Helping to create beautiful smiles is what our medical assistants Amy and Rachael do every day here at the DRVICTORIA™ Clinic. But for each of them, the impact of acne left them feeling far from happy. I discussed with them their personal battles with breakouts and flare-ups, and what products and treatments have enabled them both to smile again with confidence.
The causes of acne – debunking the myths
First and foremost, it is important to debunk the myths surrounding acne. We’ve all heard the suggestions that over-indulging in things like chocolate or cheese can lead to breakouts. But the truth is that we still don’t know for sure what really causes acne. Scientists now believe it can be linked to a complex range of things such as genetics, hormones, environmental factors, lifestyle, diet and stress.
If you were to delve beneath the skin, you would see that “Acne is caused by inflammation in the pilosebaceous unit, the place that harbors the hair follicle and the sebaceous gland. The sebaceous gland produces sebum, an oily substance that lubricates the skin. We still don't know how this inflammation happens, but it seems that sebum overproduction clogs the sebaceous gland, which can lead to inflammation and eventually bacterial infection” (Ref 1).
Another common myth is that acne is a typical teenage problem. According to the British Journal of General Practice, whilst “Almost all teenagers are affected to some degree, with between 15% and 20% having moderate or severe disease. Acne can continue into adulthood, affecting >40% of individuals in their 30s” (Ref 2). So acne is not something that miraculously disappears overnight when a teenager turns 20. In fact, it can continue to cause years of upset, as Amy and Rachael will testify.
Acne is more than skin deep
Whilst acne can surface as sore red spots, white pustules and blackheads, it is important to note that the condition isn’t just something that can affect the individual on a physiological level, but also on a psychological and emotional level too.
As a well-known study explains; “Despite its apparent cosmetic nature, its effects can go far deeper than the surface of the skin, and can place a heavy emotional and psychological burden on patients that may be far worse than the physical impact. The change in the skin's appearance may give rise to a changed body image that in turn is known to lead to anger, fear, shame, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, and bullying and stigmatisation within peer groups. Lack of confidence, social withdrawal, feelings of insecurity and inferiority, limited employment opportunities, functional and interpersonal difficulties at work, and suicidal tendencies have also been reported and attributed to the effects of acne” (Ref 3).
For this reason, we take the treatment of acne extremely seriously here at the clinic. Especially as some of our team have first-hand experience of what a huge impact it can have on their life, as Amy and Rachael’s stories show…
Amy first noticed signs of acne at around age 14. As her condition worsened, it had a big impact on her confidence. She tried to conceal it, never leaving the house without make up, but yet she always felt like people were staring at her, perhaps even making unfair assumptions about her skin hygiene.
Amy had cystic acne which included white inflamed pustules and blackheads mostly on her T-zone. She tried everything to control it. Countless trips to her GP resulted in a variety of prescriptions – from the oral antibiotic tetracycline to topical creams such as benzyl peroxide. She was then referred to a dermatologist and underwent two courses of Roaccutane.
“It was definitely a case of trial and error. High street products just didn’t work for me. The real gamechanger was switching to medical grade skincare. I saw a real improvement when I started using the Obagi ZO Skin Health range and having a HydraFacial® treatment every month. It’s been a long road, there was no overnight cure, but now at 26 I finally have it under control.” Amy
When I asked what advice she would give anyone else currently suffering from acne, she suggested ignoring supposed miracle cures such as sleeping with their face covered in Sudacrem and instead going straight to see a qualified skincare expert. She also suggested keeping a diary to try to pinpoint any potential triggers. For Amy, her acne tended to flare up at certain times of the month, indicating a hormonal link. But she also found that sugar and stress exacerbated the problem.
Rachael’s experience of acne is quite different to Amy’s. She had perfect skin throughout her teenage years but suddenly found at the age of 23 she was developing red sore itchy spots around her cheeks and chin. She believes her acne was triggered by the stress of a previous job.
“It was a real confidence knock. Before my first breakout I hardly ever wore make up but then I felt like I needed to wear it more and more to cover up. I exercised quite a lot but I didn’t want to wear make up at the gym, so it was impacting all areas of my life.” Rachael
Rachael went to her GP who referred her to a dermatologist. They recommended a course of Roaccutane but she wasn’t comfortable with the potential side effects and the need to go for regular blood tests. So instead, she was prescribed the antibiotic lymecycline. Rachael took lymecycline for two years and it did help to decrease her acne, but it didn’t cure it. The real difference came with she started working at the DRVICTORIA™ Clinic.
“Since starting here, I’ve been learning about the science of acne and as a result I’ve completely changed my skincare routine. In the morning, I use products that protect my skin, and in the evening I use products that treat and repair my skin. I use the Obagi Gentle Cleanser every morning, followed by the Heliocare 360° Oil-Free SPF. On alternate nights I use the Obagi Clenziderm MD Daily Care Foaming Cleanser to exfoliate my skin and remove dirt and oil. Every other night I use the Obagi Tretinoin Cream which is a prescription only medicine. Then I use a facial moisturiser, the Obagi Hydrate.” Rachael
Asked what a difference this new skincare routine has made to her skin Rachael says,
“My skin is a lot better now – it’s more hydrated, the pigmentation is reduced, I have better skin tone and surface texture, and it’s more glowy. I’m confident enough in my skin to go out without make up again.”
Life after acne
Reducing and preventing acne breakouts has made a huge difference to Amy and Rachael, but their skincare journeys are not over yet. Whilst Amy describes her skin as being “A hundred times better than before”, she is now keen to tackle the scars left from years of breakouts.
To reduce the scarring, Amy has started a course of microneedling treatments. This treatment uses ultra-fine sterile needles to create micro-channels in the skin. These micro-channels stimulate your skin's healing response to renew your skin cells. As your skin repairs, it creates new collagen and elastin to form healthier skin layers that tighten your skin and give it a more even skin complexion.
Amy also has regular Red Carpet Facials. This chemical peel uses salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid to decongest clogged pores and exfoliate dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, fresher skin complexion.
Start your journey to clearer, smoother skin
As Amy and Rachael’s stories show, everyone’s experience of acne is different. Which is why our highly trained team will consider a range of factors including your treatment history, severity and triggers, before devising a bespoke treatment plan. So whether you’re battling active acne or dealing with acne scarring, our personalised approach will take into account where you are on your journey and get you to where you want to be – happy in your own skin.
Susan is our clinic manager, with 8 years experience in NHS and private care nursing, before moving into management. Amy and Rachael are qualified dental nurses and phlebotomists currently studying advanced skin science. Their personal experiences has made the topic of acne a keen interest and it was decided to share their experience whilst they completed their research.
- Harvard Health, Acne: What you need to know, Campos, 2021
- British Journal of General Practice, GPs’ perspectives on acne management in primary care: a qualitative interview study, Platt, Muller, Sufraz, Little and Santer, 2021
- National Library of Medicine, Acne: more than skin deep, Ayer Burrows, 2006
- American Academy of Dermatology Association, Acne can affect more than your skin