The Science of Acne: Causes, Myths, and Effective Treatments
The Science of Acne: Causes, Myths, and Effective Treatments
April 11, 2024
Posted by admin

Acne is one of the most common skin diseases worldwide. A community-based study conducted in Singapore showed that up to 88% of adolescents aged 13 to 19 years suffer from acne. Although teenagers are the ones who are most frequently afflicted, adults, even up to the age of 40, can develop acne. Acne should not be dismissed as a mere annoyance, as it can cause permanent and unsightly scars, resulting in lower self-esteem, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Early and effective treatment of acne can prevent scar formation. Dermatologists in Singapore can offer many different types of treatment for effective treatment of acne. Read on to find out more about acne, including its common causes, myths and treatments.


What Causes Acne?

Understanding what acne is and what causes acne is the first step to its effective management. Acne begins with clogging of hair follicles and the adjacent sebaceous glands. This gives rise to formation of the comedo. Comedones may be closed or open, which are also known was whiteheads or blackheads, respectively. The causes of follicular obstruction include:

  • Bacteria: Cutibacterium acnes (previously known as Propionibacterium acnes) is a bacteria that is considered part of our normal skin bacterial flora. In some people, Cutibacterium acnes causes blockage of our follicles and oil glands and triggers inflammation, resulting in pimples.
  • Sebum: Sebum refers to the oily substance that provides your skin with a protective barrier. The production of sebum is controlled by hormones. An overproduction or change in quality of sebum gives rise of clogging of pores and acne formation.
  • Dead Skin Cells: Your skin cells naturally shed regularly to make room for more cells to develop. When your skin produces dead skin cells, there is a possibility that they will get stuck in your hair follicles. Too much trapped dead skin cells can then clog your pores and lead to acne. 
  • Hormones: Acne is a condition that is strongly influenced by hormones. Hormones control the quantity and quality of sebum produced by our oil glands, which contributes to clogging of pores. Women may notice breakouts around their monthly period. Sensitivity to androgen hormones may explain why some people get more pimples than others.


Beliefs About Acne That Are Pure Myths

Every other person from your distant relative to next door neighbor seem to have some advice on what are the causes of acne and how you should treat it. While some may have a grain of truth, others are pure myths with little scientific basis:

  • Acne is due to poor hygiene: Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by dirty skin. In fact, cleansing your skin with harsh chemicals or soaps and scrubbing it too hard can cause irritation and make acne afflicted skin worse.
  • Chocolate and greasy foods cause acne: The role of diet in causing acne remains unclear. While there is some data that shows excessive consumption of sugary foods can trigger acne, diet is not the main cause of acne and should not be the main focus of its treatment.
  • Acne will go away as you grow older: While it is true that acne tends to be more common and severe in teenagers, one can develop acne up to the 40s. Even though you won’t see those irritating red bumps anymore, the scars they leave behind can be long-lasting and distressing. Hence, don’t wait to get those pimples treated. 
  • Popping a pimple will make it heal faster: Squeezing a zit may be oddly satisfying, especially when one sees it flatten. However, the act of squashing a pimple may rupture the hair follicle, creating more inflammation and slowing down the healing process, giving rise to more scarring.


How is Acne Treated?

There are a number of ways to treat acne. The type of treatment suitable for you will vary according to your age, the type of acne you have, its severity, and if you have other skin or health conditions. The most common treatments include topical medications, oral medications, and physical therapies:

  • Topical Medications: A topical acne medication is one that is applied on the skin. The most common medicines include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids (which are Vitamin A-like products), azelaic acid, sulfur compounds and antibiotics. Topical medications can come in a bewildering range of lotions, creams and gels that are suitable for different skin types. Some medications combine different active ingredients for a simple, once-a-day usage so that the lazy teenager will have no excuse not applying it. 
  • Oral Medications: The most effective oral medications include antibiotics, retinoids (isotretinoin) and hormonal medications (such as the oral contraceptive pill). These differ in effectiveness and suitability depending on the type of acne, skin type and other health conditions you may have. The dermatologist is the most suitable professional to advice you on whether you need oral medications, and if so, which one.
  • Therapies: On top of topical and oral medications, there are other treatments including chemical peels, light therapies, photodynamic therapies that can be used. Steroid injections, where a small amount of steroid is injected into large, painful cystic acne spots, can help these settle down faster and reduce scarring.



Acne is a common skin problem that can afflict teenagers and adults. It should not be dismissed as a solely cosmetic issue, because acne can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and distressing acne scars. Early and effective treatment is the best way to prevent formation of long-lasting acne scars and restore a youthful complexion. The type of treatment should be tailored according to your skin type, severity and type of acne.

For trusted and effective dermatological solutions to address various skin problems, including acne, acne scars, psoriasis, eczema, hives, warts, and skin infections, TSN Dermatology is an expert partner you can count on. In addition to addressing common skin concerns, we take pride in our association with one of Singapore’s leading Mohs micrographic surgeons, who specialize in removing cancer cells and preventing cancer recurrence for those facing skin cancer. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive services.

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