For millions of people, managing acne is a daily challenge. In fact, acne is the most common skin disorder in the U.S., affecting nearly 85 percent of all people at some point in their lives. Generally, acne begins at puberty, but adults can develop acne much later. It is an unsightly and often disfiguring skin disorder that is characterized by an inflammation of the skin glands and hair follicles. Various forms of acne treatment are available.
Acne shows up as an outbreak of pimples, deeper lumps (cysts and nodules), and clogged pores (comedones, either blackheads or whiteheads). It can appear as a single spot or cluster of red bumps that can be accompanied by varying degrees of swelling and pain when there is severe inflammation. Although it is most prevalent on the face, acne can appear on the neck, chest, back, shoulders, upper arms and buttocks. Besides discomfort, acne can cause emotional distress and lead to permanent acne scarring.
What Causes Acne?
All types of acne — blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and cysts — develop when pores in our skin become clogged. The culprit is sebum, an oil in our skin.
The exact cause of acne is unknown, but one important factor is an uptick in hormones called androgens (male sex hormones), which cause the body to make more sebum. Androgen production increases during puberty in both boys and girls, and causes hair follicle sebaceous glands (oil producing glands) to enlarge and overproduce sebum (an oily substance). Hormonal fluctuations later in life, particularly in women, can cause acne flare-up as well.
Another factor is genetics. If your parent has had problems with acne, it is more likely that you will. In addition, certain drugs are known to cause acne. Some cosmetics may alter follicle cells and make them stick together, producing a plugged or clogged pore.
Three major factors contribute to acne breakout:
- Enlarged oil glands in the skin produce too much oil
- Hair follicles that release oil become blocked
- Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that lives on the skin within the hair follicles, and thrives when there is a lack of oxygen due to oil clogging the pores
Acne can be caused by exposure to excessive oil; whether applied from skincare products (moisturizers or cosmetics) or picked up from other sources such as kitchen or automotive grease. Wearing tightly-fitting clothing or other items such as sports helmets, backpacks, collared shirts or sports bras can cause acne, as well as exposure to pollution, high humidity or other environmental factors. Although stress is not known to cause acne, it can aggravate the condition.
For women, acne can also be caused by changing hormone levels up to a week before menstruation, during pregnancy or when starting or stopping birth control pills.
One thing is for certain; acne is not caused by poor hygiene. Keeping your skin clean is important, but overly vigorous washing will only cause more oil production and aggravate your condition. There is also no evidence to prove any correlation between diet and acne.
It typically takes 6-8 weeks to see improvement. Topical antibiotics, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and retinoids are often prescribed. In cases of cystic acne and nodular acne, antibiotics can be given by mouth to decrease inflammation and kill bacteria. Birth control pills can assist in normalizing hormone levels, while Isotretinoin when taken by mouth is highly effective in more severe forms of acne.
Riverchase dermatologists are experienced with treating all kinds of acne cases from mild (a few whiteheads or blackheads) to severe (nodular or cystic acne). To develop a personalized acne treatment plan that’s right for your situation, your doctor will consider the severity of your acne breakout and past treatment response. Your gender and the degree of scarring that has already occurred are also factors considered when developing a treatment plan.
Our treatment goals for you are to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from forming, prevent scarring and minimize the psychological stress and any embarrassment caused by this disease so you have the confidence to live your life to its fullest. Your dermatologist may recommend prescription medications, hormone therapy, and topical products. Many in-office procedures such as light therapy such as Blue Light and in the more difficult cases, the use of Photodynamic Therapy, can be performed to improve skin tone, texture, and acne scarring.
Seek treatment early from a Riverchase dermatologist if your acne breakout does not clear up when you practice healthy skin habits.