What Really Causes Acne?
Acne is a sometimes chronic skin condition that produces varying amounts of lesions, usually called pimples or zits. When severe, the problem may cause considerable scarring, in addition to reduced self-esteem and related emotional suffering. Treatments to decrease acne are often effective, however, especially when started early, and acne also frequently becomes less serious over time, although occasional outbreaks remain possible.
Some pores contain hair follicles, or tiny cavities, connected to oil-producing sebaceous glands. Sebum, the substance the glands produce, helps keep skin and hair properly lubricated. It normally exits pores by traveling up hair shafts, but sometimes sebaceous glands create too much sebum. If a pore contains excessive dead skin cells and sebum, the two can accumulate, become stuck inside the pore and combine with bacteria and dirt, resulting in acne and associated inflammation.
Although the exact cause of excess sebum production remains unknown, research suggests it is related to hormone levels. Acne can affect people of any age, but it occurs most often in teenagers--approximately 75 percent of whom suffer from acne, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hormone levels begin to rise during adolescence, and the changes may cause sebum production to accelerate. As teenagers enter their 20s and hormone levels become more stable, acne often decreases or disappears. Acne is also common in other individuals experiencing hormonal changes, such as pregnant women and both girls and women during certain stages of their menstrual cycle.
The likelihood of developing acne is greater for individuals who have relatives with acne, teenagers of both genders and women who are pregnant. Acne also tends to affect girls and women up to a week before menstruation and people who take certain drugs, including cortisone, estrogen, phenytoin, testosterone and both anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. Other risk factors include humid environments, items touching or creating pressure on the skin and sweating heavily.
Preventing or reducing acne often requires keeping pores as unclogged as possible by controlling the presence of bacteria, dead skin cells and oil. Options typically include applying an over-the-counter or prescribed topical product to the skin, such as a cream or lotion containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, or taking antibiotics to decrease bacteria or oral contraceptives to regulate hormone levels. People suffering from acne should also avoid leaving makeup on overnight, using heavy or irritating cosmetics, washing acne-covered areas too frequently and too roughly, and wearing tight clothing.
A widespread and persistent claim is that certain foods that are often considered unhealthy--such as chocolate and greasy foods like french fries, for example--cause or worsen acne. In reality, neither have a significant impact on acne, according to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health. Another myth is that dirt causes or exacerbates acne. This mistaken belief leads some people with acne to clean affected areas too vigorously or with cleansers that are too harsh, which produces the opposite effect of irritating the skin and increasing the severity of acne.
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