Acne is a broad term that covers blemishes, spots, cystic acne, hormonal acne, and general spottyness. It’s one of the most common skin care concerns and affects around 80% of people at some point between the ages of 11 – 30.

What it is

Acne comes from the name p.Acne, a bacterium that lives on the surface of our skin designed to protect us from all sorts of nasties. When exposed to the air, the levels of p.Acne are kept down to an optimal level, however, when air is cut off, p.Acne bacteria thrives.

Why it happens

Spots, blemishes and pustules occur when this bacterium becomes trapped in our pores most often by dead skin cells, as well as oil secretions and other dirt and debris. This, cutting off the air to the bacteria, allows it to thrive and breed in our skin.

Our body, on noticing the infection, sends an army of white blood cells and other substances to help kill the infection. This results in a swelling and often a nice yellow head.

How to treat it

Full-blown cystic acne

In the first instance, if your acne is really bothering you and is what is described as cystic (large areas of inflamed, red and yellow pustules) then speak to your GP and push for a referral to a dermatologist. There are a number of treatments available from topicals to antibiotics. From experience, GPs don’t often dispense the most appropriate treatments and tend to shoot for tablets way to early – seriously try and get a dermatologist who’s main and only area of practice is the skin.

‘Normal’ spots and blemishes

The principle for treating any blemishes and spots is to make the skin uninhabitable for the spot causing bacteria.

This isn’t through harsh chemicals and washing your face 10 times a day. Instead follow these three principles.


If pore blockages cause the spots, then it’s correct to assume that unblocking them can prevent spots. By using gentle chemical exfoliators that include ingredients such as BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) and AHAs (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids):

Salicylic Acid
Glycolic acid
Lactic acid
Malic acid
Citric acid
Glycolic acid + ammonium glycolate alpha-hydroxyethanoic acid
Ammonium alpha-hydroxyethanoate

By using these products, usually toners, once to twice a day, sweeping over the face in a single, continual motion (not rubbing or going over the same area twice) you can help to unblock these pores.

If your skin concern is acne, blemishes and spots, do not use beaded/grained chemical exfoliating scrubs as these will only rip the spots open, possibly leading to scarring as well as risking spreading the infection underneath the skin.

Also try to avoid alcohol based products as this serves to dry out the skin’s natural moisture barrier and can exacerbate the problem. This isn’t always the case, but something to bear in mind.


This is probably one of the most important acne, blemish and spot preventing/treating factors. Using a moisturiser, that’s 100% oil-free, will almost certainly dramatically improve your concern.

If the top layer of skin is dehydrated, it falls away unevenly and often falls into the pores, blocking them causing blackheads and plugs which can lead to a full-on spot.

Oil exacerbates the problem and if your skin is oily, then don’t add anymore, but there are plenty of moisturisers out there that moisturise without oil, but instead use fabulous ingredients such as Hyaluronic Acid (a moisturiser) to bond hydration to surface skin cells. Check out the MANFACE acne archive to find some of my favourites.

Don’t Pop

Although Pringles would have you believe otherwise, once you pop, the fun certainly does stop. If you pop your blemishes, it can lead to scarring and spreading the infection. Often only half the infection comes out and can push the other half further into the skin. It’s best to cover them up with a touch of concealer and let your skin care routine do its work.