What Is Acne?



Acne is a diseased condition of the skin characterized by symptoms like blackheads and/or whiteheads (plugged pores), pimples, and nodules or cysts (deeper lumps). Acne mostly targets the skin of the face but it can, and does, occur elsewhere on the body like neck, shoulders, back, and upper arms. Most of the times, acne appears in teenagers and young people in their early twenties. However, people in their thirties and even forties can also suffer from acne. Severity of the condition varies from person to person.

Acne is caused by overly active sebaceous glands in the skin. These glands secrete an oily substance, called sebum, which lubricates the skin and roots of hair. The over activity of these glands is triggered by a sex hormone, called testosterone, present in both men and women (but more in men than women). Sebum is produced in excessive amount by sebaceous glands in acne patients. The dead skin cells lining the hair follicles are not discarded effectively. Hence the follicles are clogged up and sebum builds up in follicles. The result is the formation of blackheads and whiteheads. Acne may stop at this stage. In some people it gets more serious when Propionibacterium acne (a type of bacteria) starts growing in the clogged follicles containing sebum. These bacteria use sebum as food and produce harmful chemicals in the skin that cause redness and spots. In more severe cases, cysts develop beneath the skin surface, which upon rupturing spread the infection to nearby tissues. The result is scarring of the skin.

Different treatment methods are used for relieving acne symptoms. These mainly include prescription medication, including both oral and topical medicines and home treatment. The most commonly used medication for treating acne is Benzoyl peroxide. If it fails to bring relief, other oral and topical medicines are tried. Topical treatments include the use of azelaic acid (sold by the name Skinoren), retinoids (Adapalene, etc.), and antibiotic lotions. Azelaic acid is an alternative chemical for benzoyl peroxide but it does not cause the skin to sore like benzoyl peroxide. Retinoids are medicines based on Vitamin A. They are rubbed into the affected area once or twice daily. Antibiotic lotions control the acne-causing bacteria.

Oral treatment may be in the form of antibiotic tablets, some types of contraceptives (for women), or oral retinoids (like Roaccutane). However, Roaccutane should not be used by pregnant women. Consult a physician to find out more about both prescription medications and over the counter drugs to prevent any serious side effects.


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