your mouth. They can itch and hurt, and the blisters often contain a fluid, which can crust over if the blisters burst, forming an area of hard, dry skin. Nice.

What causes cold sores?

There’s only one thing that causes cold sores, an infection by a herpes virus. There are different types of herpes virus, and the one which most often causes cold sores is called herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). Cold sores can also be caused by the herpes virus which most often causes genital herpes too, herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2).

Herpes viruses usually spread through skin-to-skin contact. Someone with cold sores might touch their face and then touch you, or you could get the virus on your face by kissing someone with cold sores. Once the virus is on your skin, it finds its way into your body through convenient openings, like through cuts, or through orifices like your mouth. The virus then spreads through your skin cells, causing the blisters to form on the surface of your skin.

Unfortunately, once you’ve been infected by a herpes simplex virus, it stays with you for life. The virus works its way into the nerve cells in your skin, and it stays there for good. Your body can fight the virus when it's in your skin cells, but not when it’s in your nerves. Most of the time the virus stays dormant and you have no symptoms, but every now and then the virus reactivates and spreads out from the nerves into the surrounding skin cells, causing cold sores to form again. This occasional reactivation of the virus is called an outbreak or a flare up.

What can trigger a cold sore?

Cold sore flare ups usually happen around two or three times a year, but this can vary by person. They also tend to become less frequent as the years go by. How often you get a flare up can depend on your lifestyle, and even the weather, as cold sore outbreaks can be triggered by specific things. For instance, you’re more likely to get a flare up when your immune system isn’t firing on all cylinders, as your body will find it harder to suppress any outbreaks of the virus. Immune system cold sore triggers can include:

  • Illness. Other viral or bacterial infections, like colds and the flu, can tax your immune system and make flare ups more likely.
  • Stress. It doesn’t just affect you emotionally, stress can weaken your immune system too. That means that stress can cause your cold sores to return.
  • Fatigue. Feeling tired and run down can also weaken your immune system. Cold sores when run down are therefore always common.

Other things outside of your immune system can also cause flare ups as well, like:

  • The weather. Cold weather can trigger flare ups, as can exposure to strong sunlight.
  • Food. There’s a lot of advice online about what foods can trigger a cold sore flare up, but there’s little to no evidence to back any of this up, so take what you read with a pinch of salt. There might not be any hard science behind it, but you may feel that certain foods make flare ups more likely for you. Feel free to avoid these foods, especially when you feel stressed, run down, or ill.
  • Individual triggers for you. Some or all of the above triggers may give you a cold sore outbreak, but you may also have other triggers that are unique to you. Knowing what these are can be difficult to work out but paying attention to what you’re doing around the time outbreaks start might give you some ideas.

How to prevent spreading cold sores

Cold sores are contagious, and you can easily pass them on to others. To stop this from happening, try the following when you have a flare up:

  • First off, try not to touch the cold sores yourself, as if you rub and scratch at them, you can get the live virus on your fingers. If you touch someone else you can transfer the virus to them, or you can even transfer the virus to other parts of your body, like your genitals (don’t touch your cold sores and then go to the toilet!)
  • Wash your hands frequently, as it can be hard not to touch your cold sores. They can feel tight on your skin, they can itch and even hurt, and sometimes you find yourself touching them before you realise you’re even doing it. If you catch yourself touching your cold sores, wash your hands right away. Wash your hands often too, as you may not notice each time you touch your face.
  • Avoid sharing objects like mugs, glasses, toothbrushes, and towels, as although the virus can’t live for long when it’s away from the body, there is a chance it can be passed on by sharing objects.
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact. Don’t kiss anyone when you have cold sores, and definitely don’t have oral sex, as there’s a chance your cold sores can give someone genital herpes. You may have to avoid contact sports too.
  • Use cold sore treatments. You can use prescription drugs like valaciclovir and Valtrex to help clear up outbreaks faster and to reduce the amount of time when you’re at your most contagious.

How to treat cold sores?

You can minimise the number of flare ups you have by knowing what your triggers are and by managing them. But sometimes outbreaks are unavoidable. No matter what you do occasionally the cold sores will return. So how do you treat these outbreaks to clear them up as fast as possible?

