Having acne is troublesome for both young and old alike. Acne is not gender, race nor age specific. Anyone can get acne even babies. What exactly is acne? Acne is considered a skin disorder, and it is caused by glands in the skin and hair follicles becoming inflamed. Acne is prevalent in adolescents who often get pimples on their face. If you are currently an adolescent, chances are you have had acne at some point in your life. The word acne is actually derived from the Greek work akne, which literally means an eruption of the face. Pretty appropriate don’t you think? Acne can be scarring both mentally and physically. It is difficult to have high self-esteem when your face is full of acne. Acne, when severe can literally cause scarring. The purpose of this article is to answer many common questions regarding acne so you will know what it is and how to handle it.
How Does Acne Develop?
Hair follicles are tiny holes covering your skin, also known as pores. Oil glands, technically referred to as sebaceous glands, are found in your pores. Your skin and hair are moistened by oil that is produced by your sebaceous glands. This oil is technically referred to as sebum. Typically your sebaceous glands produce the correct amount of sebum and your pores are in good condition. When your glands produce an excess of sebum trouble begins.
There are several stages that lead to a pimple, which is a small, red infection. Occasionally a pore gets clogged. Sebum, germs (bacteria) and dead skin cells can invade the pore. A “blackhead” occurs when a pore remains open, but becomes clogged. The top surface of it can become dark. It is like a black plug. A “whitehead” occurs when a pore completely closes and becomes clogged. It protrudes from the skin and is considered a white plug. Infection and irritation lead to whiteheads. The walls of your pores can break, which allows the bacteria, sebum and dead skin cells to get under your skin. Your skin then becomes irritated and pimples start to form. A comedo is the term for a basic acne lesion. When clogged pores become open deep under your skin, a bigger infection results and is called a cyst.
- Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh: This website explains acne in children’s terms and offers good advice on how to best handle it.
- Medline Plus: Provides links to many acne topics such as what acne is, types of acne and many others.
- How Acne Develops: In-depth information on how different types of acne develop as well as how they can be treated.
- Prevalence of Acne: Brief information on the prevalence of acne or acne vulgaris in adolescents and young adults.
- Acne & Diet: An article discussing how your diet can affect your acne.
What Causes Acne?
Scrubbing your skin too hard can actually worsen acne instead of improve it. Gentle cleansing is best. There are several factors which experts agree tend to cause acne. Hormonal changes, particularly during adolescence, can cause acne. During puberty, hormones increase in both boys and girls. The increase in hormones causes the sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce more sebum (oil). Sebum production can also be affected by hormonal changes during pregnancy, while using oral contraceptives or during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Acne, unfortunately, is also genetic or inherited. If your family has a history of acne problems, you are more likely to have them as well. Certain drugs are also known to cause acne such as corticosteroids and lithium. Dietary sensitivities to dairy products or high carbohydrate foods (bread, chips, etc.) can also contribute to acne. There are also other things that may worsen acne including: pollution, pressure or friction from hats or clothing, cosmetics and other skin products and stress. When purchasing cosmetics, try to find non-comedogenic products because they won’t clog your pores.
- California State University Northridge: This is a PDF file from the Klotz Student Health Center at California State University Northridge. The PDF discusses not just the causes of acne, but also factors that can make it better or worse, and possible treatments.
- Gannett Health Services-Cornell University: The website discusses what acne is, who gets it, causes, stages, management guidelines and acne medicines.
- Mayo Clinic: This website explains the three factors that contribute to acne, factors that worsen acne and acne myths.
Who Gets Acne?
As stated earlier, acne knows no bounds. It affects people of all races, ages and genders. It is estimated that 80 percent of all people in the world will have acne at some time during their life. Males going through puberty are not only more likely to suffer from acne, but also more likely to suffer severe acne. The good news is that by the time men reach 20 to 25 years of age, common acne is typically gone. Puberty, pregnancy and menopause are possible times for women to experience acne. As often is the case, hormone fluctuations are the problem. Acne can sometimes be found on a newborn baby’s face after birth. This is referred to as “baby acne” and is caused by hormonal fluctuations that occur during childbirth and after. Rarely does acne affect children between the ages of two and eight, yet as a child nears adolescence, their sebum production levels increase due to changing hormones. These changes can cause acne.
- Northern Illinois University-College of Education (PDF): This PDF is very child-friendly and begins with a five question quiz. The document follows the quiz with explanations concerning who gets acne, causes, myths, prevention, treatments and helpful tips.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: The website answers the typical questions such as how acne develops and what causes it. Yet this website gets very specific with treatment options by making them type-specific such as severe nodular or cystic acne and moderate-to-severe inflammatory acne.
- University of Hawaii (PDF): The PDF covers the topics of what acne is, symptoms, causes, who gets it, could it lead to something bad, treatment and follow-up.
- The Acne Group: This non-profit organization explains in-depth who is prone to acne and why. It discusses acne in women, men, children and families.
Different Conditions of Acne
There are many different acne conditions that a person can have. Acne Mechanica tends to be seen on athletes due to the use of equipment. Sports equipment can cause friction, pressure and heat which can lead to skin bumps or pimples. The most common areas affected by acne mechanica are the chin, shoulders, head and upper back. It is also often referred to as “sports acne” or “football acne.”
