What is Acne?

What is Acne?

Acne is universal

A very common skin condition, acne most often makes it’s first appearance during the teenage years.

Commonly known as pimples, it usually appears on the face but can also happen on other parts of the body such as the back, the shoulders, neck and chest. Even though most teenagers experience acne at some point, it is a condition which can also affect adults.

Acne is universal — it affects males and females almost equally and occurs in every race. The proper name for this skin condition is Acne-Vulgaris. It is characterized by lesions which break out on the skin. The lesions can be whiteheads, blackheads, or cysts which form because of clogged pores.

It is most commonly seen during puberty because it is at this time that the body produces an abundant supply of an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is needed to keep the hair and a skin soft and lubricated, but during puberty, the body produces more sebum than is needed. The excess can clog pores and leave the skin feeling oily.

Another change that occurs during puberty is the excess production of follicle cells. The dying cells can quickly build up and combine together with sebum to form whiteheads.

This mixture of oil and dead cells creates a breeding ground for bacteria which results in redness and swelling in the afflicted area that are known as pimples.

Acne is an extremely common condition which affects about 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24. One quarter of these people have acne on other parts of the body besides the face — most commonly the back and neck areas. 40% of acne sufferers seek medical attention because of the severity of their breakouts.

The most common area for pimples to appear is the so-called ‘T zone’ of the face. This includes the forehead, the nose, and the chin, although acne may also appear on the cheeks and other parts of the face. The second most common area for acne is the back, followed by the neck, the chest, and the shoulders.

By the time they are in their 20s, most people’s acne has cleared up. However, it may still persist throughout the adult years in some people. Some people even experience acne for the first time when they are adults. Slightly more boys than girls suffer from the condition.

Acne can be a problem for many people because it affects appearance and self image. Since teenagers are particularly vulnerable concerning their self-image, acne can cause feelings of depression and reduced self-confidence. It may cause some to withdraw from social interactions and cause feelings of anger and frustration.

Thankfully, there are many modern treatments for acne. The first line of defense is keeping the skin clean and oil free. This can be done by gentle washing with soap and water twice a day, particularly after activities which cause perspiration. There are also a wide variety of medical treatments available for acne, both prescribed and over-the-counter.

Severe acne conditions can be treated by a dermatologist. The doctor can prescribe ointments which are used directly on the skin as well as drugs like antibiotics which combat the bacteria which causes pimples. A dermatologist can also give valuable advice about diet and lifestyle changes which may help in combating acne.

What Causes Acne?

What causes acne is not fully understood, but we do know some of the biology behind it. The main culprit is the excess production of an oily substance called sebum whose function is to keep skin and hair lubricated and supple.

During adolescence, the body often produces excess amounts of sebum. The sebum combines with naturally occurring dead skin cells to block hair follicles which prevents the sebum from escaping.

The resulting block up of oil beneath the surface of the skin provides an ideal environment for bacteria. The bacteria multiply and the skin area becomes red and inflamed resulting in what is commonly called a pimple.

The excess production of sebum is caused by the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone is present in both males and females, but during puberty, the body changes the way it reacts to the presence of testosterone. It is this abnormal reaction, characteristically appearing during adolescence, that causes the skin (especially on the face and upper torso) to become excessively oily. By the early 20s, the body usually normalizes its reaction to testosterone and acne clears up.

Acne causes seem to be partly hereditary, but we don’t know exactly why some people are affected by it and others are not. Some of the factors which seem to aggravate acne conditions include stress, diet, skin irritation, certain medications, and hormonal activities such as menstrual cycles.

Medications that are associated with acne include anabolic steroids used for bodybuilding, lithium, barbiturates, halogens, and androgens. Dietary links seem to be mostly related to skim milk products. Many people associate food like chocolate and fast food with pimples, but there is no statistical evidence that this type of food aggravates or causes acne.

Recently, scientific attention has been focusing on the possibility that narrowing hair follicles could be at least partially to blame for what causes acne. The hair follicles may become restricted due to several possible causes including excessive shedding of cells within the follicle, abnormal cell binding, or water retention which causes the skin to swell. The narrower hair follicles prevent dead cells from being expelled from the body, causing an excessive buildup underneath the skin, which combined with sebum creates the conditions for acne.

Don’t Squeeze!