There are plenty of home remedies that have been suggested for cold sores, but these often have limited scientific evidence of how well they really work. While you can take pain killers to help deal with any discomfort, if you want to get rid of your cold sores faster, you could try prescription cold sore medications like valaciclovir and Valtrex. These treatments are anti-viral drugs which help your body fight the herpes virus during a flare up. These meds can also be prescribed as a daily suppressive treatment to lessen the chances of a herpes flare up happening in the first place.

So, now you have the information, it’s time to take action.

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The 101 on acne scars

If you’ve ever had acne, you may have been left with acne scarring. If you have acne now, you may be worried you’ll get scars.

Here we’ll let you know the different types of acne scarring, and we’ll give you advice about how you can treat them.

What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition that causes spots, inflammation, and sometimes scarring. People usually get it on their face, but it can appear on the neck, back, chest, and shoulders too. There are also a lot of different types of acne.

What causes acne scarring?

Acne doesn’t always cause scarring, but it can when the more serious types of acne spots form, called nodules and cysts.

These larger spots can cause inflammation in the surface layers of your skin, and this swelling can press into lower layers and damage the structures there. This damage to the deeper levels of your skin is what causes the scars.

Scars can also form if you squeeze your spots to burst them, as it can damage the skin beneath the spots and make the spots themselves worse. We know how tempting it can be to give them a squeeze, particularly when you can see white heads on your spots, but try hard not to, as in addition to giving you scars, it can cause infections in your spots to spread further into your skin too. So it’s best to leave them alone.

Why do I need to know what type of acne scarring I have?

Scars are scars, right? Well, no. Different types of acne scars can respond differently to treatments, so knowing what kind of scar (or scars) you have, can help you pick the best treatments for your skin.

There are two main types of acne scarring, depressed and raised.

Depressed acne scars

Depressed scars, also called atrophic scars, form when there’s not enough collagen in damaged skin tissue when it heals after a spot clears up. Collagen acts as a structural support in skin, think of it like the frame which holds up a house. If your skin loses collagen then it can sag in places, forming depressions on your face. These depressions are visible on the surface of your face as the top layers of skin dip down into them. There are three types of depressed acne scar:

Boxcar scars

These are generally shallow, circular scars, but often with defined, almost sharp edges, giving them the appearance of small boxes (kind of). They often form where a large nodule or cyst has healed. Although they’re usually shallow, they can sometimes be deep, with deeper scars being harder to treat.

Ice pick scars

These scars are narrower than boxcar scars, and usually look like small holes, like an ice pick has been pressed into the skin. They can be harder to treat than boxcar scars, as they often extend deeper into the skin.

Rolling scars

These are roughly circular, like boxcar scars, but are usually wider. They typically have an irregular appearance with less of a defined shape than boxcar scars, often with more curved edges.

Raised acne scars

Raised acne scars, also called hypertrophic scars, are the opposite of depression scars in that they are raised from the skin, rather than indented. And whereas depression scars are caused by not enough collagen in damaged skin, raised scars are caused by the presence of too much collagen. They look like raised bumps and lines on the skin, and although they do form on the face, they’re more common on the back and chest.

How to prevent acne scarring

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to prevent acne scars. If you have acne, scarring will always be a risk. But you can do the following to help minimise your chances of getting scars and to limit their severity:

  • Don’t try and squeeze or pop your spots, as this can make scarring worse.
  • Use acne treatments to try and limit how bad your acne gets, as generally, the worse the acne, the worse the scarring.
  • You can also make lifestyle changes to try and limit the severity of your acne, particularly by eating some foods and avoiding others.

How to get rid of acne scars?

OK, we have to say this. Treating acne scars can be difficult. Most scars are permanent. No matter the treatment, they’ll never completely disappear. Treating acne scars is more about minimising their appearance, rather than getting rid of them forever. With that said, many treatments are effective though, and they can visibly reduce the prominence of your scars. You’ve got the following options:

At-home treatments for acne scars

You can buy a range of over-the-counter or prescription products which you can use at-home to treat your acne scars, including:

  • Salicylic acid. This is a common acid in many acne treatments and face cleansing products and is found in everything from toners to cleansers to wipes and pads. As well as helping to treat acne, it can also reduce the appearance of acne scars.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have a mild exfoliant effect, removing discoloured and rough skin from the surface of scars, making them less noticeable. AHAs can be used to treat all types of scars and can be found in a range of products, including cleansers, lotions, and creams which can be bought over the counter.
  • Retinoids. Retinoids are a type of molecule similar to vitamin A which can speed up cell regeneration and improve skin texture. Products containing retinoids can reduce discoloration and make acne scars less visible. You can buy some mild retinoid products over the counter, but you can also be prescribed stronger retinoid products too, such as treclin.
  • Sunscreen. Damage from sunlight can make scars look darker and more prominent. Wearing sunscreen everyday can protect you from this.

