It’s not just the young stars of the Harry Potter movies who’re plagued by zits – a huge number of more mature celebrities are cursed with problematic skin. Kate Moss, Cameron Diaz, Madonna, Uma Thurman, Billie Piper and Victoria Beckham have all been spotted (sorry) with acne. It’s a common misconception that acne is only for adolescents: adult acne is increasing and a recent study in the US showed that 25 percent of women aged 30-40 years will suffer from the condition. And it’s not just a female issue – Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and John Cusack aren’t blemish-free either.
‘It’s a major psychological problem,’ says Tony Chu, professor of dermatology and medical director of the West London Dermatology Centre. ‘People feel they cannot plan their lives as they never know what they will look like. I have had women patients who have cancelled their weddings as the stress made their skin so much worse.’
So is stress the major cause of the spot epidemic? In a nutshell, yes, says Professor Chu. ‘Acne is caused by hormonal changes normally onset by puberty but it’s now seen in adults who lead more stressful lives.’
Pharmacist Shabir Daya agrees. ‘Stress is a key factor because it stimulates the production of male hormones. The major culprit is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which increases the production of sebum, clogging the pores.’
The standard prescription for persistent acne is an antibiotic to kill the bacteria and a vitamin A cream to unblock the pores. For tough cases, strong anti-acne medications such as Roaccutane are used which usually take 4-6 weeks to take effect and can clear around 50 percent of lesions. However they can produce serious side effects.
Professor Chu has pioneered the use of something quite different – the N-Lite (or Regenlite) laser. It was developed for general skin rejuvenation but one patient with severe acne found her lesions virtually disappeared after two weeks. A clinical study was set up at Hammersmith Hospital and the results were impressive. The N-Lite appears more effective than antibiotics; results are seen faster and there are no side effects. The laser uses yellow light which penetrates deeply into the skin, killing the bacteria present in acne. ‘It triggers the skin’s immune system to reduce inflammation and repair the damage caused by the acne bacteria,’ says Chu. ‘It stops the immunological reactions that cause the spots.’
The treatment costs £150 and should be repeated every one to three months (according to the severity of the acne). However it has to be said that not everyone benefits and reviews on acne support websites are mixed. ‘I had no improvement at all after six treatments,’ says one acne sufferer on website www.acne.org. ‘It was a huge disappointment.’
Another alternative to medication is phototherapy – in which the skin is exposed to either blue LED light alone or in combination with red light. The blue light has anti-bacterial properties while the red light acts as an anti-inflammatory. It seems most effective for mild to moderate acne (some reports suggest it can decrease lesions by around 60 percent) – but again results are mixed.
Scientists at the University of California in San Diego hope that, in the future, nanotechnology will offer a solution. They are working on coconut-oil ‘nano-bombs’ which will project antibacterial lauric acid straight into the offending bacteria. In the meantime, however, you could try the decidedly low-tech remedy of turmeric (a natural antiseptic) mixed with coconut oil (high in lauric acid) as a face mask.
It seems there is still no one definite one-size fits all cure for acne. But with increasing research and innovation, sufferers may find life could become smoother in the future.
West London Dermatology Centre: www.dermclinic.co.uk; 0208 7422204.
For clinics using N-Lite around the UK: www.chromogenex.com; 01554 755444
Spot solutions for acne
- Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers. The Yes to Tomatoes range (from £8.99; www.victoriahealth.com ) contains anti-inflammatory lycopene.
- Reduce stress – try meditation or autogenic therapy to keep stress hormones under control.
- Certain foods affect DHT production. Cut out saturated fats (red meat, butter etc) and up your intake of fresh fruit and veg (brassicas and berry fruits in particular), garlic and seeds.
- Skincare guru Jan Marini suffered acne herself and her Bioclear Cream (£48) may help clear acne lesions. www.janmarini.co.uk
- Make-up can exacerbate acne. Use high quality mineral foundation (Jane Iredale, Mineralogie and Priori Coffeeberry are all excellent) which will disguise spots but won’t irritate the skin.
- Need a quick fix? Skin Oasis (www.skin-oasis.co.uk) offers Emergency Spot Treatment (£50-70) in which a small amount of hydrocortisone is injected directly into the individual spot. It gets rid of the spot in 24 hours but it’s not a long-term cure.