Acne: Causes, Diagnosis and How to Get Rid of Acne
Written by Christian Nordqvist Knowledge center
Last updated: Mon 3 August 2015
Acne, medically known as Acne Vulgaris, is a skin disease that involves the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. It commonly occurs during puberty when the sebaceous (oil) glands come to life - the glands are stimulated by male hormones produced by the adrenal glands of both males and females.
Acne is not dangerous, but can leave skin scars. Human skin has pores (tiny holes) which connect to oil glands located under the skin. The glands are connected to the pores via follicles - small canals. These glands produce Sebum, an oily liquid. The sebum carries dead skin cells through the follicles to the surface of the skin. A small hair grows through the follicle out of the skin. Pimples grow when these follicles get blocked, resulting in an accumulation of oil under the skin.
Fast facts on acne
Acne is a skin disease that involves the oil glands at the base of hair follicles.
Acne commonly occurs during puberty.
Acne is not dangerous, but can leave skin scars.
Types of pimples include whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nobules, cysts.
Approximately three-quarters of 11 to 30 year-olds will get acne at some time.
Acne can affect people of all races and all ages.
Experts believe the primary cause is a rise in androgen levels (hormone).
A susceptibility to acne could also be genetic.
Treatment for acne may depend on how severe and persistent it is.
Acne can be affected by the menstrual cycle, anxiety and stress, hot and humid climates, oil based makeup, greasy hair and pimple squeezing.
What is acne?
The word acne comes from the word acme meaning "the highest point," which comes from the Greek akme meaning "point" or "spot" - it was originally misspelt, with an 'n' rather than an 'm' in 1835.
in humans, pimples tend to appear on the face, back, chest, shoulders and neck.
Simply put - skin cells, sebum and hair can clump together into a plug, this plug gets infected with bacteria, resulting in a swelling. A pimple starts to develop when the plug begins to break down.
Scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine found that there are good and bad strains of bacteria that determine the severity and frequency of developing acne. They explained in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (March 2013 issue) that not all acne bacteria trigger pimples - in fact, one strain they identified can help keep the skin pimple-free.
Causes of acne
Nobody is completely sure what causes acne. Experts believe the primary cause is a rise in androgen levels - androgen is a type of hormone. Androgen levels rise when a human becomes an adolescent. Rising androgen levels make the oil glands under your skin grow; the enlarged gland produces more oil. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls in your pores, causing bacteria to grow.
Some studies indicate that a susceptibility to acne could also be genetic. Some medications that contain androgen and lithium may cause acne. Greasy cosmetics may cause acne in some susceptible people. Hormone changes during pregnancy may cause acne either to develop for the first time, or to recur.
The types of acne pimples
Whiteheads - remain under the skin and are very small
Blackheads - clearly visible, they are black and appear on the surface of the skin. Remember that a blackhead is not caused by dirt. Scrubbing your face vigorously when you see blackheads will not help
Papules - visible on the surface of the skin. They are small bumps, usually pink
Pustules - clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are red at their base and have pus at the top
Nobules - clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are large, solid pimples. They are painful and are embedded deep in the skin
Cysts - clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are painful, and are filled with pus. Cysts can easily cause scars.
How common is acne?
Dermatologists (skin specialists) say that approximately three-quarters of 11 to 30 year-olds will get acne at some time. Acne can affect people of all races and all ages. It most commonly affects adolescents and young adults, although there are people in their fifties who still get acne. According to Brown University, USA, approximately 17 million Americans are estimated to have acne at any one time.
Although acne affects both men and women, young men suffer from acne for longer - probably because testosterone, which is present in higher quantities in young men, can make acne worse.
How to get rid of acne
How your acne is treated may depend on how severe and persistent it is.
On the next page we take a look at some of the available treatments for mild and severe acne.
How to look after your skin if you have acne (or are prone to acne)
The following are some tips for looking after your skin if you suffer with acne:
Wash your face about twice each day. Do not wash it more often. Use a mild soap made especially for people with acne, and warm water. Do not scrub the skin. Experts advise the use of an OTC lotion which contains benzoyl peroxide
Don't try to burst the pimples. You may push the infection further down, causing more blocking and worse swelling and redness. Popping pimples makes scarring more likely
If you have to get rid of a pimple for some event, such as a wedding, or public speaking occasions, ask a specialist to treat it for you
Try to refrain from touching your face with your hands. When you are on the phone try not to let the receiver touch your face - there may be sebum and skin residue on it
Keep your hands clean, wash them regularly
Always wash your hands before touching your face. This includes before applying lotions, creams or makeup
Glasses should regularly be cleaned. They will collect sebum and skin residue
You skin needs to breathe. If your acne is on your back, shoulders or chest try wearing loose clothing. Tight garments, such as headbands, caps and scarves should be avoided - if you have to wear them make sure they are cleaned regularly
Don't go to sleep with makeup on. Only use makeup that is noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic - you should be able to read this on the label. If you cannot find it, ask the shopkeeper or pharmacist. You should use makeup which does not have oil and does not clog up the pores
Hair collects sebum and skin residue. Keep your hair clean and away from your face
Too much sun can cause your skin to produce more sebum. Several acne medications make it more likely that you will be sunburned
If you shave your face, do it carefully. Use either an electric shaver or safety razors. If you use a safety razor make sure the blade is sharp. Soften your skin and beard with warm soapy water before applying the shaving cream.