Professional treatments for acne scars

You can also try a range of treatments offered by dermatologists and other healthcare professionals to reduce the appearance of acne scars, including:

  • Dermabrasion. Think of this as deep exfoliation for your skin. Dermabrasion is an effective treatment for reducing the visibility of acne scars, particularly shallower scars, like boxcar and rolling scars.
  • Chemical peels. These are treatments with a strong acid that removes the top layers of skin from your face. You can use some chemical peels at home, but healthcare professionals can treat you with stronger ones. Chemical peels are used to treat all kinds of acne scars, but can be used particularly for deeper scars, like ice pick scars.
  • Laser resurfacing. A laser can be used to remove the top layers of skin. Your skin often heals faster after this treatment than with dermabrasion or chemical peels. It’s suitable for all types of acne scar.
  • Fillers. These are products made of collagen, commercial fillers, or even your own fat. The filler is injected into your skin, and it works by filling in depressions, smoothing your skin and making scars less prominent. Fillers don’t last forever though, they need to be re-done every six to 18 months, but they can work well, particularly for boxcar and rolling scars.
  • Microneedling. This approach uses a needle to puncture the skin to promote healing and collagen formation. It’s a relatively new approach, but there’s evidence that it can reduce the severity of all types of depression scar.


Acne scars can be removed surgically, although this is usually an option reserved for more serious and deeper scarring, as well as raised scars. A dermatologist or surgeon can remove a scar, but this will leave a small scar in its place, so surgery is often best suited for larger, more prominent scars.

Knowing what kind of acne scar you have is the first step in treating them. But you need to have realistic expectations as most scars are permanent. However, there are a range of treatments that can make them less visible.

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Cold sore remedies to try at home

Cold sores can be a nightmare. They don’t look great, they can itch, and they can put a temporary halt on your sex life.

But there are meds you can take and cold sore home remedies you can try to ease the symptoms and even help clear them up faster.

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores are small sores and blisters that usually form around the mouth, but sometimes on the chin, cheeks, inside the nose, and inside the mouth. They can be itchy and sore, and the blisters can contain fluid, which if they burst can leak out and dry up, making the skin feel rough and crusty around the cold sores.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by an infection of a herpes virus, usually the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), but sometimes by the HSV-2 virus which more often causes genital herpes.

The virus gets onto your skin through bodily contact, such as by touching someone’s face if they have cold sores, or that person touching their own face and then touching you. Once on your skin, the virus gets into your body through convenient openings, like your mouth or via a cut or break in the skin. The virus then multiplies and spreads through your skin cells, causing the blisters and sores to form.

How to get rid of a cold sore?

Once you’ve been infected with a herpes simplex virus, unfortunately it’s with you for life, meaning you can’t completely get rid of it. Your body fights the infection in your skin cells, and usually the blisters clear up after a week or two. However, the virus also spreads to the nerve cells in the skin, where it stays permanently. Most of the time the virus lies dormant and you have no symptoms, but every now and then the virus reactivates and spreads into your skin again, and you have another outbreak of cold sores.

How long do cold sores last?

Cold sores usually last from one to two weeks, although they can last up to four weeks and even longer. Some of the treatments we talk about here can help you clear cold sores up quicker.

Do cold sores mean you have an STD?

No. But if someone with cold sores gives oral sex to someone else, they can pass the virus to that person’s genitals, giving them genital herpes, which is an STD.

How to treat cold sores?

You’ve got a range of options for tackling cold sores. Some help ease the symptoms, some can even help your body clear them up faster, and some can even prevent outbreaks from happening.

Cold sore treatments to clear up outbreaks faster

Some cold sore treatments have antiviral properties which can kill the herpes virus, slowing its spread through your skin cells, helping your immune system clear it up faster. So, if you’re asking what can heal a cold sore fast, these are the treatments to try:

Valaciclovir and Valtrex

We’ll start with the best first. Valaciclovir and Valtrex are prescription anti-viral drugs which help your body fight the herpes virus. They’re taken as a pill when the first symptoms of an outbreak appear to help clear them up faster. Valaciclovir and Valtrex can also be taken daily as a way of preventing future outbreaks from occurring, but more on that later. 

