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Sunday, August 30, 2009

ACNE (Pimples)

What is acne?

Acne vulgaris, or acne, is a skin problem that starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up your pores.

Some people call it blackheads, blemishes, whiteheads, pimples, or zits. When you have just a few red spots, or pimples, you have a mild form of acne.

Severe acne can mean hundreds of pimples that can cover the face, neck, chest, and back.

Or, it can be bigger, solid, red lumps that are painful (cysts).

Most young people get at least mild acne. It usually gets better after the teen years. But many adult women do have acne in the days before their menstrual periods.

How you feel about your acne may not be related to how bad it is. Some people with severe acne are not bothered by it. Others are embarrassed or upset even though they have only a few pimples.

Acne (acne vulgaris, common acne) is not just a problem for teenagers; it can affect people from ages 10 through 40. It is not unusual for women, in particular, to develop acne in their mid- to late-20s, even if they have not had breakouts in years (or ever). On the positive side, those few individuals who have acne into their 40s may well grow out of it.

What are the different types of acne?


Acne can appear on the skin as any of the following:

  • congested pores ("comedones"),

  • whiteheads,

  • blackheads,
  • pimples ("zits"),

  • pustules, or

  • cysts (deep pimples, boils). The pus in pustules and cysts is sterile and does not actually contain infectious bacteria.

These blemishes occur wherever there are many oil (sebaceous) glands, mainly on the face, chest, and back.

What causes acne?

No one factor causes acne. Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog the skin's pores. If germs get into the pores, the result can be swelling, redness, and pus. Acne comes to life around puberty, stimulated by male hormones from the adrenal glands of both boys and girls.

Sebum (oil) is a natural substance which lubricates and protects the skin, and under certain circumstances, cells that are close to the surface block the openings of sebaceous glands and cause a buildup of oil underneath. This oil stimulates bacteria (which live on everyone's skin and generally cause no problems) to multiply and cause surrounding tissues to become inflamed.

Inflammation near the skin's surface produces a pustule; deeper inflammation results in a papule (pimple); deeper still and it's a cyst. If the oil breaks through to the surface, the result is a "whitehead."

If the oil accumulates melanin pigment or becomes oxidized, the oil changes from white to black, and the result is a "blackhead." Blackheads are therefore not dirt, and do not reflect poor hygiene.

Here are some factors that don't usually cause acne, at least by themselves:

  • Heredity: With the exception of very severe acne, most people do not have the problem exactly as their parents did. Almost everyone has some acne at some point in their life.

  • Food: Parents often tell teens to avoid pizza, chocolate, greasy and fried foods, and junk food. While these foods may not be good for overall health, they don't cause acne or make it worse. Although some recent studies have implicated milk and dairy products in aggravating acne, these findings are far from established.

  • Dirt: As mentioned above, "blackheads" are oxidized oil, not dirt. Sweat does not cause acne, therefore, it is not necessary to shower instantly after exercise for fear that sweat will clog pores. On the other hand, excessive washing can dry and irritate the skin.

  • Stress: Some people get so upset by their pimples that they pick at them and make them last longer. Stress, however, does not play much of a direct role in causing acne.
  • Hormones: Some women break out cyclically, but most women (and men) don't. Some oral contraceptive pills may help relieve acne, but unless a woman has abnormal menstrual periods and excessive hair growth, it's unlikely that hormones play much of a role in causing acne. Pregnancy has a variable effect on acne; some women report that they clear up completely, and others get worse, while many others see no overall change.
  • Cosmetics: Most cosmetic and skin-care products are not pore-clogging ("comedogenic"). Of the many available brands, those which are listed as "water-based" or "oil-free" are generally a better choice.

In occasional patients, the following may be contributing factors:

  • Pressure: In some patients, pressure from helmets, chinstraps, collars, suspenders, and the like can aggravate acne.

  • Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium, which is used to treat bipolar disorder. Most cases of acne, however, are not drug-related.

  • Occupations: In some jobs, exposure to industrial products like cutting oils may produce acne.

What other skin conditions can mimic acne?

  • Rosacea: This condition is characterized by pimples in the middle third of the face, along with redness, flushing, and superficial blood vessels. It generally affects people in their 30s and 40s and older. There is sometimes no "bright line" separating acne from rosacea; however, there are no blackheads or whiteheads in rosacea.
  • Pseudofolliculitis: This is sometimes called "razor bumps" or "razor rash." When cut close to the skin, curly neck hairs bend under the skin and produce pimples. This is a mechanical problem, not a bacterial one, and treatment involves shaving less (growing a beard, laser hair removal). Pseudofolliculitis can, of course, occur in patients who have acne too.
  • Folliculitis: Pimples can occur on other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, buttocks, or legs. These represent not acne but inflamed follicles. If these don't go away on their own, doctors can prescribe oral or external antibiotics, generally not the same ones used for acne.
  • Gram-negative folliculitis: Some patients who have been treated with oral antibiotics for long periods develop pustules filled with bacteria resistant to the antibiotics which have previously been used. Bacterial culture tests can identify these germs, leading the doctor to prescribe different antibiotics or other forms of treatment.

When should you start to treat acne?

Since everyone gets acne at some time, the right time to treat it is when it bothers you. This can be when severe acne flares suddenly, mild acne that just won't go away, or even when a single pimple decides to show up the week before your prom or wedding. The decision is yours.

[SOURCE: MedicineNet.com ]


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