Information on Facial Acne
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that ranges from mild, with a few blackheads, whiteheads or pimples, to the severe, which can include deep cysts and nodules. The condition often appears on the face and affects people of most ages. The American Academy of Dermatology calls acne the most common of skin conditions. It estimates that at least 85 percent of U.S. teenagers will experience some sort of acne breakout. Hormones, improper skin care and certain medications can incite acne breakouts. Bacteria, sebum, blocked pores and inflammation are present in most, if not all, acne breakouts.
Scientists estimate that the ratio of bacteria living in the human body to the number of cells that make up the body is 10 to 1. Martin Blaser of New York University estimates that there may be as many as 500 species of bacteria living on the skin alone. Propionibacterium acnes lives on human skin and generally causes no harm. Under certain conditions, however, the bacteria goes through a population explosion that helps cause acne breakouts.
Inside each hair follicle is a sebaceous gland that produces sebum, the waxy oil that protects and lubricates skin and hair. Blocked pores cause sebum to build up within the follicle. Occasionally, hormonal fluctuations can cause the skin to produce more sebum than it needs. Over-drying the skin, which strips it of sebum, can also cause the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive. This extra sebum causes spikes in the P. acnes population because the bacteria feed on the oil.
Pores cover the human body. Some of these open to sweat glands and others to hair follicles. Normally, sebum pushes dead cells and debris out the opening of pores to keep the follicle clean. Occasionally, a plug will form in a pore because of excessive shedding of cells, an overproduction of sebum, the presence of dirt, makeup and other debris on the skin, or inflammation that closes off the pore opening. The plug, called a comedone, blocks the natural expression of sebum. Blackheads are open comedones, while whiteheads are closed comedones.
As pressure builds within the blocked follicle, the follicular walls weaken and, if not relieved, eventually rupture. When these tears occur, the body becomes aware of the high levels of P. acnes and initiates an immune response. White blood cells are sent to the area to destroy the bacteria. Pus and inflammation are byproducts of this immune response.
A number of acne treatments exist. Topical over-the-counter products containing benzoyl peroxide typically represent the first line of defense. Benzoyl peroxide products kill bacteria and reduce sebum production. More intensive treatments include the use of salicylic acid-based products that dissolve the plugs and kill bacteria. Doctor-prescribed medications, including antibiotics, help more severe cases. Laser and light therapies can reduce acne scars and breakouts, as well.
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