Over the counter medications

You can also buy medications to treat cold sores with don’t require a prescription, but these are often not as effective for most people as valaciclovir and Valtrex. One of these is acyclovir, which is an antiviral which helps you fight the herpes virus, reducing the severity of outbreaks, and clearing them up faster. This is often sold as a cream. 

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is a plant that contains a gel-like substance inside its leaves. This gel has been claimed to have soothing, moisturising, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, and although these claims aren’t always supported by science, there is evidence that Aloe Vera gel can help reduce inflammation and slow the spread of herpes viruses. You can find Aloe Vera gel in plenty of face creams and gels that you can apply directly to the cold sores.

Cold sore treatments that help you manage symptoms

These treatments won’t help you clear an outbreak up faster, but they can help you manage the symptoms that accompany cold sores, like pain and inflammation, making outbreaks more bearable. They can be used alongside other treatments which fight the virus directly.


Ibuprofen is a pain killer and an anti-inflammatory. It can reduce any pain that accompanies cold sores and can reduce any inflammation around them.


An ice pack, or ice cubes or frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth, can also reduce inflammation around cold sores, and can help dull pain.

Cold sore treatments that help you stop outbreaks from happening

Rather than treating cold sores once they’ve emerged, there are even treatments you can take to make outbreaks less likely to happen.

Valaciclovir and Valtrex

Valaciclovir  and Valtrex can be taken in low doses to stop an outbreak of a herpes virus before it even happens. You can take a daily dose, particularly if you think something has triggered an outbreak and cold sores are about to emerge.


Sunlight on your skin can trigger outbreaks of cold sores. Wearing sunscreen, especially on sunny days, can lower the odds of cold sores making an appearance.

Stress reduction and avoiding other triggers

Sun isn’t the only trigger for cold sores. An outbreak can be instigated by a range of triggers, including stress, fatigue, other illnesses, feeling rundown, certain foods, and some things that are just unique to you. Taking care of yourself and avoiding your triggers is one of the best ways to minimise the number of outbreaks you have.

You don’t have to suffer cold sores gracefully. You have a range of treatments you can take to manage the symptoms, to clear them up faster, and to even stop outbreaks from happening.

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Skin care for acne

It can feel like you’re constantly fighting a losing battle when it comes to your acne, but a daily skin care routine for acne can work wonders.

Clearing your follicles, removing excess oil and fighting bacteria can all make a huge difference. But with so many products and claims out there, where do you even start? It’s all about finding what works for you and sticking to it.

This is what you really need to know about looking after your acne-prone skin.

What is acne and what causes it?

To understand how best to care for acne-prone skin, you need to understand what acne is and what causes it.

Acne is a skin condition which causes various types of spots. The spots can become infected with bacteria, which can cause inflammation and sometimes permanent scarring.

You get acne when your follicles (the small holes in your skin which hairs grow out of) become blocked, usually by dead skin cells or sebum (the natural oil your skin produces). Once the follicle is blocked it can form a black head or white head, and if it becomes infected, it can grow into one of the different kinds of acne including papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.

What is the best skin care for acne prone skin?

You need a skin care routine that removes excess oil and dead skin from your face, unblocks and clears your follicles, and which fights infection. You should use mild, unscented products which don’t contain alcohol, to avoid irritating your face.

Will I have to use lots of expensive products to care for acne prone skin?

Not necessarily. You’ll need to use a couple of different products as part of a full skin care routine and you’ll need to experiment to find which one’s suit you best. But sometimes the cheaper brands of these products work just as well as the more expensive ones, sometimes even better.

Should I moisturise at night if I have acne?

You should moisturise as part of your acne skin care routine, and you should do so at least once a day. Usually people moisturise in the morning, particularly if their moisturiser also protects their skin from the sun. But you can moisturise in the evening if that suits you better, and you may have to moisturise both in the morning and evening if your skin dries out easily.

How do you take care of acne skin?

Now on the skin care routine itself.

Step 1: Cleanse your face

You need to start your skin care routine by cleansing your face to remove excess oil, sweat, and dirt. Think of this as clearing the way for your other skin care products.

