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Acne is a disorder of the hair follicles and oil glands (sebaceous glands). The sebaceous glands secrete oils (sebum) to keep the skin moist. When the glands get clogged, it can lead to pimples and cysts.
Acne is very common. People of all races and ages have acne. In fact, most people in the U.S. between 11 and 30 years old will be affected by it. Even people in their 40s and 50s can have acne. However, acne most often begins in puberty. During puberty, the male sex hormones (androgens) increase in both boys and girls. This causes the sebaceous glands to produce more oil.
Normally, the sebum produced travels through the hair follicles to the skin. However, skin cells can plug the follicles. This can block the sebum. When follicles become plugged, skin bacteria begin to grow inside the follicles. Inflammation and pimples then develop. The most common types of pimples are:
The basic acne lesion is called a comedo.
Rising hormone levels during puberty may cause acne. Also, acne is often inherited. Other causes of acne may include the following:
Squeezing the pimples or scrubbing the skin too hard can make acne worse. Skin may also become irritated with friction or pressure from helmets, backpacks, or tight collars. Pollution or humidity can also irritate the skin.
Acne can appear as pimples without abscesses or pus-filled cysts that rupture and result in larger abscesses. It can occur anywhere on the body. However, acne most often appears in areas where there is a high concentration of sebaceous glands, including:
Acne may look like other skin conditions. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
Your health care provider will consider your age, overall health, the severity of the acne and other factors in determining what treatment is best for you.
Treatment for acne focuses on minimizing scarring and improving appearance. Treatment for acne may include medications you apply to your skin or medicine you take in pill form. Some of these medicines need to be prescribed by your health care provider. In some cases, a combination of both types of medications may be advised.
Medications you apply to the skin are often prescribed to treat acne. These may be in the form of a cream, gel, lotion, or solution. Examples include:
Kills the bacteria
Helps stop or slow down the growth of the bacteria and reduces inflammation
Stops the development of new acne lesions and encourages cell turnover, unplugging pimples
Decreases acne formation
Acne medications you take by mouth, or oral antibiotics, are often prescribed to treat moderate to severe acne, and may include the following:
Isotretinoin is a prescription drug taken by mouth for severe, cystic, or inflammatory acne. It is used when other methods can’t prevent extensive scarring. Isotretinoin reduces the size of the sebaceous glands that produce the skin oil. It also increases skin cell shedding, and affects the hair follicles. These effects reduce the development of acne. Isotretinoin can clear acne in 85% of people who use it. However, the drug has major side effects, including psychiatric side effects. It is very important to discuss this medication with your health care provider.
Women who are pregnant or who are able to become pregnant must not take isotretinoin. It can cause birth defects. Isotretinoin can also cause miscarriage or premature birth.
Your doctor can recommend specific steps to minimize acne scars.
Although acne often is a chronic condition, even if it lasts only during adolescence, it can leave lifelong scars. Acne scars typically look like "ice pick" pit scars or crater-like scars. Although proper treatment may help minimize scarring, several dermatological procedures may help to further minimize any acne scars, including the following:
Acne is caused by normal hormonal changes that occur during puberty. This makes prevention of acne very difficult, or even impossible.
However, avoiding substances that can cause acne may help. This includes certain medications (such as corticosteroids, lithium, and barbiturates), mineral or cooking oil, or certain cosmetics. Also, daily shampooing helps prevent oil and grease on the scalp from getting on your face or back. Early treatment of acne may prevent it from getting worse and causing scars.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.