Acne is a common condition that causes blocked pores, pimples, cysts and other lesions on the skin of the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. Acne affects over 17 million people in the US, making it the most common skin disease in the country. While mostly teenagers are affected, adults of any age can suffer from acne. Acne is not life-threatening, but can lead to physical disfigurement and emotional distress. There are several effective treatment methods available to help improve the appearance of the skin and prevent future breakouts from occurring.
Causes of Acne
Acne develops on the skin when the pores become clogged, which may occur as a result of an overproduction of oil, a buildup of bacteria or shedding of dead skin cells that irritate the pores and hair follicles. When these substances build up in the hair follicle, they form a soft plug that forces the follicle wall to bulge and protrude from the skin, causing a lesion to develop.
The cause of excess oil production is unknown, but is believed to be caused by a combination of several factors, including hormones, bacteria, heredity and certain medications. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate or other foods and dirt do not cause acne.
Symptoms of Acne
Patients with acne may experience:
- Other forms of inflammation on the skin
Symptoms most commonly appear on the face, neck, shoulders, back or chest, although they can appear anywhere on the skin. These symptoms can come and go, and may flare up at certain times as a result of hormonal or environmental triggers such as pregnancy, menstrual periods, greasy cosmetic or hair products, high levels of humidity or certain medications.
While acne does not usually lead to any serious health conditions, it can cause permanent scarring and damaging emotional effects for patients of any age. Patients should seek dermatologic treatment for acne if symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter treatment methods or scarring develops as the acne clears.
Treatment of Acne
Treatment for acne aims to reduce oil production and increase the speed of skin cell turnover to prevent new blemishes from developing, and to also reduce inflammation to help treat current symptoms. This can be done through a combination of topical treatment, antibiotics, isotretinoin or oral contraceptives. These treatment methods can take up to eight weeks before results are visible, and acne may get worse before getting better.
Topical ointments applied to the affected area are often the first form of treatment used for acne, and may contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or lactic acid as an active ingredient to treat mild acne. Moderate cases can often be treated through prescription oral antibiotics used to reduce bacteria and inflammation, which are often combined with topical treatments. Isotretinoin (Accutane) may be prescribed for severe cases of acne that do not respond to other treatment methods.
Certain procedures may be recommended by your doctor to treat scarring caused by acne. These procedures may include skin fillers, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, laser treatment and others. Many patients experience effective results from several treatment sessions and can enjoy smooth, clear skin after acne.
While there is no sure way to prevent future breakouts from occurring, there are certain home measures patients can take to reduce the risk of breakouts, including avoiding heavy makeup, removing makeup before going to bed, wearing loose-fitting clothing and using over-the-counter creams or gels to help dry excess oil on the skin. Patients should also avoid picking or squeezing blemishes, and should be aware of what comes in contact with the face, as it can bring more unwanted bacteria to the skin.