Rather than just using soap and water, you should use a cleanser specifically intended for treating acne, such as one that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl-peroxide (you can buy these over the counter). However, if you’re also using prescription acne medications, it may be better to use something gentler, ideally a mild, unscented cleanser.

You don’t need to be too harsh with your skin when cleansing. Use warm, but not hot water, and don’t rub too hard. Clean gently with your fingertips or with a soft cloth.

Do this every morning, but if you have an active day playing sport or getting sweaty, cleanse your face again in the evening.

Step 2: Use a toner or astringent

Toners are another product which help clean your skin, and they can also make your follicles shrink, reducing the likelihood that they’ll become blocked. Astringents are products designed to remove excess oil from your skin, which also helps prevent your follicles from becoming clogged.

While both toners and astringents can help reduce the likelihood and severity of acne outbreaks, they may not be suitable for everyone as they can dry your skin, as well as irritating sensitive skin. To limit the chances of this happening, use products that don’t contain any alcohol and choose ones designed for sensitive skin. If you find they still irritate your skin, skip this step.

Step 3: Apply your acne treatment

After your face has dried, apply a topical acne treatment.

Over the counter options include acne creams that contain salicylic acid or azelaic acid. These acids can have a mild exfoliant effect and help treat acne by removing dead skin cells and more effectively clearing blocked follicles.

Prescription medication may be more suitable for moderate to severe acne. Some prescription medications contain stronger acids, like retinoic acids, which can be even more effective at cleaning follicles and removing dead skin. Others include creams and gels containing antibiotics, which can help fight bacterial infections that accompany acne, reducing inflammation, and lowering the risk of scarring.

We recommend a product which combines both an acid and an antibiotic, as it gives you the benefits of both in one treatment. Treclin is a gel you apply to your face which contains a retinoic acid (tretinoin) and an antibiotic (clindamycin). It can help clear your follicles, remove dead skin and oil, kill bacteria, and reduce inflammation.

Step 4: Moisturise

Acne treatments can dry your skin out, so moisturise at the end of your skin care routine to rehydrate your skin. This will help to stop your skin becoming sore, will reduce peeling and rashes, and limit any discoloration due to dryness.

Use a mild moisturiser, ideally one without any scent, as these will be kinder to your skin. You can buy moisturisers specifically formulated for oily skin too, which should help limit further blocking of your follicles.

Go for a moisturiser that’s designed specifically for faces too, rather than an all-body moisturiser, as these can be oily.

Step 5: Sunscreen

One for your morning routine rather than the evening.

Whilst some sunlight can be good for your skin, it can also dry it out and encourage more sebum oil to be produced. The sun can also make it harder for your skin to shed dead skin cells, all of which can make it more likely for your follicles to be blocked. Some skin care products can make your face more sensitive to damage from the sun too.

There are certain moisturisers that contain SPF (sun protection factor) meaning you might be able to do steps 4 and 5 with only one product.

Experiment to find what’s right for you

Everyone’s skin is different, so you’ll need to experiment to find out what works best for you. You might find that toners or astringents aren’t right for your skin, and you’ll find that some brands work better than others. Remember that the cheaper ones often work just as well as the expensive ones, sometimes even better.

Stay consistent

A daily skin care routine won’t banish your acne entirely, but it can help keep you skin as clear and blemish free as possible, especially if you’re consistent. If you take care of your skin on a daily basis, you’ll see the best results.

Don’t worry if you miss a day here and there. No one’s perfect, and sometimes life gets in the way, but try your best to care for your skin every morning, and every evening if necessary. Try to make it part of your daily routine, so you do it without even thinking.

Now you should have a good foundation for an acne skin care routine to help you deal with acne. You might find some steps don’t work for you or you may find that other skin care products help.

It’s all about working out what works best for you.

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Acne face map: What your spots mean

How many treatments and possible solutions have you tried to clear up your acne? How many have worked?

When you’ve got acne, it can feel like a never-ending battle. But have you ever heard of acne face mapping? We’ve got the lowdown on what it might mean for your acne. And if it’s even a thing.

What is face mapping?

Face mapping is the idea that different areas of your face are linked to different areas of your body. It comes from traditional alternative medicine, with practitioners believing that health issues elsewhere in your body can be read on your face. Face maps vary by tradition and culture, but your cheeks could correspond to your pancreas for example, meaning acne on your cheeks could be a sign you have an issue with your pancreas.

