Acne is a common skin condition. It is caused by inflammation of the hair follicles and oil-producing (sebaceous) glands of the skin.
Hair follicles are the tiny structures that grow hair in the scalp. Sebaceous glands produce sebum. Sebum moisturizes hair and skin. Each hair pushes up through the skin surface along with sebum.
Acne often begins during puberty. It occurs when sebaceous glands in the skin are over-stimulated to produce sebum and skin cells are not shed normally. These sticky cells block the skin's hair follicles, trapping the sebum.
The blocked, oil-filled follicle then causes the bacteria normally in the hair follicles to multiply. This leads to inflammation, redness and pimples (pustules).
In adolescents, acne flare-ups probably are related to a natural increase in androgen hormones during the teen years. These androgens stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum. Hereditary factors also contribute to the problem.
Other factors that can lead to acne include:
Acne is not related to diet or poor hygiene. In fact, too much washing can cause an acne flare-up to get worse.
Acne can cause:
In girls and women, acne often flares up at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
Your doctor usually can diagnose acne based on a simple physical examination. He or she will look for acne comedones, pustules, nodules and cysts on your face, chest, back, upper arms and shoulders.
Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history to try to identify contributing factors. You will be asked about your:
Acne flare-ups may occur at any time after puberty. They are more common during the teen years.
Acne cannot be prevented.
Acne develops in most people. It is a normal part of maturing. However, some people are more prone to developing acne.
Acne can be treated with:
Some are available in weaker over-the-counter lotions. If these don't work, stronger and more effective gel forms are available by prescription.
If these topical treatments fail, acne is treated next with oral antibiotics. However, these medications can have side effects. They are available only by prescription.
Some oral antibiotics can cause birth defects. Women on these antibiotics who are sexually active must use contraception. They need to make absolutely sure they do not become pregnant either during treatment or for one month after treatment.
Call your doctor if you or your child has acne that is not controlled with over-the-counter washes or gels. Even small amounts of acne can be embarrassing and psychologically painful to young people. Acne can result in scarring.
Acne can almost always be controlled with medication. However, results may not be seen for weeks or months. Most topical medicines work within four to eight weeks. Tretinoin may show peak results in three to six months.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Insitutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675