Definition of Acne
From zits to pimples, acne is a skin disorder caused by clogging and inflammation of pores. Most commonly seen in teenagers, the condition often causes embarrassment, social agony and scarring of the skin's surface. According to the National Institutes of Health, 80 percent of people suffer from acne during the ages of 11 and 30. Still, people of any age can suffer from acne, from pregnant woman to adults who suffer from the skin disorder well into their 30s and beyond.
Acne is commonly found on the face, back, chest and neck area because of the large amount of oil glands present. The area may have raised bumps that may be red in color and slightly painful. Infected areas can be filled with yellow or white pus. Blackheads will appear as small black dots on the skin. Nodules and cysts are painful, firm areas existing below the skin's surface.
Acne is caused when a hair follicle becomes clogged with oil or sebum. Each hair follicle is attached to a sebaceous gland. The gland produces sebum, which is secreted through the opening, or pore, of the follicle onto the skin's surface. Cells known as keratinocytes line the hair follicle. When the hair follicle becomes clogged, the sebum and the keratinocytes mix, causing bacteria, which normally is found on the skin's surface, to grow beneath the skin. The bacteria causes inflammation to the skin. When the wall of the plugged hair follicle breaks down the contents, including bacteria and other enzymes, it spills onto the skin and causes acne to occur.
"Zits" and "pimples" are the common words used to describe acne, but there are medical terms for the different types of acne that can occur. Whiteheads are plugged hair follicles below the skin's surface, and blackheads are produced when the plugged secretion reaches the surface. The secretion turns black when exposed to air and is not a sign of dirt in the skin. Pustules (pimples) are yellow or white pus-filled lesions that are slightly raised on the skin. Papules are a milder form of small, raised red dots. More severe types of acne are nodules and cysts. Both are large, firm areas lodged deep within the skin and may be painful. Cysts are pus-filled and may cause scarring.
Treatment of acne depends on the type and severity. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications and treatments are available. Whiteheads, blackheads and mild acne are commonly treated with over-the-counter lotions, ointments and cleansers. Common ingredients include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, which reduce oil and break down both whiteheads and blackheads. The National Institutes of Health states that treatment may take up to eight weeks before positive results are seen. More severe acne sufferers may use both topical and oral prescription medications. Topical treatments include higher doses of benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and retinoids. Antibiotics reduce inflammation and swelling and decrease bacterial growth. Retinoids unplug pores and allow additional medication, such as antibiotics, to enter the hair follicle. Oral medications consist of antibiotics and isotretinoin (Accutane). Isotretinoin is commonly prescribed for more severe acne to reduce the size of oil glands and prevent tissue scarring.
Mild, gently regular cleansing is recommended daily. Avoid over-washing the face to avoid drying out the skin and increasing oil production, adding to an increase in acne. Avoid touching or rubbing your face. Stay out of the sun and choose skin care products carefully. Read product labels and look for products that do not clog pores, which are labeled as noncomedogenic.
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