Sounds a bit dubious? Yeah, we agree. Here’s why:

Is face mapping for acne accurate?

Yes and no.

Unfortunately, life isn’t as simple as the traditional face mappers would have you believe. There’s no medical evidence to support this kind of face mapping, and it doesn’t fit with our modern understanding of how the body works or what acne is. Everything is connected, yes, but not in such a simplistic way.

However, scientific research has found links between acne on certain areas of the face and specific causes, like hormones and hair products. Traditional face mapping may not be accurate, but a newer view of face mapping, supported by science, may be able to help. So let’s get into it. We’ll look at what could cause acne in specific areas of your face.

A reliable acne face map

You get acne when the follicles in your skin get clogged with things like oil and dead skin cells. The follicles become inflamed and can get infected by bacteria too, causing the pimples, redness, and the blackheads and whiteheads. So anything that causes your follicles to get clogged can cause acne. But different things can cause or worsen this clogging in different areas of your face. Let’s start at the top:

Acne on your forehead and around your hairline

Acne here can be caused by using hair products if they contain ingredients which can block pores. If you have acne in this area and you’re asking yourself how to get rid of spots on your forehead, you can try switching hair products to find ones which are kinder to your skin. You’ll have to experiment, but generally, thicker and stickier products, like wax and gel are more likely to cause acne, and you may fair better with lighter hair products like mousse.

Acne on your forehead and nose (T-zone)

A lot of people produce more sebum oil (a type of oil your skin makes to keep it healthy) in the T-zone than other areas of their face, so this is a common area for people to get acne. There’s evidence too that stress can cause or worsen nose and forehead acne. So if you want to get rid of acne in your T-zone, you need to try and de-stress.

Whenever anyone tells you to de-stress, they always seem to recommend meditating and yoga, but we’re pretty sure most people ignore this. Great if yoga and meditation work for you, but no worries if they don’t. Do what’s best for you, as long as it’s reasonably healthy. Go for a run, listen to music, play video games, whatever relaxes you.

Acne on your cheeks

Anything that regularly presses against your face here could be contributing to acne on your cheeks. Sometimes acne can be caused and worsened by something rubbing against your skin (called acne mechanica), like your phone or your pillow. It also doesn’t help if these objects aren’t clean either, as they can lead to infections, and there’s some real horror stories about what can be found on both your phone and your pillow. You should clean your phone regularly with antibacterial wipes, and you can try changing your pillowcases to a softer material. And remember to wash them often.

Acne around your chin and along your jawline

Chin and jawline acne is often caused by fluctuations in your hormones, usually by too much androgens (male sex hormones, including testosterone). These hormones can make the oil glands in your skin produce more sebum oil, clogging your pores. Hormonal acne is more common in your teens, when you’re going through puberty, so it often clears up naturally with time. If not, you can try changing your diet to get rid of acne on your chin and jaw, as certain foods can increase your hormone levels.

This version of acne face mapping may help you tackle your acne by helping you understand what’s causing it. But remember that anything that blocks your pores can cause acne, so this isn’t bulletproof. There are plenty of other things you can do to help clear acne up too, like practicing good skin care and eating healthily. You can also try acne meds like treclin gel.

Face mapping can help, but you need to experiment to find what works best for you.

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Does sugar cause acne? How food affects your skin

You may have heard that what you eat can affect your skin. Sugar and fast foods are often considered to be the top culprits in causing acne.

But is there actually any scientific evidence behind this? Or is it just scaremongering?

Ok, so the deal is that a lot of the old advice on diet and acne wasn’t actually based on science. Some people were certain diet had an impact, but others said we couldn’t say for sure as there wasn’t any scientific evidence. But the good news is that scientific research has been conducted more recently, and it has found links between acne and food.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is acne?

Acne is a skin disease which causes different types of spots, inflammation, and even scarring. Acne forms when the follicles in your skin, that’s the small holes that hair grows out of (also called pores), get blocked by sebum oil or dead skin cells. The blocked follicles form various types of spots. They can get infected by bacteria too, causing inflammation and more serious forms of acne.

While blocked follicles cause acne, a whole host of things can make the follicles more likely to get blocked, including hormones making your skin produce more oil, certain meds, and even food.

So what kinds of foods cause acne? And which can help?

What foods can cause or make acne worse?