Excoriated acne is another acne condition that is also known as “picker’s acne.” The reason it is called that is because tiny, insignificant primary lesions are made worse by the affected person squeezing them. It is the uncontrollable desire of the person to be completely rid of all acne (typically mild) that causes them to excessively squeeze and pick at blemishes. The skin then becomes red and irritated, and it often leads to scarring. Excoriated acne is a medically recognized condition where you should seek help from a dermatologist.
Infantile acne is exactly as it sounds. Usually it occurs when the baby is around three to four months of age. It is a result of the sebaceous glands producing too much sebum. Typically it will clear on its own toward the end of the baby’s first year, but sometimes it can continue until the baby is three years of age or so. Pomade acne is also as it sounds. It is caused by grooming products such as pomades. When someone often uses greasy or oily hair products, clogged pores or an allergic reaction can occur on the forehead or temples.
- Ithaca College (PDF): This PDF discusses various athletic skin injuries such as acne mechanica.
- University of Texas at Arlington (PDF): The PDF covers sports dermatology, including a section on acne mechanica.
- A.T. Still University: The PPT discusses acne and its various forms, including excoriated acne.
- Skin Care Physicians: This website offers AcneNet, which is comprehensive coverage of acne including excoriated acne.
- University of Pittsburgh (PDF): The PDF discusses minor skin disorders including pomade acne.
How is Acne Treated?
If your acne is just mild and not moderate-to-severe, changes in grooming habits can probably take care of the problem such as gentle cleansing with a mild soap and non-comedogenic cosmetics. If your acne is more moderate-to-severe, there are many treatment options that will probably make it much better. Topical medications (surface medications) are often prescribed to treat acne. These types of medications can be in the form of a cream, gel or lotion. Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication that literally kills bacteria that promotes acne. Topical antibiotics help to slow down the growth of or completely stop acne. They also help to reduce inflammation. Tretinoin stops new acne lesions from developing. Adapalene decreases the formation of acne. Oral antibiotics such as tetracycline and erythromycin are also often prescribed to treat acne as they will keep the acne from becoming infected. A product called isotretinoin or Accutane is sometimes prescribed for severe or cystic acne, but tends to have some bad side effects that must be considered. The purpose of this oral drug is to help prevent scarring. It is effective in 90 percent of the patients who use it, totally clearing their acne. If scarring is an issue for you, there are treatment options such as dermabrasion and chemical peels that can help you to get rid of it.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: The website focuses on the definition of acne, causes, symptoms and treatment.
- Columbia University Medical Center-Department of Dermatology: The website covers both topical and oral treatment options.
- University of Michigan-UHS University of Health Service: This website discusses what acne is, how it develops, causes, other contributing factors, self-care and treatment options.
- University Health Services-Tang Center at UC Berkeley: The site focuses on acne, causes, what makes acne worse, what doesn’t make it worse and treatment options.
- Treatment Options: Information on some of the different options available for treating acne.
Myths About Acne
There are many myths that exist regarding acne. One of the most common myths is that popping your pimples will make them go away. The truth it, picking at your pimples can cause germs to get further under your skin and can lead to redness, pain and even infection. This can actually cause scarring, so try not to do it. Many people believe that stress or a certain diet causes acne. Extreme stress can increase oil production, but does not necessarily result in pimples. As for diet, it actually takes two to three weeks for blemishes to form. Eating a bag of chips or chocolate will not suddenly make you break out. The main factors that cause acne are hormones and heredity.
Another myth is that getting a tan will clear your acne. This does not clear your acne, but it may make it less noticeable. When your tan fades, the acne will remain. As for not using sunscreen on your face because it may cause acne, use a non-greasy formula. It is not worth the risk of skin cancer to try to avoid acne. Remember that tanning actually damages your skin and causes it to age. It can also lead to skin cancer. How about the myth of not treating acne and it will clear by itself? Acne is not curable, but is highly treatable. You want to seek treatment early so that your acne doesn’t lead to permanent scarring or permanent pigment changes. These are merely some of the myths surrounding acne. The following links provide more myths and explanations.
- The Face and Skin Center at University of Mississippi Health Care (PDF): This PDF covers several myths regarding acne.
- University of Connecticut Health Center-Department of Dermatology (PDF): This PDF is a newsletter discussing acne myths and acne research.
- Myths & Facts: The website focuses on what acne is and the myths surrounding it.
- Seattle Children’s Hospital: This website has a great section on acne myths.
Coping with Acne
Acne can be devastating to people, particularly adolescents who are just figuring out who they really are. Visible acne is linked to our self-esteem; especially the way people believe other people see them. If acne is severe, you can feel ugly, unloved, angry, lonely and isolated. It can actually lead to depression. The good news is, that as stated earlier, acne is treatable. The sooner you see a dermatologist the better. They can help you to control your acne no matter the severity of it. There are also emotional treatments for people who are suffering mentally from it. Relaxation techniques, imagery and hypnosis can all be used to help with the psychological aspects of acne. Remember you don’t have to just try to ignore acne and hope it goes away. There is help for it; you just need to seek treatment. Also prevention tips can help you to avoid moderate-to-severe acne.
- WebMD: The website discusses both the physical and emotional scars that happen due to acne.
- Acne Control: This website delves into the subject of how acne truly affects how you see yourself.
- Williams: The website provides you with six rules regarding acne to live by.
- University of California-Davis: This is an interesting dermatology online journal regarding acne in adolescents. It covers quality of life, self-esteem, mood and psychological disorders.