Nearly 17 million people in the United States have acne, making it one of the most common skin diseases in the U.S. People of all ages get acne, but it is most commonly seen in adolescents.
Acne is an inflammatory disease of the skin caused when hair follicles, often called skin pores, become blocked.
Small oil glands (Sebaceous glands) located around hair follicles produce an oily substance called Sebum. Sometimes the hair follicles become blocked, and the Sebum which normally drains to the surface through the hair follicle, is trapped within the skin pore. Bacteria eventually attacks the Sebum, producing skin inflammation and Acne.
Acne vulgaris: The medical term for common acne, which is characterized by the presence of one or more of the following: blackheads, whiteheads, papules and pustules.
Astringent: Medication which causes a contraction or shrinkage of tissues, thus arresting secretions and discharges.
Blackhead: A non-inflammatory acne lesion that is filled with excess oil and dead skin cells. Blackheads are also called ""open comedomes"" because the surface of the skin remains open.
Comedo (plural: comedones): An acne lesion.
Hair Follicle: The tiny shaft in the skin through which a hair grows, and sebum is excreted from sebaceous glands to the surface of the skin.
Papule and Pustule: An inflammatory comedo (lesion) that resembles a small, red bump on the skin.
Sebaceous glands: Glands in the skin that produce an oily substance called sebum- these glands are the sites of acne lesions. Sebaceous glands are attached to hair follicles and are found mostly on the face, neck, back, and chest.
Sebum: The oily substance produced by sebaceous glands.
Whitehead: An acne lesion that forms when oil and skin cells block the opening of a hair follicle. For this reason, whiteheads are called "closed comedomes."
Our body is covered with hair, except for a few areas such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and lips. In some areas, the hair is very smooth and barely noticeable.
Hair grows from a pouch in the skin called a hair follicle. The hair follicle contains:
· A shaft of hair
· A small sebaceous gland that produces an oily substance called sebum
· Skin pore. The opening of the hair follicle to the skin.
Each pore on the surface of the skin is an opening for a hair follicle. The hair follicle contains a hair and an oil gland (sebaceous gland). The oil gland helps remove old skin cells, keeps the skin lubricated, and prevents drying of tissues.
Acne symptoms depend upon the type of acne that one has.
Types of Acne
- Whiteheads form when the trapped sebum and bacteria stay below the skin surface. Whiteheads may show up as tiny white spots, or they may be so small that they are invisible to the naked eye.
Blackheads form when the trapped sebum and bacteria partially open to the surface and turn black due to melanin, the skin's pigment. It is not dirt and cannot be washed away. Blackheads can last for a long time because the contents slowly drains to the surface.
Blackheads and whiteheads can release their contents to the surface of the skin and then heal; or the follicle wall can rupture and inflammatory acne can ensue (see below). This rupture may be caused by random occurrences or by picking or touching the skin.
- Papules occur when there is a break in the hair follicle wall. White blood cells rush in to destroy the bacteria and the skin pore becomes inflamed.
- Pustules form several days later when white blood cells make their way to the surface of the skin. This is what people usually refer to as a "zit" or a pimple.
What is Acne?
Acne is a disorder of the skin's sebaceous glands (oil glands) that results in clogged pores and pimples.
Acne occurs when sebum, (the oily substance produced by the sebaceous gland) is not able to pass through the hair follicle on to the skin. For reasons no one completely understands, follicles, often called pores, sometimes get blocked. This blockage is usually due to the cells that line the hair follicle being shed too quickly and clumping together, plugging up the follicle's opening so sebum cannot get through the skin pore.
The trapped mixture of sebum and cells attracts bacteria, which grow quickly in this nutrient rich environment. These bacteria produce chemicals and enzymes that can cause inflammation.
If a plugged follicle can no longer hold its contents, it bursts and spills sebum, skin cells, and bacteria on to the surface of the skin.
Predisposing Factors (those factors that increases ones chance for developing Acne)
It's not known what causes the increased production of sebum that leads to acne; however, a number of factors including hormones, genetics, certain medications, and stress are thought to play a role:
High Hormone Levels: Hormonal changes in your body can provoke or aggravate acne. Such changes are common in:
- Teenagers, both boys and girls, frequently have increased hormone production during puberty.
- Women and girls, 2 to 7 days before their periods.
- Pregnant women.
- Genetics or Heredity: The tendency to develop acne can be inherited from parents.
Certain Medications: Some medications are known to cause acne. These include:
- Prolonged use of cortisone.
- Lithium for bipolar disorder.
- Barbiturates that are used to control seizures.
Stress: Severe or prolonged stress or emotional tension may precipitate an episode of acne or worsen acne.
Greasy Makeup: Thick or greasy makeup can seal off the skin pores and not allow the normal flow of sebum (oil) to the skin. Accumulation of sebum in the hair follicle may precipitate or worsen acne.
Factors That Can Make Acne Worse:
- Picking at or squeezing acne lesions.
Scrubbing skin too hard can aggravate hair follicles and acne lesions.
Friction or pressure on your skin caused by items such as telephones or cell phones, helmets, tight collars.
Environmental irritants, such as pollution and high humidity.
Good skin care plays an important role in treating and preventing acne. Here are some good common sense tips that can help you deal with acne:
- Do not pop, squeeze or pick at acne. This can make acne worse by spreading inflammation and infection.
- Gently wash your face twice a day with a mild cleanser and pat dry. Acne is not caused by poor hygiene, and vigorous washing and scrubbing will not clear your skin. In fact, all that scrubbing can irritate your skin and make acne worse. The way to clear acne is with appropriate acne products and good skin care.
- Avoid aggravating your skin. Sporting equipment that rubs against your skin, cell phones, rubbing your face with your hand, and airborne grease and pollutants, all can irritate and make your acne worse.
- Avoid excess exposure to sunlight, and do not use tanning booths or sun lamps. Contrary to popular belief, tanning does not clear acne; it simply masks it. If you have acne, it is important to protect your skin by following sun-protection practices, such as wearing sunscreen and avoiding sunburns.
- When buying cosmetics and sunscreen, be sure to look for those that are labeled noncomedogenic. These products are less likely to cause or aggravate acne.
Effective Acne Products:
We have found that the following products are quite effective in helping to treat and prevent acne. These are the same topical medications that are recommended by many dermatologists and other skincare specialists. What makes these products so effective is that they are designed to work in sync with your skin's own natural defenses; this produces faster healing and also helps to prevent new episodes of acne from occurring.