Sugar and refined carbohydrates

Does sugar cause acne? Two studies found that people with acne tend to eat more sugar and refined carbohydrates (like bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and pastries) than people without acne. When you eat sugar and refined carbs you get a sudden spike in blood sugar, which causes your body to release insulin to lower it again. Insulin can also cause your hormones to become more active, which could make you produce more sebum oil, which then blocks your follicles.


A number of studies have found a link between dairy and acne. Dairy products, like milk and cheese, also make your body produce insulin, so like sugar and refined carbs, more insulin could lead to more sebum oil and more blocked follicles. Cow’s milk also contains a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which has been linked to acne too.

Food high in omega-6 oils

Omega oils are a type of fat your body needs to be healthy, but that it can’t make itself from other fats. You need to get them from your food. You need both omega-6 and omega -3 oils in your diet, but too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can make inflammation in your body worse, including inflammation around acne. Sunflower oil and corn oil are high in omega-6, and are found in fast food, especially fried fast food, and in processed products like cakes, pastries, and bread.

Fast food

Research shows people who eat high-calorie, high-fat food, especially fast food, are more likely to get acne. Evidence suggests that these foods can change the way your genes express and alter your hormone levels, which could result in more sebum oil being produced. They're also high in sugar and refined carbs, dairy, and omega-6 oils as well.


Chocolate has long been thought to be a cause of acne, and science has found there may be something to this, as studies have shown that men who eat chocolate have worse acne than those who don’t. It’s thought that chocolate makes the immune system more sensitive to acne bacterial infections, making inflammation worse.

What foods can help with acne?

Just as evidence shows some foods can make acne worse, there are foods which can help too. Generally, any foods that keep your blood sugar and insulin levels low, or that have anti-inflammatory benefits should help. Try and include the following in your new acne diet:

Food high in omega-3 oils

We mentioned before that too much omega-6 oils and too little omega-3 can contribute to acne through making inflammation worse. Well, no surprises, research has shown that increasing your omega-3 intake can reduce your chances of having acne and inflammation. Omega-3 oils are found in lots of foods, but particularly oily fish, seeds, berries, and avocados. Taking omega-3 supplements has been found to be effective too.

Foods high in vitamins A, D, and E, and zinc

These nutrients are important for healthy skin and a strong immune system. Evidence has also shown they can help stop acne. Foods high in these nutrients include fish, eggs, nuts, and fruits and vegetables. You could consider taking a multivitamin too to make sure all your bases are covered.

Probiotic foods

Probiotics are foods which contain live microorganisms which are good for your gut and your health. They include probiotic yoghurts and pickled food, like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and gherkins. As well as being generally good for you, there’s evidence that probiotics reduce inflammation and lower the risk of developing acne.

Paleo and Mediterranean diets

Certain diets such as the Paleo diet or Mediterranean diet which focus on natural foods, like lean meats, veg, nuts, fruit and contain little dairy or animal fat, have been linked to lower rates of acne. It’s likely this is because the foods in these diets usually don’t lead to blood sugar spikes and increased insulin production.

You can’t treat acne just by changing your diet, but altering what you eat can help. That means you should make changes to your diet alongside other treatments for acne, like skincare products and acne meds such as treclin, and hopefully you’ll see the benefits.

Changing your diet to include foods that help with acne should also make you healthier overall as well. Double win.

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A guide to the different types of acne

Acne just won’t quit. It can be hard to treat, and it can stick around for years.

The good news is that effective acne treatments are available. The slightly worse news is that to choose the right one, you need to know what type of acne you have (and there are loads of different types of acne). The confusing news is that you probably have more than one kind of acne at the same time, so you could need a combination of treatments.

Don’t sweat it though, that’s what we’re here for. To help get your skin sorted.

What causes acne?

Your skin is covered in very small holes called follicles, or pores. These follicles are the holes in your skin from which hair grows, but you have them even where you don’t seem to have hair, as often you do have microscopic hairs in these places. Follicles and pores are usually most visible on your face, particularly on your nose, where they look like small dots.

You get acne when your follicles become blocked. The follicles produce a type of oil called sebum, which moisturises and protects your skin. Sebum can block follicles though, particularly in areas of your body where you produce lots of it, like your face. Blocked follicles become spots, and they can become infected and inflamed too. Other things can block your follicles besides sebum, like dead skin cells or ingrown hairs. Other things like your hormone levels and your diet can also make your body produce more sebum, making it more likely that your follicles become blocked and you get acne.

