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Acne – the Cause and Symptom

Acne is a skin condition that caused pimples on our face and is also common on the shoulders, back, and upper chest. In fact, acne is characterized by pimples, cysts, and sometimes abscesses. Both cysts and abscesses are pus-filled pockets, but abscesses are somewhat larger and deeper.

Acne happens through an interaction between hormones, skin oils, and bacteria, resulting in inflammation to the hair follicles. The sebaceous glands that are attached to the hair follicles will secrete an oily substance, i.e. sebum, when sebum passes up from the sebaceous gland and hair follicle, along with dead skin cells to the surface of the skin through the pores, this process will somehow clog the hair follicles and blocking the sebum from leaving through the pores. The consequence of this is that the blocked sebum-filled hair follicle will promote overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes in the hair follicle that are responsible to cause skin eruptions commonly known as acne pimples. Deeper inflammation produces cysts and sometimes an abscess.

In short, acne is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells, bacteria, and dried sebum that block the hair follicles in the skin.

If the blockage is incomplete, a blackhead (i.e. open comedone. Blackhead is flesh-colored bumps with tiny, dark dots at center) develops; and if the blockage is complete, a whitehead (i.e. closed comedone. Whitehead has similar appearance as blackhead but lack the dark dots) develops.

Why acne occurs during puberty? This is because during this time, the sebaceous glands are stimulated by an increased hormone levels, especially the androgens (i.e. testosterone), that caused excessive sebum production. However, hormone production will stabilize and acne usually disappears when a person reach mid-20s.

Nevertheless, any conditions that involve hormonal changes might cause the occurrence of acne. For example, acne may occur with each menstrual period in young women and may clear up or substantially worsen during pregnancy. Also, the use of certain drugs, particularly corticosteroids and anabolic steroids, can cause acne by stimulating the sebaceous glands. It is also true that certain cosmetics may worsen acne by clogging the pores.

In fact, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of acne outbreak since it varies in severity (i.e. mild, moderate, and severe) for most people, nor there is a direct relationship between acne, foods and with a person daily activity. What is known is that acne is often worse in the winter and better in the summer, this can be attributed to the anti-inflammatory effect of sunlight.

For those with mild acne, they usually will develop a few non-inflamed blackheads or whiteheads, or a moderate number of small, mildly irritated pimples. The pimples are mildly uncomfortable and have a white center surrounded by a small area of reddened skin.

On the other hand, people with moderate acne have more comedones and pimples and sometimes larger, more inflamed pimples (i.e. pustules).

People with severe (i.e. deep or cystic) acne will have numerous large, red, and painful pus-filled lumps (nodules) that sometimes join together under the skin into giant, oozing abscesses. The nodules and abscesses of severe acne often rupture and might leave scars after healing.

Common acne treatments shall include topical antibiotics for mild acne, oral antibiotics for moderate acne, and oral isotretinoin for severe acne. It is good to know that there are various ways to tackle acne, and I will deal with it in my later post.

A word of warning is that you should never try to squeeze or open your pimples as this will likely increase inflammation and the depth of injury to your skin, making acne scarring more likely. For your information, acne scars can last a lifetime.
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