What is acne?
Acne is a disease that affects the skin's oil glands. The small holes in your skin (pores) connect to oil glands under the skin. These glands make an oily substance called sebum. The pores connect to the glands by a canal called a follicle. Inside the follicles, oil carries dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. A thin hair also grows through the follicle and out to the skin. When the follicle of a skin gland clogs up, a pimple grows.
Most pimples are found on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. Acne is not a serious health threat but, it can cause scars.
How does acne develop?
Sometimes the hair, sebum, and skin cells clump together into a plug. The bacteria in the plug cause swelling. Then when the plug starts to break down, a pimple grows. There are many types of pimples. The most common types are:
Whiteheads: These are pimples that stay under the surface of the skin.
Blackheads: These pimples rise to the skin's surface and look black. The black color is not from dirt, but is caused by oxidation of the material in the pore when it reaches the surface.
Papules: These are small pink bumps that can be tender.
Pustules: These pimples are red at the bottom and have pus on top.
Nodules: These are large, painful, solid pimples that are deep in the skin.
Cysts: These deep, painful, pus-filled pimples can cause scars.
Who gets acne?
Acne is the most common skin disease. People of all races and ages get acne. But it is most common in teenagers and young adults. An estimated 80 percent of all people between the ages of 11 and 30 have acne outbreaks at some point. Some people in their forties and fifties still get acne.
What causes acne?
The cause of acne is unknown. Doctors think certain factors might cause it:
- The hormone increase in teenage years (this can cause an increase in oil secretion and can cause the oil glands to plug up more often).
- Hormone changes during pregnancy.
- Starting or stopping birth control pills.
- Heredity (if your parents had acne, you might get it too).
- Some types of medicine.
- Greasy makeup.
How is acne treated?
Acne is treated by dermatologists (doctors who specialize in skin problems). These doctors treat all kinds of acne, particularly severe cases. Doctors who are general or family practitioners, pediatricians, or internists may treat patients with milder cases of acne. The goals of treatment are to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from forming, prevent scarring, and minimize the psychological stress and embarrassment caused by this disease.
Drug treatment is aimed at reducing several problems that play a part in causing acne:
- Abnormal clumping of cells in the follicles (clogged pores).
- Increased oil production.
Depending on the extent of the problem, the doctor may recommend one of several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and/or prescription medicines. Some of these medicines may be topical (applied to the skin), and others may be oral (taken by mouth). The doctor may suggest using more than one topical medicine or combining oral and topical medicines.
All medicines can have side effects. Some side effects may be more severe than others. You should review the package insert that comes with your medicine and ask your health care provider or pharmacist if you have any questions about the possible side effects.