These are the different types of acne.

Non-inflammatory acne

Non-inflammatory acne, also called comedonal acne, is the milder form of acne. Blocked pores become spots, but there’s no infection, and usually no swelling and soreness. You typically get two types of spot with non-inflammatory acne:

Blackheads (also called open comedones)

You get blackheads when a follicle becomes blocked, but it stays open at the surface, so you can see the black blockage inside; like looking down into a half-filled hole filled with black dirt.

Blackheads can often be cleared up with a good skin cleansing routine, particularly when using products that contain salicylic acid, like cleansers and face washes. Salicylic acid cleans your pores and exfoliates your skin, removing dead skin cells, and may be the only treatment you need for blackheads.

Whiteheads (also called closed comedones)

These are similar to blackheads in that they’re caused by a blocked follicle, but this time it closes over at the surface, causing a small, white bump on your skin.

Whiteheads are more difficult to treat than blackheads, as the follicles are closed. Using skincare products with salicylic acid can help, but whiteheads may react better to topical retinoids. Retinoids are a type of molecule that’s similar to vitamin A. Topical means that it’s applied directly to the skin. Topical retinoids for acne are usually creams or serums which you apply to your face once a day. Retinoids can unplug and clean follicles, and remove dead skin cells, like salicylic acid, but are generally stronger. In the UK, you need a prescription for retinoid acne treatments.

Inflammatory acne

Inflammatory acne, also called acne vulgaris, is when your skin becomes swollen and inflamed as well as having spots. It’s more severe than non-inflammatory acne. Your skin gets inflamed when bacteria infect blocked follicles. The bacteria feed on the sebum and dead skin cells and spread through your skin. Inflammation happens as your body fights the infection. The deeper the infection gets into your skin the more painful the acne spots become, and the harder it is to fight them.


These are raised spots that are often pink to red, and tender to the touch. They occur when the walls around follicles break down and the bacterial infection spreads out into the surrounding skin, meaning papules are usually bigger than blackheads and whiteheads.

As with non-inflammatory acne, topical retinoids can be used to tackle papules, but you can also try using products which contain benzoyl-peroxide (usually creams and gels) which can be bought over-the-counter from pharmacies. The benzoyl-peroxide dries the skin, kills the bacteria, and can reduce inflammation too. You can also use prescription antibiotics, often as topical creams, to help fight the bacterial infection, such as treclin (clindamycin + tretinoin) gel.


These are papules which are filled with pus, which is the yellow/white fluid that builds up when your body fights an infection (pus is mostly made of dead white-blood cells). Pustules look similar to papules but have a white or yellow head on top where pus is near the surface of the skin.

Pustules can be treated in the same way as papules, with cleansing products which contain benzoyl-peroxide, with topical retinoids, and with antibiotics.


These look and feel like hard bumps under your skin, and they can be skin-coloured, but are often pink or red, and they’re usually painful to touch. They happen when the infection in a follicle spreads into other follicles and deeper into the skin, causing the spot to grow larger and more inflamed. Nodules are more serious than papules and pustules, are harder to deal with, and can leave scars on the skin.

Because the infection has moved deeper, nodules usually can’t be treated with over-the-counter skin products. You’ll need to use prescription medications which contain antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection, like treclin gel.


Cysts are similar to nodules in that they form deeper in the skin and can be relatively large, but they tend to contain more pus, so usually have a white or yellow head. Like nodules, they’re harder to deal with and can leave scars on your skin.

Cystic acne is usually treated in the same way as nodules, with prescription medications that contain antibiotics, but in really severe cases cysts can be surgically removed.

Treclin gel

You can order an effective prescription medication directly from us called treclin gel which combines retinoids to cleanse and improve your skin, and an antibiotic to fight the bacterial infection (clindamycin). It can be used to treat a range of acne types and is especially suited for fighting more than one kind of acne at a time.

But simply knowing what kind of acne you have is just the first step to tackling it.

Acne can be a tough condition to treat and it can take time to see improvements, sometimes months, even if you’re using the right treatments, so you may have to be patient. And whilst medication is important, it’s only one part of treating acne. You should have a cleansing routine to keep your skin clean and to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells, and you can also try making changes to your diet. Then the improvements should begin.

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