Acne is caused by the hyperactivity of the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are glands located just under the surface of the skin that secrete an oily substance called sebum that is meant to keep the surface of the skin smooth and supple. Pores allow the sebum to reach the surface of the skin. Hair also grow through these pores.
Acne is a very common skin disease that affects millions of people of all skin colours and ethnicities. Although adults can suffer from acne, it most common among teenagers and young adults.
Symptoms of acne
The two forms of Acne are
- Superficial or the acne vulgariswhere the symptoms are
- Whiteheads and blackheads: These are called comedones and are created when the oil secretions, dead skin cells or even bacteria clog the hair follicles. Blackheads occur when the comedones remain open at the skin surface whereas whiteheads are caused when the comedones are closed. Whiteheads appear as slightly raised bumps.
- Papules: Papules, which may appear red and tender, occur as small raised bumps that indicate inflammation or infection of the hair follicles.
- Pustules: Pustules are similar to papules but are red, tender bumps with white pus on the tips.
- Cystic or acne conglobata, a more severe form
- Nodules: These are caused by the build up of secretions deep in the hair follicles and appear as large painful lumps just beneath the surface of the skin.
- Cysts: These are boil-like lumps that are filled with pus and may cause scarring.
Commonly, we recognise acne as pimples, blemishes or zits. Though acne is not a serious condition, it the scarring can cause damage to the skin and cause low self-esteem, shyness and embarassment to those afflicted by it.
- Acne is a common problem that affects 80 in 100 people aged between 11 and 30 at some time
- Acne is not caused by eating chocolate or greasy foods though a balanced diet is always recommended for good health
- Acne is not caused by dirt.
Probable Causes of Acne
No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during the teenage years and pregnancy, probably play a role. There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on acne in most people. Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne; however, blackheads and pimples are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn't cause acne, but can definitely make it worse. There does seem to be a genetic tendency involved - many people with acne find that family members have suffered from it as well.
There are a number of treatments available to treat acne ranging from over-the-counter products to long term treatment prescribed by dermatologists. The main treatments for acne include:
- Topical treatments: Over the counter topical treatments for mild acne are commonly available. The active ingredients in these products are generally benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, salicylic acid or lactic acid.These help as they are antibacterial and encourage the skin to shed its surface layer. This makes it harder for pores to clog and bacterial infections to develop. In cases of severe acne, dermatologists may prescribe topical treatments that include ingredients such as azeleic acid which is alternative to benzoyl peroxide. A dermatologist may also prescribe topical retinoids which are medicines based on vitamin A and are applied to the skin. These encourage cell turnover and prevent hair follicles from clogging. Also available by prescription are topical antibiotics which help by killing skin bacteria. Most often, a combination of treatments is required to sure the problem.
- Oral treatments: Depending the severity of acne, a dermatologist may recommend oral treatments. These include antibiotics and isotretinoin. Oral antibiotics such as tetracycline are prescribed to reduce inflammation and reduce bacteria. This treatment may involve taking these antibiotics for a number of months and also using a topical product alongside. Isotretinoin is used only in cases of severe acne with deep scarring cysts that does not respond to any other treatment. This is a very powerful medication that must only be taken under regular supervision by a dermatologist as it has some serious side effects. This drug may affect the liver and the cholesterol levels in the blood. This drug may cause birth defects and is not prescribed to pregnant women.
- Other treatments: In some cases, women are prescribed oral contraceptives to improve their acne. Laser and light therapies are becoming popular as acne treatments. Laser treatments are believed to affect the sebaceous glands thus reducing the amount of oil produced. Light therapy targets bacteria thus reducing the inflammation. Both these therapies improve the appearance and texture of the skin and so can be used by people with acne or those with acne scars. Cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels used in combination with other treatments may also help acne and acne scars.
- Avoid medications that contain bromides or iodides
- Avoid exposure to oils and greases
- Avoid the use of greasy creams or cosmetics
- Cleanse face daily with a diluted form of calendula tincture
For mild forms of acne, many people use home remedies to alleviate the symptoms. Some of the popular home remedies for acne are:
- Aloe Vera: As an alternative to over the counter products, Aloe Vera can be applied in liquid or gel form to the face. It will remove excess oil from the skin. To make it more effective, add aloe vera to ground orange peel
- Vinegar: Using a cotton ball, apply apple cider Vinegar to pimples and leave on overnight. It also known to balance the ph levels of the skin.
- Lemon juice and Cinnamon: Using one teaspoon of Cinnamon powder and one teaspoon of Lemon juice to make a paste. Apply this to the acne affected area.
- Mint: Apply fresh Mint juice every night to the affected areas.
As with conventional remedies, home remedies may also take a period of time to show effects. Also each individual responds differently to home and conventional remedies and combinations of both may be required to cure acne. However, in case of highly sensitive skin or severe acne, or of home remedies and over the counter products do not take effect, it is important to consult a doctor.
Misdiagnosed as Acne?
There are some conditions that may mimic the appearance of acne resulting in misdiagnosis. These include:
- Rosacea: This is a common skin disorder the symptoms of which include visible broken blood vessels, red or pink patches, red bumps or cysts, and irritated or pink eyes. Generally this affects people in their 30’s and 40’s or older but yet is commonly misdiagnosed as acne. However, in rosacea there are no whiteheads and blackheads.
- Pseudofolliculitis: This is commonly called ‘razor rash’ and occurs when neck hair, cut close to the skin, curl under the skin causing pimples. Since this is not a bacterial problem, it can be solved by shaving less, growing a beard or laser hair removal. It is important to note, that people who have acne can also have pseudofolliculitis.
- What is Acne?
- Acne factsheet
- About Acne
- Skin conditions similar to acne
- Fast acne remedies
- Home remedies for acne