Acne is a skin condition that occurs when a person’s hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne often results in whiteheads, blackheads or pimples forming, and usually appears on the face, forehead, chest, upper back and shoulders. Although it is most common among teenagers in the midst of puberty, it affects people of all ages.
Effective treatments are available, including special acne antibiotics, but acne can be persistent. The pimples and bumps often heal slowly, and when one starts going away, it often happens that others crop up.
Depending on the level of severity, acne can cause permanently scar the skin as well as cause emotional distress. Generally speaking, the earlier you start treatment, the lower your risk of such problems.
According to MedicineNet.com, “No one factor causes acne. Acne occurs when sebaceous (oil) glands attached to the hair follicles are stimulated at the time of puberty or due to other hormonal changes. Sebum (oil) is a natural substance that lubricates and protects the skin. Associated with increased oil production is a change in the manner in which the skin cells mature, predisposing them to plug the follicular pore. The plug can appear as a whitehead if it is covered by a thin layer of skin, or if exposed to the air, the darker exposed portion of the plug is called a “blackhead.” The plugged hair follicle gradually enlarges, producing a bump. As the follicle enlarges, the wall may rupture, allowing irritating substances and normal skin bacteria access into the deeper layers of the skin, ultimately producing inflammation. Inflammation near the skin’s surface produces a pustule; deeper inflammation results in a papule (pimple); if the inflammation is deeper still, it forms a cyst.”
Here are some factors that don’t usually play a role in acne:
Parents often advise teenagers to avoid pizza, junk food and greasy and fried foods. While over-consumption of these types of foods is definitely not ideal for your overall health, they don’t actually play a significant role in causing acne. Although some studies implicate a high-carbohydrate diet, milk, and chocolate as material contributors to acne, the findings are far from conclusive.
Some people get so upset and embarrassed about having pimples that they pick at them and make the situation worse. Contrary to popular belief, however, stress does not really play much of a direct role in causing acne!
Blackheads are actually oxidized oil, not dirt. Sweat does not cause acne and is produced by entirely separate glands in the skin. Ironically, it’s proven that excessive washing can dry and irritate the skin.
In some individuals, the following may be contributing factors to acne:
If a parent experienced severe acne, it is pretty likely that the child (or children) will face similar challenges. Family history often repeats itself
Some cosmetics and skin care products are intentionally “pore clogging,” also known as “comedogenic.” Since there are so many brands of skin care products available, it’s important to read the list of ingredients and choose ones that have water listed first or second. For those concerned about acne, these “water-based” products are usually best.
Pressure (Not the “stress” kind)
In some patients, too much pressure from tight shirt collars or suspenders, helmets, chin straps, and other types of clothing and/or accessories can aggravate the skin and result in acne
Some drugs may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids. Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium. That said, most cases of acne are not drug related.
In some jobs where works have heavy exposure to industrial products such as cutting oils, you may see a higher rate of acne.
When to see a doctor
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that some popular nonprescription acne lotions, cleansers and other skin products can cause a serious reaction. This type of reaction is quite rare, so don’t confuse it with the redness, irritation or itchiness where you’ve applied medications or products.
If self-care or “over the counter” remedies don’t clear up your acne, it may be time to see your primary care physician. He or she can prescribe stronger medications such as Oxytetracycline. If acne persists or is severe, you may want to seek medical treatment from a dermatologist who specializes in treating acne and other skin problems and diseases.
For many women, acne can persist for decades, with flares common a week before their periods. This type of acne tends to clear up without treatment in women who use contraceptives.
In older adults, a sudden onset of severe acne is definitely a reason to seek immediate medical attention as it may signal an underlying disease.
If you or anyone is ever in doubt, go see a doctor!