Acne Overview

What is acne and what are its causes? Acne develops when sebaceous glands the tiny oil-producing glands in the skin secrete too much oil, or sebum. This excess oil, along with skin cells and bacteria, accumulate in hair follicles and harden to form a plug within the pores of the skin, creating blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and deep lumps known as cysts or nodules on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms.

Acne usually first surfaces between the ages of 10 and 13, and almost everyone has at least an occasional breakout by the time theyre 17. It affects young men and women equally, although males are more likely to have more severe, longer-lasting forms of acne. Females are more susceptible to intermittent acne due to hormonal changes associated with their menstrual cycle, or to acne caused by cosmetics.

Acne is not limited to the teen years. Adults can develop acne, too, even if they never had it when they were younger. In fact, adult acne is a very common skin problem, and a particularly frustrating one, too, because treatments that worked during adolescence may be ineffective later in life. Some adults try numerous treatments without any real success.

Although not life threatening, acne can be emotionally upsetting and physically disfiguring. Moderate and severe forms of acne can lead to scarring thats sometimes serious and permanent. Acne also has a significant economic impact on its sufferers, with Americans spending well over $100 million a year for over-the-counter acne treatments alone. Other costs include prescription therapies, visits to physicians, and time lost from school or work.

Adult Acne

There are two basic types of adult acne. Persistent acne is what dermatologists call acne that doesn't clear up by the time a person reaches their mid-20s. More common in women, it causes deep, inflamed pimples and nodules that tend to form in the lower face around the mouth, chin and jaw line.

Late onset acne occurs in people who have been acne-free for years or never had acne and suddenly develop the condition. Acne sometimes becomes a problem during menopause for some women. Like persistent acne, late onset acne surfaces most often in the lower face, although lesions can also occur on the back and chest.

Adult Acne Flare-Up Triggers:

  • Fluctuating hormones like those associated with puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Discontinuing birth control pills, which some doctors prescribe to help keep women acne-free
  • Certain medications, including progestins, may make acne worse. Ironically, when progestins are combined with estrogen in birth control pills, they seem to have the opposite effect. Other medications that may exacerbate acne are anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and sobriety drugs.
  • A family history of acne can also be a culprit. The American Academy of Dermatology cites one study that found that half of the adults with acne had a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who also had acne, suggesting a genetic predisposition for the condition.
  • Increased stress levels. When stressed, the body responds by producing more androgens, a type of hormone that stimulates the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin and causes an acne flare-up.
  • Hair and skin products, may promote a type of acne called acne cosmetica. Look for labels with the words non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic on them, which means they are less likely to cause breakouts.
  • Underlying medical conditions may also be the cause of acne flair ups. For example, if a womans acne is accompanied by excessive facial hair, thinning hair or bald patches on the scalp, and irregular periods, it could be signaling polycystic ovary syndrome.. Acne could also be a sign of adrenal hyperplasia (a group of adrenal gland disorders), or the presence of a hormone-secreting tumor in her adrenal gland or an ovary. If any of these symptoms occur, the woman should inform her doctor who can order diagnostic tests and determine the best treatment. There will be no improvement in the acne until the medical condition is treated successfully.

Acne Treatment

Severe cases of acne can cause scarring, and milder cases can cause emotional distress because our appearance is so important to us. Acne can also lead to premature aging of the skin. Although there is no known cure for acne, hundreds of acne treatment products are available to help prevent outbreaks and acne scarring.

With the new medications and treatments available today, virtually every case of acne can be resolved with time, perseverance, and a dermatologists help. While fast, overnight results are often touted and seized upon as a quick fix by acne sufferers, acne resolution takes time. Acne responds well to early treatment, but initial results may take 6 to 8 weeks to be noticeable, and continued treatment is necessary to keep acne at bay. If improvement is not seen within the first few months, another treatment may be needed because different types of acne respond to different types of treatment.

Over-the-counter products that have proven effective in treating mild acne usually contain one or more of the following:

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