Many people are tempted to pop or squeeze their pimples, but this may only serve to spread the bacteria to the surrounding skin area making the condition even worse than before. Popping pimples may also lead to scarring which in severe cases can be permanent. Simply touching the face can also make acne become worse.

It is a difficult habit to overcome — most of us touch our faces repeatedly throughout the day. The problem for acne sufferers is that the hands also contain oils and bacteria which will exacerbate acne symptoms.

In fact, all objects that come into contact with the face must be clean. This includes eyeglasses and telephone handsets. Hair (especially long hair) also comes into contact with our faces so it is important to keep hair clean and oil free.

Clothing accessories like headbands or hats should be avoided or used as little as possible. There are many myths and peculiar notions about what causes acne. Most have no scientific basis what-so-ever which makes them nothing more than opinions.

Facts About Acne – Who Gets Acne?

Probably one of the most obvious facts about acne is that anyone can develop it. Although most commonly associated with teenagers, acne is a skin condition that can affect anyone at any age – babies, teens and adults.

Changes in the body at different phases in life can result in visible changes to the skin. Babies still being affected by ‘moms’ hormones, passed on to them before birth, will sometimes develop whiteheads.

Teenagers will often develop acne as they hit puberty and their body begins to produce hormones. Adults may develop acne in their thirties and forties as their hormone levels change again.

One of the most important facts about acne to remember – It is not caused by lack of cleanliness! It is simply not true that people with acne have poor hygiene habits. As a matter of fact, due to this misguided thinking, often acne sufferers wash ‘too much’. Over washing and scrubbing to hard can make acne worse.

Types Of Acne

Types Of Acne
Types Of Acne

There are many types of acne ranging from mild to severe. Acne knows no boundaries, it affects men, women, adults, teens and even babies. Mild acne can usually be self treated, but severe cases are best left to health professionals like dermatologists.

  • Acne Vulgaris, one of the most common types of acne literally means ‘common acne.’ This type can cause blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, nodules and cysts;
  • Blackheads occur in partially blocked pores. Sebum (the substance which causes oily skin), dead cells, and bacteria are slowly draining to the surface of the skin and the black color is caused by the pigments in the skin being exposed to air. Blackheads can take a long time to clear up;
  • Whiteheads – Unlike blackheads, whiteheads are contained beneath the surface of the skin. They are caused by completely blocked pores which trap the sebum, dead cells, and bacteria;
  • Papules – These are small red bumps on the skin. They are tender and cause irritation, but it is important not to touch them or squeeze them. Doing so may cause scarring;
  • Pustules – Pustules are what most people call pimples or zits. They appear as a red circle with a white or yellow center;
  • Nodules – These are much larger than other forms of acne. They are hard lumps underneath the surface of the skin which can be painful and last for several months. This type is particularly vulnerable to scarring, so it is advisable to have it treated by a dermatologist;
  • Cysts – Cysts are similar to nodules except that they are filled with pus. They are painful and likely to scar if untreated. Like nodules, they should be treated by a dermatologist;
  • Acne Conglobata – This is a relatively rare type of acne vulgaris but it is extremely disfiguring and can cause severe psychological as well as physical suffering. Large lesions form on the face, chest, back, buttocks, upper arms, and thighs and can be accompanied by numerous blackheads. It causes damage to the skin and permanent scarring. It is more common in males than females, and the condition can persist for several years;
  • Acne Fulminans – This is a sudden appearance of Acne Conglobata accompanied with a fever and aching of the joints. It is usually treated with oral steroids;
  • Gram-Negative Folliculitis – This condition may be caused by long-term treatment of acne with antibiotics. It is a bacterial infection which causes pustules and cysts;
  • Pyoderma Faciale – This type only affects females usually between the ages of 20 and 40. It causes large painful pustules, nodules and cysts on the face and may leave permanent scarring. It most often occurs in women who have never experienced acne before and usually clears up within a year;
  • Acne Rosacea – This type usually affects people over the age of 30. It causes a red rash on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin. There may also be pimples and other skin blemishes. It occurs more often in females than males, although men often have more severe symptoms. It is a different form of acne than Acne Vulgaris and treatment is different for the two types;
  • Acne Inversa – Also know as Hidradenitis Suppurativa, this is perhaps the most difficult and painful of all types. Large, very painful, boil-like abscesses manifest in inverse areas of the body such as breasts, groin and armpits – places where skin touches skin, hence the name Acne Inversa. This type is very debilitating. Abscesses are usually large, deep, painful and very hard to heal.

