Almost all people have some acne at some time in their lives. Acne is most common in teenagers, but can also happen to babies and to older adults. Acne is a skin condition that is most often seen on the face, chest, and back. Acne appears as whiteheads, blackheads, or red inflamed cysts or pustules under the skin. These are generally known as pimples or “zits”.
The surface of the skin is covered with holes called pores. Each pore on the skin is attached to a follicle which contains a hair root and an oil gland. Oil from the gland lubricates the skin. But if the gland produces too much oil it can clog the pore. Dirt, bacteria, and other debris can also block pores by forming a plug. Acne can take several forms:
• Pimples or zits– – Red, inflamed bumps on the skin
• Cysts– - Some pimples form deep under the skin. When they become inflamed, they can seal off and form a cyst or hard, painful pocket under the skin.
Acne may run in families and is often found in teenagers around puberty. This may be due to changes in hormone levels which cause the skin to produce more oil. Other acne triggers include:
• Hormone changes– – pregnancy, birth control pills, menstrual periods, and stress can all lead to an acne flare-up
• Greasy products– – hair products and makeup that are greasy or oily can cause a build-up on the skin that can block pores
• Medications– – Steroids including prednisone as well as anticonvulsant medications and lithium to treat bipolar disorder may make acne worse
• Pressure – – Rubbing and pressure from things like helmets and chin straps may contribute to acne
• Work hazards – Exposure to some industrial products including cutting oils may cause acne
There are many over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help reduce acne symptoms. Acne may go away over time, especially after the teen years. But some people continue to have acne into middle age and beyond. Severe acne can cause permanent scarring on the skin. Talk to your health care professional if you are concerned about your acne.
Reviewed July 5, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton