By Dr. Govind Suresh Mittal, Dermatology
The word ‘Acne’ comes from the word ‘Acme’ meaning ‘the highest point’, which comes from the Greek akme meaning ‘point’ or ‘spot’ – it was originally misspelled, with an ‘n’ rather than an ‘m’ in 1835. Acne, medically known as Acne Vulgaris, is a skin disease that involves the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. In humans, pimples tend to appear on the face, back, chest, shoulders and neck.
It’s a disease that affects the skin’s oil glands. The small holes in your skin (pores) connect to oil glands under the skin. These glands make an oily substance called sebum. The pores connect to the glands by a canal called a follicle. Inside the follicles, oil carries dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. A thin hair also grows through the follicle and out to the skin. When the follicle of a skin gland clogs up, a pimple grows. Acne is not a serious health threat, but it can cause scars.
How Does Acne Develop?
Sometimes, the hair, sebum, and skin cells clump together into a plug. The bacteria in the plug cause swelling. Then, when the plug starts to break down, a pimple grows.
There are many types of pimples. The most common types are:
- Whiteheads. These are pimples that stay under the surface of the skin.
- Blackheads. These pimples rise to the skin’s surface and look black. The black color is not from dirt.
- Papules. These are small pink bumps that can be tender.
- Pustules. These pimples are red at the bottom and have pus on top.
- Nodules. These are large, painful, solid pimples that are deep in the skin.
- Cysts. These deep, painful, pus-filled pimples can cause scars.
Who Gets Acne?
Acne is the most common skin disease. People of all races and ages get acne. But it is most common in teenagers and young adults. An estimated 80 percent of all people between the ages of 11 and 30 have acne outbreaks at some point. Some people in their forties and fifties still get acne.
What Causes Acne?
The cause of acne is unknown. However, there are certain factors that might cause Acne:
- The hormone increase in teenage years (this can cause the oil glands to plug up more often).
- Hormone changes during pregnancy.
- Starting or stopping birth control pills.
- Heredity (if your parents had acne, you might get it, too).
- Some types of medicine.
- Greasy makeup.
How Is Acne Treated?
Acne is treated by doctors who work with skin problems (dermatologists). Treatment tries to:
- Heal pimples
- Stop new pimples from forming
- Prevent scarring
- Help reduce the embarrassment of having acne.
Early treatment is the best way to prevent scars. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs. Some acne medicines are put right on the skin. Other medicines are pills that you swallow. The doctor may tell you to use more than one medicine.
Here are some ways to care for skin if you have acne:
- Clean skin gently.
- Try not to touch your skin.
- Shave carefully.
- Stay out of the sun.
- Choose makeup carefully.
- Shampoo your hair regularly.
What Things Can Make Acne Worse?
- Changing hormone levels in teenage girls and adult women 2 to 7 days before their period starts.
- Pressure from bike helmets, backpacks, or tight collars.
- Pollution and high humidity.
- Squeezing or picking at pimples.
- Hard scrubbing of the skin.
The reality is some people are more prone to scarring than others. Some people come through a case of rather severe acne without a scar in sight. For others, even a benign little blemish can leave a depressed pockmark.
You know your skin. If you are highly prone to scarring, see a dermatologist right away to discuss acne treatment options. He or she can help you get a treatment plan together to heal breakouts and keep scarring to a minimum.