A. What is acne?

Acne is the medical word used to describe anything from the occasional blemish through the entire spectrum of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, nodules and large cysts.

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when excess oil (sebum) production combined with dead skin cells clog your pores. Then, bacteria forms in the clogged pores resulting in red inflamed pimples, pus filled whiteheads, or blackheads.

Acne is extremely common. So common that it's considered a normal part of growing up. If you're a teenager or a young adult, then chances are that you had or have some form of acne.

If you have acne, then it is important that you breakdown and understand its cycle. Below are some facts that you should be aware of.

How does acne begin?
Acne affects about 80% of all adolescents. Acne begins with the inflammation of tiny oil-producing glands in the skin. These glands are called Sebaceous glands and produce an oil named “sebum”. Sebum is responsible for keeping the skin and skin hair supple and healthy. During puberty, sebaceous glands grow and produce more sebum due to an increase in Androgen hormones. This may also occur in early adulthood rather than in your teens.

What is an oil gland?
Sebaceous glands are attached at the base of each hair follicle. Hair Follicle Diagram.The process of inflammation is contributed to by changes in the skin which lines the hair follicle. During puberty and young adulthood, the skin cells of the hair follicle lining shed more quickly, in clumps, and are sticky, and this is a main contributor to the clogging of pores. The blocked, oil filled follicle also contain a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (normally present) which multiplies once trapped within a pore and results in redness, inflammation, and a pustule.

Where does acne occur?
Acne occurs in areas where sebaceous glands are most plentiful. Namely, the face, back, chest, shoulders an even the upper arms. Sebaceous glands enlarge during teenage years.

Keep in mind as well that during puberty, your skin will also thicken, causing more skin cells to shed and clog your pores more frequently and your Sebaceous Glands will enlarge. This is due to a natural selection process that still exists in our genetic makeup so that our skin would be able to withstand the elements: heat, sun or cold.

Who gets Acne?
Acne begins at puberty, but is not restricted to any age group or sex. It’s more frequent among teenagers and young adults in their late 20’s but can affect people all the way into their 40’s. Acne can clear up on its own but may take several years and lead to scarring. You can prevent scarring and control your acne using the many treatments available today. To view a list of treatments we’ve researched that may help you, click here.

B. What causes acne?

There are three basic elements that can cause acne. Keep in mind that everyone is made different so the cause of acne may differ from one person to the next.

Between your teenage years and young adulthood, your body’s hormone production is the most active. The increase in androgen hormones (namely testosterone) is what causes your sebaceous glands to over-produce sebum (oil) which is why many teenagers and young adults have oily skin. In some cases, this increase in androgens can continue into your late 20’s or early 30’s.

Plugged pores
When the duct of the oil gland (sebaceous gland) or the pore becomes blocked by skin cells, this leads to the production of comedones (whiteheads or blackheads). Comedones are caused by these blocked pores which prevents the natural flow of oil (sebum) out of your pore. Some individuals over-produce skin cells which then block the pores in the skin and cause comedones.

Within everyone’s skin pores, there is a bacteria present called Propionibacterium acnes (P. Acnes for short). Once your pore gets blocked, the P. Acnes bacteria will infect the sebaceous gland as well as the pore. P.Acnes thrives on the sebum which is now blocked within the pore creating a large infection within. The depth and intensity of the infection will determine weather the infection creates just a classic pimple or is the cause of a cyst or nodule, which is a deeper and more severe infection that can cause scarring.

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