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Spots: Just The Facts

Everybody gets spots from time to time, but why do we get them?

Spots develop when your skin produces too much oil (Sebum- which protects the skin). This then becomes trapped in the pores (hair follicles) of the skin by dirt or dead skin cells, causing the formation of spots. Bacteria that are on the skin can get underneath the spot, which can cause it to become inflamed and painful.

Spots are commonly linked to hormonal changes during puberty, however spots can develop at any age and you can still get spots when you’re an adult.

Raised levels of testosterone during puberty can increase production of oil (Sebum) in the skin, resulting in increased production of spots. Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy can also increase production of spots in girls and women.

Girl looking in mirror

Spots can even be genetic, so if your mum or dad suffered with a lot of spots or acne as a teenager, there is a higher chance that you will as well.

What are the different types of spots?

There are six main types of spots that you can develop.

  1. Blackheads: Small black or yellowish bumps that develop in blocked pores. The colour of them does not mean that they are full of dirt, they are pigmented black due to the lining of the hair follicles
  2. Whiteheads: Look similar to blackheads but they have a visible whitehead and are usually firmer
  3. Papules: Small red bumps which may feel tender or sore
  4. Pustules: Similar to Papules, these are red bumps with a white tip in the centre caused by a build-up of pus
  5. Nodules: Large hard lumps that build up under the surface of the skin, nodules can be painful
  6. Cysts: The most severe type of spot, cysts are large pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and can cause scarring

What can I do if I have spots?

There are a few self-help techniques that you can try:

  • Don’t wash your skin more than twice a day as frequent washing can irritate the skin and make spots worse
  • Don’t try and squeeze spots, as this can make them worse or cause scarring
  • Ensure that makeup is removed properly before bed

Most spots are mild and will clear up on their own. There are products available to help to treat spots, but it’s best to speak to a pharmacist before purchasing these to make sure that they are the correct product for you and will not cause irritation.

If after using treatment your spots are not under control or are making you feel very unhappy, you can see you GP as you may need stronger treatment.

You should seek advice from your GP if you have nodules or cysts as they need to be treated properly in order to try and prevent scarring.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your public health nurse.

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