Acne – A Symptom of Stress

Acne, is it a symptom of stress?

The connection between stress and acne has long been debated. Research on the topic has been limited with no firm conclusions being reached. Recently though, scientists conducted studies on a small group of students who already suffered from acne.

From those studies they determined that acne does worsen in situations of extreme stress such as preparing for final exams.
The fact that stress exasperates acne is not a surprising revelation to the millions who suffer from it. But, does stress cause acne? That has not been proven. Many people report the belief that their acne appeared during a stressful time in their life.

What is known is that stress can cause your adrenal glands to produce the male hormones, testosterone and androgens. Yes, women’s bodies do produce male hormones. These male hormones in turn cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. The production of this oily substance, combine with dead skin cells, clogs pore and may trigger an acne outbreak.

One fact is not debatable. Acne may be a symptom of stress but…acne can cause stress too! Just ask a teenager who is avoiding a date due to new acne pimples ‘popping up’ over night or an adult frantically trying to ‘cover’ a huge new blemish just before a job interview.
Acne can have a very negative impact on a person’s life.

People with acne often suffer from embarrassment and low self-esteem. They fear that people will believe the myth that poor hygiene causes acne. There is absolutely no truth in that misguided notion but, the uninformed may still believe it.
In a world where so much value is placed on beauty, a poor complexion can lead to a devastating loss of self-confidence. Anger, frustration and depression may also occur sometimes leading to social withdrawal.
Since we know that the relationship between acne and stress does exist, stress management may be one effective way to help control acne outbreaks.

Acne And Pregnancy

The connection between acne and pregnancy has long been documented. Pregnant women often report an increase in acne outbreaks not only on the face but on the chest and back as well. In an effort to properly prepare for the growing fetus, the female body goes through many changes.
The two primary female hormones at work in every woman’s body are progesterone and estrogen. During pregnancy, progesterone becomes the dominant hormone, taking on new roles as the fetus develops. Progesterone is more androgenic than estrogen, which basically means it is more like the hormones found in men.

Increased progesterone during pregnancy causes the sebaceous glands to produce more sebaceous oils than normal. Once these oils, combine with dead skin cells and dirt become trapped in pores acne appears.

The best way to handle acne during pregnancy is to realize that it is a short-term problem that will usually go away once the baby is born. There are topical treatments containing benzol peroxide which are reported to be safe to use during pregnancy.

Always consult your doctor first! A dermatologist will be knowledgeable about the issues involving acne and pregnancy. Although many acne treatments will not be an option for you during this time, recommended topical treatments may help to improve your appearance.

About Acne Scars

Most people with mild or moderate acne will recover from the condition without serious acne scars. However, in severe cases scarring is almost inevitable. But don’t give up hope — new acne treatments can minimize scarring and existing scars can be removed with a variety of techniques.
Most pimples leave behind a discolored patch of skin.

This is not really a scar and will usually clear up by itself within one year. Marks or skin defects that remain longer than one year are considered to be acne scars and can be treated.

Causes of Acne Scars

As with all scarring, acne scars result from tissue damage. When tissue is damaged, the body reacts by initiating the repair process and taking steps to protect against infection. Collagen is something the body sends to the damaged area but sometimes the body produces too much.

When this happens, the excess collagen builds up into a fibrous mass that ends up becoming a smooth and firm acne scar with an irregular shape.
Acne scars also result when tissue is lost and this is actually the more common reason scars develop.

Many different types of scarring exist within this latter category including the well-known ‘ice-pick’ scar, depressed scars, soft scars, atrophic macules and others.

Skin Care For Acne

Effective skin care for acne is vital. The biggest secret to keeping acne under control is maintaining healthy skin as much as possible. This means keeping the skin clean and protecting it from sources of damage like sunshine and harsh cosmetics.

Cleansing Your Skin

Always use a gentle soap or specialized skin cleaner and wash your face once or twice a day. It is important not to scrub the skin. This will further aggravate the acne. Use a soft cloth to moisten your face and then apply the cleanser to all areas from the hairline to the neck. Rinse the cleanser with plenty of water and pat your face drive with a soft towel.

If you have especially oily skin, you may need to use an astringent, but it must be used with care. Only apply it to the parts of your face that are most oily and discontinue use if your skin becomes irritated.

