What is acne? While acne is generally considered to be a problem suffered by teenagers, it can occur and affect people of any age. Acne does however begin at puberty in most cases. Approximately 75% of teenagers will have acne to some degree.
Hormonal changes stimulate the oil producing skin glands causing them to become plugged by excessive skin and oil cells trying to exit. These glands are situated within the pores of the skin around hair follicles. Once these glands become plugged, the hair follicle will bulge and form whiteheads. The top of this plug may darken and form a blackhead.
Pimples are the next step. These are formed when the follicle wall ruptures and allows bacteria on the skin’s surface to enter into the skin causing the area to become infected. Sometimes a more painful cyst will form but only if the infection is deep within the skin. This condition is the most painful of the types mentioned in this article.
While acne is normally found on the face, it can also appear on the neck, shoulders, chest and back and less commonly on the arms and legs.
Acne can be aggravated by – excessive dirt and oil on the surface of the skin – hormonal changes caused by menstruation or pregnancy – stress – certain drugs such as testosterone or cortisone
Acne tends to be more prominent in some families than others, it is hereditary. It is not a contagious condition and can be treated.
How can acne be treated? A variety of treatments are available but the most common are the following. They are designed to cure existing acne and to prevent further acne from appearing.
Most medications applied to the infected area are designed to dry it out and will cause some peeling of the skin. Some of the most commonly used chemicals in these medications are sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinoids or resorcinol.
Antibiotics taken orally, such as tetracycline, are often prescribed. While effective they can discolor teeth permanently. For this reason they are not normally prescribed for children. Some antibiotic medications are topical, meaning that they can be applied directly to the skin.
What other methods are there to reduce acne? Exposing the skin to the sun can improve the condition, keeping in mind of course that too much exposure to the sun can cause sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer.
Washing the skin regularly with warm water to reduce dirt, oil and to remove make-up will help. Taking a shower immediately after exercising is recommended. Shampoo hair regularly, preferably with an anti dandruff shampoo.
For those with long hair it pays to keep it away from the face, so comb or tie it back.
Often the most difficult thing to do is not to touch the infected areas but this is most important. Touching, rubbing or picking at the pimples will only worsen the situation as you are only exposing the area to more skin damage. A common mistake is to rest your head on your hands, causing more aggravation of the skin.
Lastly, everyone is different and each person may have their own foods or creams that may result in acne. Look out for things that trigger the worsening of your acne and then avoid them.
You can’t prevent acne but you can manage and improve the condition with medication and gentle care and regular cleansing of the skin.
Your Independent guide to Acne
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