It is best to consult with a dermatologist if you feel you need to use an astringent.
Hair care is also an important part of skin care. Shampoo your hair two or three times a week and try to keep it off your face as much as possible. Washing your hair daily is not necessary unless you have very oily hair.

Protect Your Skin From The Sun

Years ago, it was believed that exposing acne skin to sunlight was an effective acne treatment. A suntan may dry out the skin and make your acne less noticeable but this is only temporary.

As your skin becomes accustomed to sun exposure the acne will flare up once again. Not only is it not recommended skin care for acne, you are also risking permanent skin damage that may cause premature aging or skin cancer.

Many of the medications used to treat acne cause the skin to become more sensitive to sunshine and more vulnerable to burning. The burning can happen very quickly. You will not realize it is happening until it is too late. This type of burn is every bit as serious and painful as any major burn. Always wear sunscreen when outdoors!

Choose Your Makeup With Care

The best choice for good skin care for acne is to wear no makeup at all, but if you feel you must wear makeup choose some that will not clog the pores. These products are labeled noncomedogenic, but they may still cause acne in some people. Above all, avoid makeup with an oil base. Read the labels carefully and use sparingly.


Try both electric razors and safety razors to see which is more comfortable. Don’t use safety razors with dull blades — change the blade every two or three shaves. You may have to shave around blemishes to avoid cutting them, and be sure to soften the beard as much as possible with water and shaving cream. If you happen have a lot of breakouts perhaps it is best to skip shaving that day.

Avoid Touching the Skin

As tempting as it may be too squeeze and pop those pimples, don’t do it! You are only inviting more trouble because the bacteria which causes pimples will spread. Popping pimples can also lead to permanent scarring.

Try to avoid touching your face as much as possible. Many people do this unconsciously, but the hands are dirty and oily and can spread germs over greater areas of your skin. Keeping your hands away from your face will, for a time, self discipline. It’s not easy!

Healthy habits and proper skin care for acne can bring under control. Just remember, each case is very personal. What works for one person, may not for another. Your dermatologist is the most qualified to help you choose the best acne solution for you.

Acne Skin Care Cosmetics

Skin care cosmetics are your survival kit. Your new acne medication promises fast results in 7 days, but you’ve got to put your best face forward today. All you need is to learn a few creative acne makeup concealing tips to help you look your very best always.

Using makeup to conceal acne isn’t difficult, but there are some basic rules that you should always follow.

Your Basic Acne Makeup Toolkit:

  • Your three acne-hiding makeup weapons will be a concealer, a foundation and a finishing powder. When choosing your acne skin care cosmetics, stay away from ‘cheap makeup’ and use only brand names that you can trust;
  • Choose only oil-free makeup products that match your skin tone. Oil-free is the key to success here so read the labels carefully. You don’t want to aggravate your existing acne problem by layering a fresh coat of oil on skin that already has too much to begin with. Choose a hypoallergenic brand while you’re at it;
  • There are cosmetics called corrective cosmetics, specifically formulated to cover acne blemishes and scars without further irritating the condition. They are not very expensive and definitely effective;
  • The first time that you use a new brand acne skin care cosmetic, test it by applying small dabs to a spot under your jaw to see how your skin reacts. If you are going to have a problem you will know within an hour or so after applying it. Nothing is worse than adding more blotches to an already colorful face.

Before you begin…

Gently wash your face – never scrub, with your normal face cleansing product and pat dry. Apply your acne medication per the instructions and let it dry throughly.

Start with the concealer…

Apply the concealer in a light dabbing motion directly to any dark blotches or red areas that the acne has produced on your skin. Blend the concealer in using a disposable facial sponge. Use the concealer sparingly. You can always apply more if you need it but you don’t want to layer it on too thickly. It will look terrible when it dries.

Next, apply the foundation…

Apply the foundation sparingly as well and use a light dabbing motion here too. Blend the foundation with your sponge and reapply to any areas that need it.

And now for the final touch…

Apply a light layer of the oil-free powder using a large makeup brush. This will take care of any shine that the acne concealer and foundation left behind and it will give you an even and finished look. Throw away the disposable sponges when you are through so you don’t transfer yesterday’s skin oil to tomorrow’s clean face!

Always wash your face throughly to remove all makeup before you go to bed, but preferably as soon as you can after you return home. You want your skin to breath and your acne to get as much fresh air as possible.

Remember — Makeup conceals acne, it doesn’t cure it!

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